Orlando's picture

    Stop the Presses: Feminists to Blame for the Economic Crisis!

    The other night, I was talking to a friend when she suggested that feminists were to blame for the current economic crisis. It was hyperbole, I’m certain. Although at the time I changed the subject because I was so shocked to learn that she felt that way.

    I can get pretty defensive when feminists are accused of anything. I’ve identified myself as one since I started college and have been one in spirit since I recognized a discernable difference between boys and girls. I can get especially defensive when the accusations come from other women. I suppose that’s because I automatically assume that every woman I meet is a feminist. What woman wouldn’t believe herself to be in every way equal to men, and expect to be treated accordingly—socially, economically, and politically? I simply can’t wrap my mind around the idea that any woman might think differently.

    I rejected my friend’s argument as ludicrous but the shock I felt prevented me from articulating why at the time. So, more than just shocking me, it’s been bugging me. I’ve been mulling it over and what I’ve decided that what she meant was because the feminist movement resulted in more women entering the workplace, the two-income family became the norm. Because of the increase in income, families started spending more. When families started spending more, women no longer had the choice to stay at home because the family now needed two incomes to keep up with their spending habits. By now, they were addicted to this increased purchasing power and so started using credit to buy more and more beyond their means and voila!

    At least I think that’s how she got from point A to point E. She couldn’t mean that women working in the financial industry were responsible for the mortgage derivative craziness because long after feminist movement eulogies began to appear in newspapers and magazines, women have remained grossly underrepresented on Wall Street, especially when it comes to the executive offices or the field of financial math.

    I’m going to pause here to apologize to my friend. It’s not really fair for me to pick on her like this. But then, she can always defend herself. And, in this particular case, she happens to be out of her ever-lovin’-mind. Now that’s out of the way. So, let’s deconstruct her argument.

    Point A: Feminists force women out of the house and into the job force.

    Point B: Two income families become the norm. Their increased household income leads to increased household spending.

    Point C: Families need two incomes to keep up with their spending.

    Point D: Families become addicted to spending and maxed out their credit cards while buying houses they couldn’t afford.

    Point E: The house of cards falls down and we find ourselves in crisis. Thanks a lot, feminists.

    I’ll agree that each point occurred to some extent but I think the cause and effect is highly suspect.

    Let’s start with Point A: Feminists force women out of the house and into the job force.

    First of all, feminists didn’t force women out of the house. The women who were still in the house were, by and large, ready to get out into the big world. Contrary to 1950s lore, we don’t all love to gossip over the backyard fence and to bake a different cake for dessert every night. Yes, raising children is important. And today, it’s become even harder to balance work and kids due to the explosion of extra curricular activities that kids are shuttled back and forth between. But many women who financially could make the choice to stay home still choose to work—because they want to live a multi-faceted life.

    Second, women have always worked, and worked hard. It was only the rise of the middle class and advancements in technology making housework easier and faster that gave women time to even consider that they might be unfulfilled working in the house alone. What’s more, poor women have always worked both inside and outside the home, bringing in money however they could.

    So, the first flaw in the argument is that feminism forced women into the workforce. There was no forcing. The second wave of feminism advocated for middle class—and primarily white—married women to be able to go to work outside the home, in addition to challenging stereotypes, advancing the cause of higher education and athletics for women, bringing to light issues of spousal abuse, fighting discrimination, and securing a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own damn body. (Plus, a whole bunch of other good things that I can’t think of right now.)

    And now on to Point B: Two income families become the norm. Their increased household income leads to increased household spending.

    This happened in middle class households. Absolutely. Of course, women were still making less than men for doing the same job. Some bosses rationalized this by thinking that women were dumber or less productive, and therefore deserved the be paid less. Others felt that because the husband was the primary breadwinner they didn’t need to pay their female employees as much. Although I think it’s fairly clear in 2008, to anyone with a brain, that these two rationales are ridiculous, women still only earn about three-quarters the income of men doing the exact same job.

    Now we start to run into some trouble.

    Point C: Families need two incomes to keep up with their spending.

    I suppose that there is an argument to be made that consumer spending outstripped earning. I’m sure there are statistics to back that up and certainly we can see the anecdotal evidence in the fact that most households have multiple televisions, multiple cars, and multiple computers. But, also anecdotally, people use their credit to make home improvements, send their kids to college, and even buy groceries. The dollars that people are making today are not stretching far enough in many cases to cover even the basic expenses.

    Further, plenty of families continue to survive on one income. In some of them, the primary wage earner makes enough so that the other doesn’t have to work. In more of them, there is only one wage earner to begin with. Most single parents are women, who are paid less on the dollar and so struggle even more to make ends meet.

    Now for Point D: Families become addicted to spending and maxed out their credit cards while buying houses they couldn’t afford.

    I don’t necessarily buy the argument that American consumer spending got out of control and directly led to the crisis. Yes, as a society, we put way to much on credit and we didn’t save enough. But I would argue that many families were maxing out their credit to pay for necessities like groceries and college, so while we overextended ourselves on credit, it wasn’t just for vacations and spa visits.

    What’s more, this consumer culture didn’t develop in a vacuum. Our government supported policies that made it easier for consumers to get credit. Maybe it would have been prudent for people to save more money. But that wouldn’t have lined the pockets of the companies that wanted us spending every last cent and it wouldn’t have made money for the credit card companies growing fat off the interest payments.

    What’s even more than that, behavior is learned. How are we average citizens supposed to learn that it is better to save than to instantly gratify our need—for food, for education or even for a new Wii—when our government spends and spends on borrowed money so that elected officials don’t have to face the hard questions when it’s time to campaign again?

    Point E: The house of cards falls down and we find ourselves in crisis. Thanks a lot, feminists.

    I’d say the house of cards is my friend’s argument.

    As I understand it, which is admittedly not that well, the current financial crisis is a perfect storm resulting from a confluence of normal economic cycles, deregulation of the financial services industry, consumer overspending, two expensive wars that were financed rather than paid for through tax revenues, and boneheaded, blind greed.

    Not the fault of feminists.


    So according to your friend, if a boss gives an employee a raise, thereby raising the employee's income, thereby raising the employee's spending, thereby leading the employee to get "addicted" to spending and take out loans that he or she can't afford, thereby leading the employee to default, that's the boss's fault?

    Honestly, you're battling a strawman. Either you've misrepresented your friend's argument, or your friend's argument is itself a strawman. It sounds like the blame that some conservatives have tried to lay on Acorn for helping poor people get loans, that is to say an attempt to find someone they don't like to scapegoat. What you've presented is not even slightly credible as an argument.

    I'm happy to report that my friend has capitulated. When I was able to rationally talk about it without my head spinning around in incredulity, she was able to see the flaws in her argument. I think she and I both have kneejerk reactions to feminism--mine in blind support of the movement and hers in blind criticism. Luckily, we can both get over out gut reactions and move to a more reasonable space where we can discuss our differences.

    That's good.  Now can we get back to blaming workers en masse?

    People I blame...

    • Workers en masse
    • Feminists
    • Socialists
    • Terrorists
    • Jews
    • Liberal bloggers with screennames starting with O
    • Working Jewish feminist socialist liberal bloggers with terrorist ambitions en masse

    Seriously. I was listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR this morning and this guy called in, so angry, and went off on unions and how it's their fault that the bail out didn't pass because they wouldn't make any concessions. One of the show's guests gently reminded the caller that it wasn't unions who would be giving up money, it would be individual workers who would be losing real wages. I hate using government money to stem corporate mistakes as much as anybody else, but if any of the big three shut their doors, Michigan is fucked (A-Man, my post, my language...keep your finger off the edit button) and if workers have to lose income, Michigan is equally fucked.

    G, I think you're missing the point of O's post.  (Though I could be the one who's off; who knows.)  Here's what I think is important: at some point, society was structured, in large part based on gender roles, such that single-income families were the norm.  As technology and social expectations progressed, it became possible for families to increase their income.  So many did, thereby creating a disadvantage to those who chose or were unable to do so.  Saying that's the fault of feminists (or perhaps more appropriately, feminism) is hyperbolic.  Saying that feminism played a role in that social progression is, I think, accurate.  Now, I think I have as much right and ability to earn money, possess property, and contribute to society as anyone else.  So I would never want to undo the contribution that feminism has made to our society -- or at least (selfishly) to my own life.  But I do think that by changing how and when gender roles apply in our society we've removed a keystone from our social structure without replacing it.

    That's an interesting point, Paige. But totally not the one I was making. 

    I thought it was the larger issue raised by the point your friend was making.

    I think maybe you're right, although the way the argument was made (feminists are to blame for the crisis) was loopy.

    I don't entirely agree though. I can see that one income households have a harder time making ends meet than two income households, but again the cause and effect link just isn't there. Two income households have more money, but they don't have as much as they should because incomes, in real terms, have been falling. So now, if you have kids, you almost have to have two incomes to be able to survive without any kind of assistance, unless the one income is really big. I'm not at expert at this stuff, but from my perspective it seems like incomes have fallen off because we've moved from a manufacturing economy to a service economy and service jobs just don't pay as much. They would likely pay more if places like Walmart had unions. But Walmart has been ruthlessly good at keeping unions out, and so have the other so-called superstores.

    I think it's sad that we don't make stuff anymore. So instead of getting paid for making stuff, people get paid for selling stuff to other people. Talk about a house of cards. And now, one of the few industries that does actually make stuff is on the brink of disaster because Senate republicans have a bug up their ass about workers making too much money? It defies even conservative logic.

    I have to think about it a little bit more, but your argument that a cornerstone of soceity was taken away without being replaced strikes me as kind of a romantic view of the Beaver Cleaver era. Societies change all the time--huge sea change kinda stuff. It's easy to look back on the past and place the blame on something that we think we've lost, but it's never that uncomplicated.

    To be clear, I don't -- by any stretch of the imagination -- intend to romanticize the Cleaver Era.  I'm pretty trifling glad I don't live then.  Societies change all the time, but the structural change from the large majority of women becoming part of the work force is more significant than many.  What I'm really saying is that we haven't completed the next part of the shift yet; and we still have, socially, expecations that are in-line with the old way of doing things.  We (as a population) now have the task of figuring out how to maintain equality in our society and also provide ourselves with enough time to raise families and take care of the people in our lives.  I think that when that shift happens it won't be about undoing equality for women so much as placing a higher value on non-income producing activities (like spending time with children) and socially beneficial activities (like teaching).

    As far as incomes declining, isn't the point that enabling women to contribute to the workforce actually increased the labor supply -- thereby reducing the price of labor?  Obviously, that's generalized, and there have been plenty of other forces increasing our labor supply, from technology to immigration to breeding.  But holding all those steady for a moment, and assuming that demand for labor is static -- of course real wages have gone down.

    In the very short run, I suppose more women in the workforce increased the labor supply and forced wages down. But in the long run, I think it has more to do with the shift away from manufacturing to the service industry. 

    As for your first point, you're right that we are still in many ways working in an outdated paradigm where women take on the largest share of the household work and child rearing while still working full time. But that is changing slowly. For my parent's generation, I think men pitched in, but it was seen as men doing women a favor, helping with the "women's work." Today, I think that has started to shift, and more men are taking on more of the work at home and when they're taking care of the kids, it's no longer considered "babysitting."

    So, I think society has shifted and continues to shift, but I don't think government has adequately repsonded to that change with programs and services designed to meet the needs of today's families--affordable healthcare, affordable childcare, parental leave for new babies, etc.). In that sense, both women and men are punished because of the need, or the choice, to work.

    gotta disagree on this orlando. i've been trying to avoid bailout/economic talk because i'm frankly sick of it but so much important stuff is happening ...

    you either believe that globalization confers net benefits for society (there are certainly negative and positive effects from it, but you have to eventually come down on one side of the ledger of it being in aggregate, a net positive or net negative.)

    I happen to think without a doubt, the stats (when it comes to almost any recognized measure of wealth, econ. growth, standard of living, life span, and even more subjective categories like happiness, fulfillment, etc.) have shown globalization has been a net positive for the world. I think, importantly, it's also been a net positive for us (but that admittedly is a tougher argument to make, with rising income inequality and serious regional dislocations evening out the scale to a large degree).

    If you believe globalization is a net positive, you have to realize that there will be new losers in that world as capital in each society gets deployed more efficiently, and be OK with that. Yes, many forms of manufacturing and blue collar labor will migrate to lower-cost areas, while rich industrialized nations such as ours will have to find new ways to add value to that labor. In other words, sure, Ipods and Iphones will be made in Taiwan but the vast  majority of the benefits from Apple's design and marketing genius will confer to American workers and American cities and American citizens. And yes, service industries will become a much larger part of our GDP.

    That's just the market allocating resources efficiently, not a developing house of cards. However, I DO agree that it has the potential to cause trouble if for some reason other areas of the world en masse rebel against globalization, closing off their borders. however, i think it's highly unlikely that all third world and developing countries turn their back on globalization at the same time, and there'd be nothing keeping us from reinvesting in factories and the like even if that did happen (tho there would be a cost to us as we try to scale those back up).

    Instead of bitching about the changes caused by globalization and trying to save industries doomed to fail, the much better policy would be to a) try and retrain displaced workers for jobs we do need and which cannot be easily outsourced, such as technology, construction, health care, etc. b) work to make sure we are competing in fair markets and that some social goals we believe strongly in, such as environmental or labor concerns are being protected c) and most importantly, (and this is where I differ from a lot of conservative economists) reallocate wealth so that communities and workers who have lost out in the new world don't suffer unduly.

    The last policy is not merely a question of being fair or doing the right thing from a moral standpoint, but is absolutely vital in my opinion to maintain a stable society. Too many libertarians disregard the potential for civil unrest from ever increasing levels of income inequality, but I look at that factory sit-in as just the beginning of the kind of thing that could happen throughout this country if we forget about the people left behind in a globalized world.

    But if you give the car companies $15-$30 billion without forcing them to restructure and lower many of their costs, then you are merely pissing money away, throwing good money after bad. The companies lose thousands of dollars on every vehicle they sell, in good economies and bad ones (GM hasnt made an operating profit in almost 5 years), and a large reason for that is the increasingly uncompetitive labor costs.

    btw, i find it ironic that you disparage paige for looking at the old world in a romanticized Beaver Cleaver way when it comes to something like the single-income family, and not see that in some ways the same thing is going on with the American economy and manufacturing. as you yourself argue - societies undergo 'huge sea change kinda stuff ... It's easy to look back on the past and place the blame on something that we think we've lost, but it's never that uncomplicated.'

    Sorry, I didn't mean that I think we need to completely reinvigorate American manufacturing. I wasn't explicit about that, so I can get where you'd think I was advocating for that position. And I don't think I'm romanticizing a bygone era--just remarking that I do think it's sad that we don't make things any more. But please understand that I see the value in globalization, and anyway, even if I didn't, that ship has sailed. 

    That said, I absolutely think the auto bailout is the right thing to do. First and foremost, although there will be losers in globalization, as you say, losing that many jobs that quickly would be catostrophic. Second, we have a great opportunity right now to force the big three to get serious about making cars that don't wreck the planet. I haven't heard anyone except for Hal argue that we don't need cars and there is no reason that we can't keep making them in Detroit. Those companies just need to get with the program and right now the government has a unique opportunity to make them understand that in no uncertain terms. Will they do it? I don't know. But in the short term, stemming the loss of that many jobs is no less important than keeping the banks open.

    Aside from their tone deafness on making cars that people actually want to buy, they are saddled with these legacy costs that keep them from being competitive in the world market. Globalization is great, but when you can't be competitive in the world market because every other country pays for their citizens' health care from the community fund and you're forced to pay not just for your employees but for everybody that ever worked for you and everybody married to everybody that ever worked for you, it puts you at a teeny disadvantage. This is a problem. But it's a solvable one, and I think Obama signaled yesterday that he is going to be all over it.

    I agree with you on the redistribution of wealth, through a much more progressive tax system than we currently have, and for the reasons you've stated. 

    Ultimately, these issues are uber-complicated and there is no single thing that contributed to the clusterfuck that we find ourselves in, just as there is no single thing that is going to get us out.

    I still stand by my assessment that the decline in manufacturing jobs replaced by service industry jobs has played a role. It doesn't automatically follow that the solution is to replace service industry jobs with manufacturing jobs. It's not and I get that.

    I believe you meant "flustercluck."

    There are two major flaws in the argument, one is the hyperbolic "blame" on feminists. But I also meant for the employee salary example to point to the absurdity that rising incomes contributed to people spending beyond their means. The implication is that you are more likely to go bankrupt if you make more money. There's no data that I know of to support that, and it doesn't even fit common sense.

    Evolving gender roles have affected social and economic structures in the U.S., including income levels, but that doesn't mean that they played any significant role in the debt crisis. It's also silly to look for farreaching explanations when the primary factors have been trumpeted by economists even before the crash, namely a real estate bubble encouraged by easy credit.

    Ok, I totally agree about the debt crisis not being directly related to income levels. I was just trying to get at the meatier tangent.

    Orlando, when I first read your blog I hopped up on my fem box but then I hopped off and stood there rather stupified when I realized people have already forgotten the cause of this crap we are sliding into.  The slice dicing and passing around of the mystry derivatives, leaveraging beyond all reason - worth repeating ALL REASON, and continued lying and hiding by the money people is what pushed the first domino over.  Now, I am not saying that people using thier houses as ATMs, using credit to keep up appearences, and even people signing on the dotted line for a house they knew damn well they could never afford to make 6 payments in a row on helped stop the mudslid but make sure we know how this started.  And let it be known that it started the same way the last depression started that ended when the government spent it's way out and then passed laws to prevent another depression from happening that got repealed so it could happen again and it did.

    I'm going have to find another outlet for my anger about this situation.  First I am angry about the greed thing that created and fed this insanity but that is justified anger and that I can handle.  What sends me into the ozone is the fact there will be no punishment for the money jackasses that started this.  And when the Queen of the Universe cannot punish those she deems in need of an major asswhupping she gets really pissed for a loonnngg time.


    Can we get back to Genghis' excellent point about blaming the Jews?

    I'm all for it, but I'd like to see some names first, as I'm new to this "How To Be A Jew" business, and just want to be a bit careful at this point.

    Thanking you in advance.

    Okay, here's the rundown:  Learn to say Oy and mean it.  Every time you hear a weasel start talking to you, tell yourself you're meshegunuh.

    Go shopping at the mall to schlep for something, and then tell yourself you're a mensch for going there.

    Once you've beaten yourself up over it, and gotten all teary, berate yourself for being so verklempt.

    Then, go home and eat lotsa matza ball soup.  And koogle for dessert.


    Yo, G, did I spell meshugeneh right?  It looks kinda funny....




    Ladies first!  Ladies first!

    With all the crisis in the economy it is indeed true that the recession has hit everyone hard, even the places you would think to be recession proof, like Amish communities.  Amish communities interact with the outside world out of necessity, and a lot of Amish fathers look for work in cities to make ends meet.  Elkhart Goshen, Indiana, is one such place, and a lot of Amish workers were laid off when RV plants laid off workers or closed.  Short term loans aren't exactly going to be what they look to, although some have filed for unemployment benefits, which goes against the grain of not accepting aid.  The unemployment rate hits anywhere and everywhere, as there is a need for debt relief even in the Amish communities.

    Latest Comments