The very early feminists argued that women’s greatest handicap was financial dependence: while ever men controlled the purse-strings they exerted great power over those who needed the money. This is why financial independence – and the education that was necessary to achieve it – were among the first demands of the feminist platform.
Centuries of campaigning have led to the improvement of women’s financial position – but independence is still a goal for many. It wasn’t on my mother’s horizon, and it isn’t a reality for many older women today – who have disgracefully less superannuation.
Even younger women face an ever-widening gender pay gap when it comes to having the same skills and doing the same jobs as men, in Australia.
So who would have thought that an economic recession would be the driving force behind women’s increasing financial independence in the USA (and maybe coming here soon!) And could we have ever dreamed of some of the consequences that are emerging?
(When a Bill was first put before the House of Commons in England that called for education for women, entry to the professions, the right to own property and to earn and keep their own wages –there were members (who were all men of course) who were apoplectic about such changes; ‘If women can earn and keep their own money and do what they please – they will never want to marry’ was the general response.
Maybe they were right!
Currently, the general trend in writing about women’s issues in America focuses on the global financial crisis of 2008 which brought about the huge loss of manufacturing jobs, and a deplorable increase in the unemployment of blue-collar-workers. And the evidence suggests that this is not a temporary state.
The global financial crisis also took place as a time when the economy was shifting from an industrial to an information base. (Some people argue that if was this ‘shift’ and the inexperienced and excited male players in the information culture that were the primary cause of the financial crisis.)
The shift was disastrous for well-paid workers in the car industry and other manufacturing areas. But it hastened the change and opened up opportunities for women. It wasn’t that they took over men’s jobs as they had done in the war – it was that as the traditional areas of men’s employment declined – the so-called female professions were the ones that were expanding.
And women who were already the majority of university students – and getting better grades – found themselves in the right place at the right time as healthcare, age care, child care were expanding. Women have become the dominant groups in areas such as accountancy, auditing, education, pharmacy, law, medical and biological technology, financial industries, and even vet science.
The only areas where women are in the minority are engineering and IT – which is something to be concerned about: Bill Gates said – ‘Its not called programming for nothing!’
It’s not just that female dominated professions are coming into their own; the information economy depends more on ‘soft skills’ – creative thinking, emotional intelligence, multi-skilling, the capacity to make contingency plans. And there’s also a matter of being able to work in groups, and to think more in terms of horizontal management rather than the old vertical top-down model.
Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin are the most outspoken in this context; they both cite studies that indicate that the more women a company employs, the more responsibility women have attained – the more successful and innovative are the business results!
The 4 women CEOS of the top Fortune 500 companies each earn more than their 496 male colleagues! Watch this space!
40% of wives in the United States now earn more than their husbands. And when you add to this the number of single women-headed families – this doesn’t leave a lot of room for men to remain the breadwinners. A dying breed according the Mundy and Hosin.
Both writers see this change as part of a bigger social/ sexual revolution and marvel that in such a short space of time the economy has produced a gender-reversal on such a massive scale.
Both have been engaged in extensive case studies on the impact that this has had on ‘family life’ and relationships. There are some hair-raising tales.
Some women think it is fantastic; they would define their new financially independent state as everything they ever wanted. They like having house husbands, or no husbands. Others have huge difficulty finding a suitable partner; they can’t marry ‘up’ as all the ups have gone down, and yet they still want a man they can be ‘proud of’.
The other side of this is the emerging category of men who are looking for a high earning wife; maybe women need a word for the female version of a sugar-daddy? (Cougar doesn’t fit!)
There are also men who like the downsizing: who like dropping off the kids, doing the household things, along with some part-time work from home. But many have found it hard to adapt. Harder than the women!
Other women are resentful that even as the breadwinner they still carry the additional burden of most the housework. Though cooking is generally very low on their agenda. One of the side-effects of the role reversal has been a great rush for top of the range quality kitchen equipment – as stay at home men try their hand at being chefs!
(There are corporate wives who come home to confront three course gourmet meals that require praise, when all they want is a sandwich and a glass of wine – and a clean kitchen for the morning!)
Brought up in the context where wives ‘looked up to their husbands’ many women find it hard to adjust to a man about the house who is unhappy, brooding, and takes a great deal of emotional energy to maintain; common statements were – ‘he isn’t the breadwinner but he still wants to think and act as if he is!’ There is often resentment on both sides.
I was shocked by one woman who was asked how she felt about her husband who wasn’t even looking for a job, when she said –‘he’s just one more mouth to feed!’
As yet, few patterns have emerged: It has all happened so quickly that there hasn’t been time for stereotypes to firm up – – but when they do, I suspect they will be drastically different from those of the past!
One development that is unquestionable is the growing determination of many young women to be in charge of their own lives.
They are much more likely to seek a university education and these days their parents are more likely to pay for the education of girls than boys. (Isn’t that amazing!)
Another is they are fiercely focused on being financially independent and getting their own homes (there is a comparable trend in Australia http://www.news.com.au/realestate/westpac-home-ownership-report-finds-73-per-cent-of-gen-y-women-focused-on-paying-off-loans-early/story-fncq3era-1226716459337 )
Young women in general (who go to university) have ceased to look to men to provide security and support: ‘Who needs a man?’ many proclaimed. And they invariably made a list of all the negatives – and it was a long one.
Hanna Rosin thinks this is one of the most significant cultural shifts in the role reversal revolution that is taking place: I can’t say it better than she does:
In the (current) dating market erotic capital works in a slightly different way. A woman’s sexuality has social value, and she trades it for other things she wants. In the old days the trade was fairly obvious. Women traded sex for security, money, maybe even for political or social influence.
Because they had no other easy access to these things, it was imperative they keep the price of sex high so they had something to bargain with. Now women no longer need men for financial security and social influence. They can achieve these things by themselves.
So they have no urgent incentive to keep the price of sex high. The result is that sex, by the terms of sexual economics, is cheap, bargain basement cheap, and a lot more people can have it. (pp38-39)
This is more than a role reversal: it is a revolution that has just begun and one where it is very hard to predict what he outcomes might be. Women have generally been on the receiving end of power; is this new power, or another twist in the overall image of women being in the wrong? Again.
As sure an anything, feminists in particular will soon be being blamed for the global financial meltdown, (despite the many studies that revealed that women were the calming force while men tried to outdo each other). We will no doubt be responsible for the destruction of family values and the debasement of sex – and another long list of woes that haven’t even been invented yet!