The Death of Macho?

women nepal.jpg

Photo of women workers in Nepal by Libby Abbott, via Flickr.

In the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam argues that the global financial crisis will lead to "the death of macho." It's a provocative essay, and well worth a read. And while I don't want to diminish the world-historical importance of the shift from an industrial to an information economy — and the impact that will have on men in particular — I'm not nearly as convinced as Reihan that the upside of all this will be huge gains for feminism.

Of course, it's true that 80 percent of all American jobs lost during this recession were held by men. But that is due to occupational segregation; blue-collar men have always had access to better, higher-paying jobs than blue-collar women. The collapse of the American manufacturing sector is ending that stable lifestyle for non-college-educated men and the families they support. But it isn't clear at all that blue-collar women, who've been stuck in service-sector jobs, are benefiting from their husbands' and brothers' misfortunes. Instead, the result could be continued rising class inequality, as both working-class women and men get stuck in the service economy with irregular hours, poor pay, and no benefits.

Meanwhile, in many parts of the non-Western world, women remain radically underrepresented in the labor force. In Iran, for example, where feminist frustration is a key driver of the reform movement, only 13 percent of women have paid work outside the home. Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi actually had campaign advertisements promising to help women gain access to the job market. But during times of high male unemployment, women typically have more trouble, not less, finding work. This is doubly true in traditional societies that still have not fully accepted women in public roles.

In short, there are significant global political barriers to women's economic independence — especially in the many, many nations where sex discrimination is written into the legal code. But there are also barriers in the United States, where women are disproportionately affected by many of the problems of poverty, from single parenthood, to the sub-prime mortgage crisis, to lack of health insurance.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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