Women’s Work and the Economy: Imagining Equality

This is going to be similar in intent to my recent couple of posts on the legal system and the media – a speculative attempt to consider possible ways that a system adapted to patriarchy could be changed to make it fit with sexual equality. This time I want to consider the economy.

One of the key ways that women have been held back is that while overt and obvious barriers to them entering high-status professions have largely been removed, they continue to bear the great majority of the burden of unpaid work – having children, raising children, cleaning homes, and emotionally supporting others. This not only means they find it harder to compete, it means that they can then be excluded from high-status jobs on the grounds that they will soon leave to look after their children.

This reflects not just sexism but several core features of our economic system.

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Objectification and the Media: Imagining Equality

This is going to be similar in intent to my recent post on the legal system – a speculative attempt to consider possible ways that a system adapted to patriarchy could be changed to make it fit with sexual equality. In particular, I want to think about the media, in particular pornography, advertising, pornography-as-advertising, etc.

One way to conceptualise ‘oppression’ is in terms of the traits possessed by “the social subject”. (‘Subject’ here is a philosophical term, the opposite of ‘object’) The social subject is the person who thinks what “everyone thinks”, who knows what “everyone knows”, who does what “you do”, who notices what’s “obvious”. When a person is mentioned without any specific features being given, they will tend to be imagined as the social subject. Heidegger talked about ‘das Man’, everyone-and-noone’ (‘Man’ is German for what we would call ‘one’, as in, ‘whatever one does, it’s not enough’).

As is made obvious by our language, the social subject is, by and large, on the whole, in general and overall, a straight man. He also has class and race features but that’s not my focus right now. Because the social subject is a straight man, straight men find it easier to be subjects (to be people, to do person things, like decide, choose, act, take control, learn, be listened to etc.) while other people find it harder. Hence oppression in its various aspects.

Now one of the key things that subjects do is to look and to see. Objects on the other hand do not look – they are looked at. So from the beginning, in considering visual media, there is the basic ideology: men look at women. That’s why women’s magazines are full of pictures of women, while men’s magazines are full of pictures of…women!

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Rape and the Legal System – Imagining Equality

Many feminists have made an issue out of rape, and other forms of male violence against women (domestic violence, harassment, etc). I won’t rehearse or repeat their statistics or arguments – that rape is widespread, that it is underreported, that when it is reported the police are often unsympathetic or traumatically probing, that at trial the survivor is themselves interrogated, and if found to be a slut loses the case, that she almost always loses the case anyway (the conviction rate is something like 4%).

I think partly this is about the structure of our legal system. Partly, of course, it reflects social attitudes (even among women, rape myths are widespread). And partly it reflects the fact that the vast majority of lawyers, judges, police, and politicians are male. That is something which definitely needs to be changed – for power to be transferred,  positions that carry power must be occupied. But I think there is an independent strucural issue.

The legal system does not work very well for rape, or for domestic abuse, because:

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