Feminist Hulk smash the devaluation of pink collar work: on gender, value, and opportunity

Sarah Kendzior’s latest piece on poverty and workers’ rights is, as always, full of truth. The whole thing is a must-read–seriously, I’ll wait, go read it and then come back–but one part in particular resonated with me:

Teaching, nursing, social work, childcare and other “pink collar” professions do not pay poorly because, as Slate’s Hanna Rosin argues, women “flock to less prestigious jobs”, but because jobs are considered less prestigious when they are worked by women. The jobs are not worth less – but the people who work them are supposed to be. 

I’ve been ranting about this for so many years.

So many of the men in my life have high-paying computer programming jobs, and so many of the women in my life have low-paying teaching and childcare jobs. I’ve worked in childcare myself, and let me tell you, it’s hard.

Having conversations at the toddler level all day is a special kind of mind-numbing. Spending all day in a room full of crying infants is a special kind of nerve-jangling. And sometimes you get peed on. (I learned the hard way to keep everything covered when changing baby boys’ diapers.)

There are the good moments too: when four toddlers are trying to fit in your lap for story time, when you’re out on a walk with the kids and one of them makes an observation and you see so much intelligence, so much creativity, so much promise just beginning to blossom. There are fun times with bubbles and balls and finger paint. There’s a playfulness you don’t get in the average office job.

But overall, it’s incredibly hard work–and vital to a well-functioning society, and laughably underpaid.  Or it would be laughable, if it weren’t so serious an indictment of our nation’s priorities.

The gendered bias in pay and prestige makes my inner Feminist Hulk want to SMASH. It’s both political and personal.

I graduated into an job market where most of the types of work I’m good at and would enjoy either barely exist, or exist only as poorly paid contingent work.  At the same time, I’ve watched so many of my male peers make high salaries–and be valued and respected at their jobs–because society happens to value their skills.

Of course, this is not to deny that there are plenty of men suffering from the effects of the Great Recession and its evil twin, the Jobless Recovery. (That “jobless recovery” isn’t considered an oxymoron goes to show just how much is wrong with our economic system.)

And access to jobs and opportunity is also complicated by race, nationality, (dis)ability, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, weight, age, and other factors. An astounding number of people are getting screwed in an astounding number of ways–and a good deal of that screwing has been happening since long before 2008.

Just ask a trans woman who can’t get hired anywhere, or a black teenager whose school treats him like a potential criminal rather than a human being with skills and talents to develop.

Call me an idealist, but I want an economy where all work is valued. Where all people are free to follow the career paths that interest them without facing institutional barriers–and are free to develop a wide range of interests without being pushed toward or away from certain fields from childhood.

I want an economy where this brilliant insight from Kendzior’s piece no longer rings true:

People not only fall through the cracks, they live in the cracks as a full-time occupation. The view from the cracks is a lot clearer than the view from above. When you look down on people, they stop being people. But when you watch from below, you see how easy it is to fall.

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