July
6th 2011
Back in the saddle again

Posted under: American history, European history, Gender, jobs, the body, unhappy endings, women's history

We’re back in Potterville, and I’m back in the saddle again with nothing to do but write for a whole month! Yippee-kai-ai-ay and yee-haw to that.

While I’m working away at my day job, go read this post by Echidne, in which she discusses the ways in which the media discuss the “fertility crisis” in some European countries without noting the extreme pressure on women who are mothers in said countries to leave the workforce. (Or in one case she cites, pregnant women and mothers are just proactively pink-slipped.) She notes that even with generous maternity leave policies, most mothers do not return to work after the birth of just one child in both Germany and Italy. This sidles up to a point that I’ve made here before (and even in my day job writing recently) about the global and apparently transhistorical resistance to see women as rational economic actors who make decisions about their lives that respond directly to their political, cultural, and economic environments.

This is directly related to the conversation we had last week about that odd and offensive discussion of breastfeeding rates in Africa by Nicholas Kristof, who suggested (like many other Anglophone male commenters in the past 300 years or so) that breastfeeding is a “natural” and “free” resource that needs no external environmental, cultural, or political support beyond a woman’s free choice (or refusal) to nurse. Commenter Digger, an archaeologist with some evident anthropological chops as well, summed it all up nicely: “Women: selfish magical factories of goodness! Seriously, this works in several analyses, not just this one.”

Indeed. The presumption that women’s bodies should operate in the service of the state is foundational to the liberal state itself, so I guess that’s why so few people globally and transhistorically look to understand women’s life choices as rational or reasonable given the structural limits around them. Instead, they just assume instead that it’s pure bloody-mindedness on the part of women that they’re not having enough children, or they’re not having them under the approved conditions (heterosexual matrimony, for example), and/or that they’re not breastfeeding said children at all/long enough/long enough to satisfy the demands of the state. To borrow a turn of phrase from Digger, they’re just selfishly withholding the magical goodness their bodies can produce naturally, and for free!

Finally, you know I couldn’t resist this one:

Don’t miss the interview with Holly George-Warren, author of Public Cowboy no. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry” on Fresh Air yesterday!

8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Back in the saddle again”

  1. Susan on 06 Jul 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Well, women can’t be “rational economic actors who make decisions about their lives that respond directly to their political, cultural, and economic environments” because if that were allowed, they might not do the things that they are “supposed” to do for either their partners or children. Silly Historiann. Women need to do what WE want them to do, not what THEY want to do.

  2. cgeye on 06 Jul 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    You do know that TCM, that blessed movie channel, is showin’ nuttin’ but singin’ cowboys each Friday night, this month? To kinda offset its look at Arab portrayals in movies, Tuesdays and Thursdays….

    http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/429606|0/Robert-Osborne-on-Singing-Cowboys.html

  3. Digger on 06 Jul 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    What Susan said… as soon as we exert control over our magical goodness (of whatever variety), we’re b!tches. Too much, too little, wrong context… b!tch, b!tch, b!tch!

    But, there I go being all grumpy with no sense of humor… Thanks for the compliments, H’ann!

  4. henry on 07 Jul 2011 at 10:41 am #

    After the NEW YORKER article a few weeks ago, on Berlusconi and Italy, I am not surprised at anything sexist that goes on in Italy. Only 5% of Italian men have ever operated a washing machine!!!

  5. koshem Bos on 07 Jul 2011 at 11:10 am #

    As a man I am pissed. As if anyone takes me seriously. Today, we are abused, taken advantage of, expected to work until we drop.

    Obviously, women were on the slavery track forever. Everyone is getting there quite fast.

  6. truffula on 07 Jul 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Well Germany has a fine tradition of pushing women out of work and back to the home, sometimes by force of law. The contrast between east and west Germany after WWII, generous child care/women at work/ shared housework in one and limited childcare/women struggle to work/ women shoulder the bulk of housework in the other, shows that the inequity is a social construct.

  7. Janice on 07 Jul 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    I’d love to have some time to go over the issues raised in this publication that IHE highlighted: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/07/07/qt#264343

    The opening paragraph in the PNAS release makes me want to weep with how we know this already and yet it never seems to sink in with people (in other words, how are these surprising results?):

    In almost every country, women with more education have fewer children. But does education reduce childbearing, or does childbearing get in the way of education, or both? New research by Joel E. Cohen and colleagues in Norway found that, at least among a population of Norwegian women, childbearing impeded education more than education impeded childbearing. The surprising findings are reported online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  8. cgeye on 09 Jul 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    This is stunning to me — I thought countries with generous maternity leave benefits wanted their mothers back at work. I thought their child care was better than ours and cheaper. There’s no capitalist utopia, is there?

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