Now that the global economy has fallen apart, a badly compromised economic stimulus bill has passed that is worse for women than men and Obama has proposed a $275 billion housing plan that analysts and administration officials alike agree “will not come close to halting the tidal wave of foreclosures,” I’m wondering: Where has the feminist outrage been? The economic crisis is in every way a feminist issue, so why the near silence?
Sure, some women have written great pieces about the meltdown, including the ways that women have been hit — and missed. Two weeks back, Jennifer Barrett noted “that many of the jobs being generated for women [in the proposed stimulus bill] will probably come later and pay far less than the jobs being created in fields dominated by men.” Linda Hirshman’s December NYT op-ed took Team Obama to task for weighting the stimulus plan toward creating jobs in sectors that employ very few women (construction and green jobs, to name two). She followed up with a virtual master class on how to unpack dicey numbers and squishy logic, toasting Team Obama for releasing an unrealistically rosy report on the stimulus bill’s projected positive effect on women’s employment. She also offers a smart, refreshingly understandable explanation of why it’s not quite right to say that the economic crisis is hurting men more and in greater number than it’s hurting women. (Hint: Women’s rate of unemployment is rising faster than men’s; women earn less.)
But Barrett and Hirshman and a notable handful of others — including Gretchen Morgenson, who tried to sound the alarm about executive compensation for about as long as Cassandra tried to warn the Trojans about that damned horse — don’t have a lot of company out there in the hinterlands of women who write about the economy.
There’s plenty more to say as governments begin rolling out a variety of stimulus packages that don’t take gender — or class or race — into account when it comes to job creation. On Wednesday New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg (a former general partner at Salomon Brothers) announced that he wants the city “to invest $45 million in government money to retrain investment bankers, traders and others who have lost jobs on Wall Street.” Bloomberg makes a point of “head[ing] off criticism that the city is providing assistance to people who were paid large sums to work in a business whose excesses caused a global financial crisis” by saying that “these job losses affect people in a wide range of professions and income levels.” But he never says whether any of that re-training will be directed to the administrative staff — the sector of the financial industry with the most women, many of color — and the (guy) reporter doesn’t ask.
I’m guessing that women aren’t writing about the economy at nearly the rate that we’re writing about abortion, sexist ads and the latest asshattery from the Palin clan for a number of reasons. First, we’ve too narrowly defined what constitutes a feminist issue. Second, our response to any of those hot button issues is stronger, more immediately personal and easier for us to understand than the slog through hell that is the 1,000+-page stimulus bill. Finally, I suspect that many of us are hesitant either because we think we don’t know enough, or because we really don’t know enough.
Let’s get over that.