In Honor of International Worker’s Day

I read this review of the new depression journalism–apparently less compelling than that of the 30s. In part because our standards of living really are higher than they were in the 30s.

Monster.com searches, desperate as they may be, are less exciting to photograph than starving, malnourished children in bread lines.

My briefest brief comment is that this review reminded me of this overly long but still worthwhile discussion of women and the DIY homecrafts movement.

What if we think about the new DIY movement as a product of the wasted energies and creativities of a generation of unemployable middle class people? Instead of fretting about hipsters and the ridiculous things they pickle? 

People seem to understand the Great Recession only as a giant sinking of the once-thriving middle class.

Oddly (except not), this understanding does not lead our society to invest in providing emergency services to the poor and working poor–many of whom used to be, and ought to be, and feel like they are still middle class.

Even though our primary emotional and intellectual understanding of the Great Recession, when we think about it at all, is that now many middle class people are no longer middle class.

Furthermore, it’s possible that the top 10% have now outpaced the middle 80% in educational achievement because the middle 80% is no longer all that close, in wealth, to the top 10%. Also not mentioned in that article I posted yesterday.

If I spent much longer not getting a job, I probably would have pickled ridiculous things and tried to sell them, too.

Lots of people talk about the symptoms of a terrible economy without mentioning the terrible economy.

Anyway, if you have a job: AWESOME. If it actually pays for your life, AMAZING.

If you don’t or it doesn’t: you’re not alone.

Happy International Worker’s Day!

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6 thoughts on “In Honor of International Worker’s Day

  1. Inder says:

    Ooh, yikes. I find articles like the Salon one you linked challenging and annoying, probably because of my own resemblance to the “trendy” folks described. I actually took (extremely mild) offense to the idea that pickling ridiculous things is ridiculous, before I remembered that you have not actually tried my incredibly delicious garden grown “dilly beans.”

    I think the economy is so important in this discussion. And it’s also about frustration with corporations and the general futility of “real protest.” Like when the hippies gave up and joined communes. There’s a bit of that going on. Turning inwards. The politics of the home, and the private is political, etc. If we can’t get a job, or decent working conditions, well, at least we can control what we eat, and stick it to the man that way.

    But also, dude, I do not pickle ridiculous things! Picked nasturtium seeds are TASTY. You’re missing out! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Ah! I actually meant to defend your right to pickle whatever you want and not face public indignation about it. But I did use the word “ridiculous.” I was thinking of a Portlandia sketch (We can pickle that!”) in which the hipsters pickle fallen-off-high heels. But I didn’t want to steal their joke. So I said “ridiculous.”

    The longer version of that New Yorker review (paywalled!) articulates your comment in a slightly different way. That one major difference between the 30s and now is that our culture has retreated back to the most basic US ideal of individualism. So that our Great Recession lit focuses on the elites and celebrities. Rather than the polis. And that victims of the G.R. are still embracing a doctrine of individualism, rejecting the idea that even government, let alone collective action, can do anything to help them. (Unlike in the 30s, when people believed that these things could help them.) And in many cases, they are right. But I do agree that this tendency is a 60s legacy, in that the 60s’ emphasis on personal freedom, along with “rights” (of the civil sort) has solidified our longstanding obsession with individualism.

    The Salon article’s real point was trying to say that dude, feminism’s not responsible for our nation’s dependence on processed foods. And, in fact, the DIY thing is mostly women-driven. She just took too long to say it. And it’s not like Michael Pollan’s really listening to all the feminists defend feminism against his blithe re-writing of recent social history. And also, she didn’t really articulate, to my satisfaction, why it’s a women-driven movement. (Women stay at home because it’s better than looking for a job that won’t pay as much as men anyway, especially now that there’s cultural permission to treat staying at home as a freakin full time, productive job, what with the pickling and the knitting and the gardening–all of which contribute economically to the household.)

    • Inder says:

      At the risk of sounding like one of those self-righteous stay at home moms (which you know that I am not), I find the tone of the conversation – the idea that “home economics” are ridiculous and “hobbies” and silly things silly women do, to be sort of misogynist in its own right. They are viewed as lesser activities, “hobbies” and silly time-wasters (and don’t worry, I didn’t take any actual offense at the pickling comment, and I thought that Portlandia sketch was hilarious – damn, I love that show) *because* they are traditionally women’s work. Because women traditionally kept house in our society, the very act of keeping house (which does indeed provide economic value to the household) is degraded and looked down upon. Not because it’s not important, but because women do it.

      So I guess I take exception to the idea that time spent in the domestic sphere is “wasted energy” as opposed to time spent in the traditionally male sphere of working out in the world, or that the only reason someone would enjoy these activities is that they are essentially unemployed – they don’t have better paid work to do. To me, the idea that paid work is inherently superior to domestic work is, at least partly, the result of the sexist culture we live in. And the idea that domestic activities are cute little hobbies that women keep themselves occupied with at home is similarly sexist, and contributes to the general devaluing of the work women have traditionally done, which of course they shouldn’t *have* to do, but which nonetheless has always played a very important economic role in our society. One way that the patriarchy kept women hard at work and uncomplaining was by devaluing that work and patting women on the head and telling them that they were actually lazy housewives when they were working their asses off.

      The creative activities of the home – sewing, cooking, pickling – far from being “silly,” were, I think, some of the only creative outlets of generations of women who really were never allowed to express themselves in a more public way. It’s not wasted energy, or if it is, it’s no more wasted than any other creative endeavor – basically: it’s art.

      But of course I’m glad to work in a traditionally very male dominated job, because guess what? It means that they pay me, pretty well. Anything that smacks of “women’s traditional labor” – sewing, pickling, party planning, nursing the elderly, childcare – is generally paid like shit. But to me, this is because of a long history of sexism and the denegration of women’s labor, not that these jobs are unimportant or uninteresting, or that if you could, you’d do something else, obviously. Unfortunately, in our society, if you WANT to do one of these activities for a living, you have to put up with extraordinarily shitty pay, which doesn’t really represent freedom of choice in my opinion.

      I still have a good amount of second-wave feminism in me. I think it’s important that women be well represented in the workforce, in all areas. The reasons they are not are varied, and a lot of has to do with childcare, and the way women are still seen as the primary caregivers of children, etc. I do think it’s important that we get out there and become integrated into all areas of labor, especially male-dominated ones. But what I don’t agree with is a brand of feminism that continues to denegrate household work. I also feel like, until we learn to value that work on its merits, we’re just buying into the sexist idea that men’s work is better and contributes more, than women’s work.

      Anyway. I know, you’re the choir here. Just some thoughts.

  3. Inder says:

    P.S. Pollan’s comments annoyed the shit out of me too. Totally a sexist pig. Why is the onus on women to do all of the “slow cooking”? WTF? Cooking is actually one area where I think the politics are way more complicated, because men have traditionally been cooks and “foodies” etc., etc. Women’s cooking is devalued, but men’s cooking somehow is not. So it’s more complicated. And of course I don’t like any kind of nostalgic portrayal of women’s work in the past that glorifies it at the expense of all of the women who actually worked their asses off just trying to survive. But the fact remains, it was “real work” and not some kind of fun, time-killing hobby for them, and it contributed enormously to the economic fabric of the societies they lived in.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I totally agree with you! Of course!

      But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the rise of DIY home work has coincided with a rapid nationwide sinking of the middle class and massive loss of job opportunities across the board. Reframing concepts of “choice” for people–especially people with kids.

      So I’m not saying that all the women-driven home arts stuff is “wasted energy” because home-work (feminine) is a waste, while job-work (masculine) is productive. I don’t think you thought I was? But just to be clear.

      And I do think that the convenience foods/appliances boom was GREAT for women, allowing women to more easily feed their families and make extra money for the household. Which aligns with feminist goals. I also think that women have always worked f-in hard, and productively, in the home. None of this is to give any serious validity to what Pollan was saying. But also: it’s complicated.

      I don’t really see any brand of feminism that denigrates housework. I guess the second wave type focus on breaking into the workforce may have been interpreted by some as such? Is there anything/one in particular you have in mind?

  4. […] are a society of individuals now, even on the left. And of course the novel reflects that. But I believe that the novel critiques this cultural turn, […]

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