International Women’s Day has come and gone once again with lots of press coverage that iterates some version of the idea that if you invest in women and girls, especially in their education, you produce an economic advantage that accrues to the whole society.
I’ve been recasting my life lately into a state of nature, as a thought experiment, and I am quite certain I would have been a cheerful and happy peasant, provided I didn’t starve or have to watch all my children die – those things suck completely. But I can easily imagine myself a farm wife with 12 children, and quite happy with my lot in life. There is a sense in our modern world that a woman of intelligence cannot possibly be fulfilled with a life that is focused on taking care of children and a home rather than some sort of economically productive work, and I think that is a primary driver behind the program to educate women for the work force. There exists a minority of women who genuinely dislike the work of caring (for a home, a family, children, etc.), and they have used their free time to convince normal women, and the world, that work that generates an income is the only meaningful work to be done.
But they have the economics completely backwards.
Investing money in women in a poor society is a bad deal. The money should be invested in men and boys first, because men and boys create the conditions that allow women to make use of whatever education they acquire. I’ll point out here that even when women are 100% convinced that paid work is the only work that can satisfy, women mostly work in care-giving roles that simply recreate the conditions of housework. The overwhelming majority of women in the workforce take care of children, the sick, the elderly, make and serve food, provide clothes, clean, decorate and keep things neat and organized. That’s 90% of the female workforce.
I’m tempted here to link to a blog run by a card-carrying feminist (PhD in Women’s Studies) because it’s just so representative of the ‘educated feminist woman’. This woman runs a blog about collecting shiny things, cleaning, cooking and decorating, but she makes her husband do all the heavy work, and then berates him openly on the blog when he doesn’t do the job correctly (I’ll rip the floor up next time!). She makes virtually no income from the blog, and lives off her husband, who works a dangerous job to support his wife, the feminist, as she polishes Pyrex (seriously). She refuses to have children, but has a couple of dogs she treats like children. She cooks, cleans, decorates – leads an entirely superficial life her husband pays for, but refuses to have children.
She is the feminist ideal.
And also the nihilist’s ideal.
Let’s recall Immanuel Kant here, and ask what the world would look like if everyone lived like the feminist. The world would be very clean and pretty, and it would end in one generation. I actually feel sorry for this woman, collecting all her knick-knacks so lovingly. She will have no grandchildren to remember that ‘these were Grandma’s favorite Pyrex bowls’ or ‘this was Grandma’s apron that she wore every Christmas’. She lives only in the moment, with no connection to the future. No one will visit her grave.
That’s sad more than anything else.
Think for a moment though, about how we get from a society where women will spend most of their lives bearing children and then trying to keep them alive, to one where women can earn doctoral degrees that offer no hope of real employment and live off their husband’s income while occupying their own time collecting and organizing shiny things like a magpie.
To get from one world to the other world, we need machines. A poor society is a society that has no, or very limited, machinery or automation. A rich society has tons of machines and automation. Where do machines come from?
What would be the point of educating women to invent, design, build, maintain and repair machines when those women would have their work interrupted, their entire reproductive lives, by the brute realities of birth, labor, breastfeeding and raising small children? It would be a very inefficient use of resources to invest in teaching women to do the work required to create machines. It makes much more sense to invest those resources in men.
Men create the machines that free women. I’m not making an argument that this is fair, just, or acceptable. It’s reality.
The explosion in women going to college and entering the workforce is regularly attributed to the feminist movement, but really, it wasn’t feminists who handed women economic freedom, it was the men who created refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and the birth control pill. Those aren’t random selections either. How many women would have jobs outside the home if they still had to produce fresh food to be consumed at every meal, wash all the dishes by hand, wash clothes by hand, clean the house without machines to help and give birth every 18 – 24 months? We can have a good discussion about just how happy women actually are to have been freed from these labors, but if our discussion is how to free women, then the answer is rather simple.
If you want to free women, you must first free men.
Invest in men and boys, and women and girls will follow.
Lots of love,