Peak Oil Is Still a Women's Issue and Other Reflections on Sex, Gender and the Long Emergency

In 2005, my first widely republished article was entitled "Peak Oil is a Women's Issue" and detailed the ways that material realities for women were likely to change in an energy depleted world. I got more than a 100 emails after I wrote that piece, mostly falling into two camps - either "Wow, I never thought of that, but of course it is" and "Oh, I've been worrying about these issues for a long time and no one ever writes about them." I was not the first significant woman writer in the peak oil movement, nor was I even the first to ever write about these issues, but somehow this article hit a nerve - and the mainstream of the then-much-smaller Peak Oil Community. A year later, this was the article that led my editor at New Society to ask me to write _Depletion and Abundance_.

And in the last five years (actually longer - I actually drafted the above article in 2004 and published on a discussion group about peak oil issues) I've written a substantial number of articles about the ways our present roles were shaped by cheap, abundant energy, and about what happens if that energy become less cheap and less abundant.

I've written probably 50 articles on various related subjects over the years about sex and gender (Just so everyone knows the distinction, sex is biological, gender isn't. Besides the fact that some people change genders, they are different subjects - the biology of childbearing is about sex, who does the primary caregiving once the breastfeeding (if relevant) is over is about gender.)

I've argued that men who have less traditional gender roles may adapt better to increasing poverty, job loss and changes in status, I've written about the false perception that everyone who is "prepping" is male, about why it annoys the crap out of me when men say they think all women should be like me, about what Michelle Obama's reception by Russian women and our portrayal of her means for women's identity and the shortage of viable roles, why women's experience may have made them less trustful of institutional solutions than many men are - and also less likely to go straight to the end of the world scenarios and a whole lot of material issue, like how to store food for pregnant and nursing women, and what kind of menstrual supplies you might need post-zombie, why I think people who demean housewifely virtues are assholes , and why I like being called a shameless hussy (and why I think that there's an important role for shameless hubbies)- and that's just a sampling. It is safe to say that sex and gender have been major themes in my work.

Now every time I write one of these articles, I end up making the case for gender as a defining factor in how we view the world through these lenses. There are always people who view these issues as trivial and secondary to the big important questions of how we're going to build a rail network or when exactly, the zombies are expected to arrive.

What's funny, though, is that over the years, I've come to think that I'm only beginning to grasp the ways that gender and sex have been integral in creating our collective predicament. I have and do argue that at least as significant as the famed failed suburban experiment that James Kunstler and others see as central to causing our problem was the shift to a corporatized feminism that replaced women with cheap energy, "housewifized" or professionalized all labor in the subsistence economy, and, along with the push to move farmers off their land and into the workforce, was a major factor in enabling our industrial expansion. I write in _Depletion and Abundance_ that feminism succeeded in large part in the way it did because it was so good for a corporate, industrialized society that ultimately devalues women - and human beings, while pretending to value them.

In an article I wrote a while back "What's a Human Being Worth? Less Per Barrel than You'd Think", is one I keep meaning to seriously revisit. I argued that in fact fossil fuels radically devalue human labor, and human beings. We tend to think that the use of energy enables us to value human beings - really smart people don't have to work in the dirt anymore, they can pursue rocket science and engineering and write poetry. And that's true, in some measure. There are cases in which energy really does enable us to see and value some human lives better - for example, for the severely disabled, energy resources are often central both their ability to live and their ability to be present and valued in society and to advocate for themselves. But in general, the role of fossil fuels has been in part to radically devalue both the work that can't be done by fossil fuels, but also the people who do it. I wrote:

There is a reason I'm pointing this out - because underlying a lot of people's thinking about peak oil is a "OMG...we use X number of terajoules of energy to do Y, and now we've got to replace it with backbreaking human labor - and doing even the most essential things - digging ditches or growing food, pays for shit - we're all gonna be slaves!"

Now there are several problems with this analysis, but I want to focus on one important one - the fact that cheap energy has had the function devaluing human labor. This is fairly obvious - if a gallon of gas can do the equivalent of four men's work digging outhouses in one day, and the gallon of gas (plus the machine to use it, the man to operate it and the (almost certainly subsidized) infrastructure to support it) is cheaper, the value of the men's labor as outhouse diggers drops Because no one in their right mind will hire them, instead of the machine and its dude.

Or maybe not quite zero - perhaps some people with money to spare will see the value of hand-dug outhouses, and tell their friends, and a small niche market will arise - but most people won't. And most of the outhouse diggers will have to go do something else to make money. The best money, obviously, will be in doing things machines don't do well (yet), like helping Grandma to the potty, writing blogs about the injustices of society and breastfeeding (oh, wait, the money for all of those things sucks... damn, the fact that I'm not an economist kicks me in the ass again.)

You'd think that doing stuff machines and oil can't do would pay pretty well, but in fact, the fossil fuels essentially devalue all human labor - the highest paid jobs become not the ones that machines can't do that benefit society, but the ones that enable more fossil fuel usage, because functionally, cheap energy is (this seems obvious, but I make it explicit because its amazing what people miss) a way of printing money - getting a lot of work done for virtually nothing is a great way to make a profit - that's why people used to like slavery, and then they liked fossil fuels.

In fact, they devalue human work so much you can't do the work even if you want to - you can't breastfeed your baby because you have to go back to work at Walmart 3 weeks after the birth (because you are needed to help the growth economy), and you can't manufacture things things, because the things are too expensive if they pay you a living wage - the only way they can use human labor is to find labor that is literally cheaper than oil - by creating economic structures that ensure that the wealth doesn't get spread around and that there always are people who are cheaper than oil. So it isn't so much work that machines don't do well that is valued but work that enables the expansion of energy use, and thus, more exchange of cash - for example, being a real estate developer paid (until the energy prices started to rise) really, really well - because they make new markets, and make new uses for fossil fuels - all those houses need faucets and insulation, all those suburbanites need grocery stores and gas stations, all those new toilets need toilet paper.

Gender issues are at the cusp of this question of how we value human beings, because the the "housewifization" of labor, in which labor is rendered invisible by the overvaluation of the formal economy (the economy of tax statements and GDP) over the informal economy (which is actually 3/4 of the world economy, the larger portion of it). Not all the people whose work is erased are women, obviously - farmers, subsistence workers and anyone whose labor can be replaced by fossil fuels fairly easily gets "housewifized." In the same article I wrote:

Now the economy and culture that rise up don't just value things that enable things that involve burning stuff more than things that don't, they explicitly *DEVALUE* things that don't - that is, it isn't just that now the guys who used to build outhouses can't do that work any more, it is that the very fact that they used to do that is now treated as appalling, strange and bad. People marvel that anyone could ever have done it at all, and describe the work as "drudgery" and "backbreaking" - which may be true - the guys digging the outhouses may well have hated it, and may well have preferred their new jobs, unloading pallets at Walmart to digging outhouses. Probably on rainy days, the certainly did - although maybe when their boss was timing their bathroom breaks they missed their old job and the convenient woods, and when they were working a 12 hour shift under the flourescent lights on a beautiful, breezy fall day, who knows? Certainly, their backs probably hurt either way.

The women who used to nurse their babies aren't just doing something different, or contributing to a different segment of the economy (ummm...healthy intelligent workers - those aren't useful, are they?) what they are doing is arcane and immodest, maybe a little dirty, showing off their boobs like that. Certainly, it is anti-intellectual and a waste of what education they had - staying at home rotting their brains, rather than going to do some useful work where someone else can care for the baby while your boss times you as you attempt to pump breastmilk on the toilet of the Walmart bathroom. Of course, you give up, but that's good, because that creates jobs for formula manufacturers and Baby Stalin Video developers.

And not only do they devalue that work, but they devalue the men and women themselves who weren't "smart" enough to get in on the ground floor of the fossil fuel pyramid scheme - we make a lot of redneck jokes, and talk about how important our work is and how we're too important or smart to clean toilets or wipe bums ( And yes, these are actual things I've heard expressed quite explicitly) Doing work that can be done by machines and oil (unless you manage a niche market like the perfect outhouses, coming soon to a Martha Stewart show near you), like weeding, breastfeeding or digging means you must be dumb - because didn't you know we can do that with fossil fuels now? Or better yet, or with a combination of fossil fuels and people whose main characteristic is that they are cheaper than oil.

And it isn't just these folks - anything that can be profitably done with cheap fossil fuels is obviously devalued - but also, oil produces a lot of energy. I know, I know...duh. But bear with me. This is its virtue, but also its cost. At first you can take the obviously demanding jobs and replace them with machines and oil, and make slow things go faster. Now maybe that's ok and maybe it isn't - we don't do a lot of intellectual case by case thinking about this stuff - but after a while, all the outhouse diggers are out of business. But we still have all this energy coming in - and now we have to grow into to work that isn't so well done with fossil fuels - work that doesn't get done with powered machines, but that can only be replaced either with diminishing quality (ie, Grandma gets probed by a potty-machine instead of having her need for help and kindness met simultaneously), or by convincing people that what isn't as good really is. So, for example, despite the manifest case that industrial food production produces food that tastes like shit, has fewer nutrients and is more toxic, we have to be told that this is progress, that Campbell's Soup is better than homemade and that Grandma is pissed not because she doesn't like where the probe goes, but also because the frozen lasagna is better than hers ever was.

And that's the other way that fossil fuels devalue human labor - they convince us that the world we get with fossil fuels is equivalent in every respect to the human powered one, that we can actually do economic analyses that establish what a human being is worth (particularly future humans, who have a nasty depreciation rate in a energy depleted and warming world), and that there's no danger, nothing inherently demeaning there in sitting around and discussing what a human being is worth. Not only do fossil fuels devalue human labor directly, but because they produce so much energy, they must create uses for that energy - they are the primary agency of growth - a 30-1 EROEI for oil means that even if we only need to use 10 barrels of oil for everyone we extract, we have to create a need for the other 20.

Thus, you start out replacing the outhouse diggers, and replacing hand loomed cloth with machine loomed cloth, making huge differences in productivity - but gradually you start making bread machines and salad shooters and clothes dryers that don't really do the job any better than human beings with ambient energies. But we can't tell anyone that's not true - so you start selling the idea that you need a bread machine to make bread, and a backhoe to dig a hole and formula to feed a baby and that these things are better, or at a minimum just the same.

And what happens to people who are devalued, who pay the price for this. Sometimes they get pretty pissed at the people who aren't devalued. I would argue that some of the deep political conservativism of parts of the US stem from this devaluation - areas like Kansas and Oklahoma were early hotbeds of socialism in the US in the 30s - their political ties to the Republicans are not organic or natural. Instead, the sense of underlying betrayal has set up a deep opposition between people who (broadly) got the benefits of fossil energies and those who didn't.

And one of the things that happens is that when it turns out you can't use all those fossil fuels anymore, some people are so traumatized by the drop into devalued categories that it kills them. I recently wrote an article about this that has been picked up by The Oil Drum about precisely this issue. I teach classes for people attempting to adapt their lives to lower energy usage, and one of the things I've found startling is the degree to which conversations about "men's issues" and "women's issues" look completely different. When women'sissues come up, women are worried mostly about material realities - How will I keep safe? How will I handle pregnancy, birth control, breastfeed, menstruation and menopause? These are the central issues that women perceive as specific to them.

When we talk about men's issues, almost always one of the central discussion points, however, is depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, and even thoughts of suicide. The difference is startling - and it doesn't seem just to be my audience. In states that have collapsed or had a major crisis, there's considerable evidence that men often have more trouble with the shift in their roles than women, and with heavy consequences. In Russia, for example a combination of poor health care, increased alcoholism, rapidly rising suicide rates and other linked factors created a disparity of almost a decade between the lifespans of men and of women. Both sexes saw declines in lifespan - but for Russian men, the difference was extremely dramatic - 4 years from 1980 to 1999.

em>The transition to market economies in many post-communist societies of the former Soviet Union and other former eastern bloc countries in Europe has a produced a "demographic collapse," a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme has found. Among the most serious findings is a four year drop in life expectancy among Russian men since 1980, from 62 years to 58.The development programme's report also noted significant drops in life expectancy in Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. The immediate cause of the rising mortality, said the report, is the "rise in self-destructive behaviour, especially among men." Old problems such as alcoholism have increased; drug misusea relatively new problem in the former communist blochas risen dramatically in recent years. The report Transition 1999 stated that suicide rates have climbed steeply too, by 60%in Russia, 80%in Lithuania, and 95%in Latvia since 1989.

Over at The Oil Drum, a short piece I wrote about this difference has been picked up and is generating some comment.. As usual, some folks think that we're all just basically alike, and we shouldn't talk about this in terms of men and women - but we already know that men commit suicide substantially more often and have higher rates of alcoholism. The reality is that in a society that has radically devalued subsistence and human labor, and transformed the work of those who do things that could be done by fossil fuels into worthless, invisible labor, being shoved, by unemployment, illness or collapse into the category of the uncounted, the unproductive is a recipe for disaster.

In the end, I think that the question of how to navigate a transition to a lower-energy use world is going to be deeply tied up in how we respond and adapt our culture - and how we address issues of sex, gender (and race and class, which are wholly intertwined, but I'm leaving out since this post is already long). In the worst case, women could lose many of the gains they've made - the women's movement has never fully acknowledged the degree to which women's social roles have changed not just due to activism, but due to energy resources. This comparative blind spot means that we have also failed to grasp how vulnerable those gains are. In "Peak Oil is a Women's Issue" I note:

Whatever happens in the post peak future will hit women differently, and in many ways harder, than it will hit men. For example, women are more likely to be poor than men are. In an economic crisis, women are more likely than men to be impoverished, and more seriously. Elderly women are the poorest and most vulnerable people in the US, and their lives are not likely to be improved by peak oil. Women are more likely to be single parents, a job that will come with a whole host of new difficulties post peak. They are more likely than men to work minimum wage jobs, to be exploited at work, to not be unionized, to have their rights violated. Poor women are more likely to be victims of violence, to have unplanned children, to be trapped in poverty from which they can't arise. In a period of economic crisis, where everyone is desperate for work, women will be even more vulnerable than usual, and we are already more vulnerable than men.

Creating a sustainable future requires that women who don't want to have children, or not yet, or not many, be able to cease doing so. And yet poverty dramatically decreases access to medical care and birth control even in our first world society. The poorer and less well educated you are (and those two things are reciprocally related) the more likely you are to become pregnant without intending it, both because of reduced access to reliable birth control and insufficient education in how to use it. The younger, poorer and less well educated a woman is , the younger she is likely to have children, the more children she is likely to have, the more health consequences she and her children are likely to have (prematurity, high blood pressure, etc...), and the less likely she is to ever escape poverty - or for her children to escape it. In a major economic depression, the ranks of poor women are likely to grow enormously, and we are likely to see not fewer children, but more and more unwanted children unless we plan very carefully to ensure that we prioritize medical access for everyone as one of the things we do with our limited resources.

If public policy is to address the population issue, it must be in a way that does not reduce women's power and freedom. Whatever measures we take to limit growth, they must be taken with the full consent of the female half of the population. The very best things we can do to limit population are increase women's access to education, health care, and ensure that the children she does have will have a chance to grow up. The US has poor literacy levels, poor access to health care for those without insurance, and poor infant mortality rates for an industrialized nation, and has just entered into an endless war which is already killing young soldiers at a ridiculously high rate. We must improve all of the above - keep our children alive, well educated and healthy. But we are entering a period of economic and social crisis, and we're going to have to make difficult policy choices. Education, social welfare and medical care are historically the first things to get the axe - we must change that aspect of the culture immediately, if we're to have any hope of population stabilization. We must stand firm in saying that health care and education come before large new alternative energy projects that may never pay off, or we will never, ever be able to catch up in a world of eternal, exponential growth.

The present economy, in which women are nearly as likely as men to go out and work full time, depends enormously on cheap energy. Mothers of young children can only go to work if they have easy access to and can afford formula, or fancy breast pumps and refrigeration for the milk. Unless wet nursing makes a come back (and it may, but most of us almost certainly won't be able to afford it), women in their childbearing years will not be working far away from home. And given the dramatic increase in domestic labor created by using less energy, it will make sense for them to be at home. They will be the ones who almost certainly shoulder much of the burden of food production, housekeeping, sanitation, and childrearing. It will be damned hard work, and there will be a lot of it. If we are to shoulder that burden, we must be involved in the creation of the systems that we will live under, and prioritization of resources - that is, we cannot allow the old saw, that those who are employed in the world of the GDP are doing "real" work, which should thus receive a larger share of the remaining resources in accomodation. The elimination of domestic labor from calculations of value and worth is an intentional lie of growth capitalism, to devalue the work subsistence labor, which meets most of our basic needs. We need to demand that any calculations of priority take into account the fact that the food, clothing, shelter and nurturance provided by people engaged in homemaking is, in many cases, more valuable than the non-essential paid work that many people engage in.

I am concerned that women may lose ground in education, in control of our bodies, in vulnerability to rape and domestic violence and to grinding poverty. We already know that climate change will affect most the world's poorest and that women and children will be disproportionately affected. The same is potentially true of energy depletion.

But men are going to pay a price too - we know this because they already are. We know, for example, that the economic crisis has disproportionately caused men to lose their jobs. Men lost 74% of the jobs between 2007 and 2009 both because many traditionally male industries, like construction were heavily hit, and also because companies retained lower-paid women. Lucky us - inequitable compensation apparently has its up side ;-P.

In the end, much of our collective crisis is about how we have chosen to navigate difficult questions, and so tied up in gender roles and what we value that there is no way to even begin to untangle the mess without taking very seriously the roles of sex and gender here. At the root is this particular twining - that there is no harm that comes to men without leaving women bereft, or causing them pain as they watch their brothers and fathers and husbands and friends suffer. There is no harm that comes to women that does not reflect back on the men who love and value them. There is no way that harm can come to men or women without it reflecting back on the children they nurture. That does not mean, as some would claim, we're all basically the same. What it means is that we touch one end of the string, and follow it through to the complex knot that we've created. If we cannot fully untangle it, perhaps we can make it a little less knotted.



More like this

All I gotta say is "you GO GIRL!"

By Grandma Misi (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink

I see this in my own home where I am the more "doomy" of the two of us, worrying about food, water and if the house is paid off, etc. Dh's concern is with energy which allows him to continue to work. We have trouble figuring out how to navigate the traditional ways of saving for retirement, planning for college because who knows how these things will pan out? Recently I've given serious consideration to a career in midwifery. Years ago I almost dropped out of college to study to be one, but I lived in a state where it is illegal. Since that is no longer a problem, I think it might be time for me to begin study.

I admire your insights and courageous tackling of provocative topics, as always...

Ha, you're waiting for the but, aintcha? :-)

What I want to say is not exactly a but. And you're probably fully aware, already. It's just that this topic, if we can reduce it to one, is ancient beyond the usual recognitions, and may observably go back to the bonobos, et. al. My point being, in all that time, very little traction has been obtained, on any side of it.

I just don't want you to feel wounded if the world out there "doesn't get it" after your entirely lucid and sensible discussion.

There are quite a few difficulties in the world which are just not susceptible to attack by logic; and I'm pretty sure this is one of them.

Partly, but not entirely, due to the extremely high heat to light ratio these discussions reach very quickly. Your post has an outrageously LOW heat content, you rational hussy you. But predictably, many others become inflamed quickly.

So, basically, I'm enjoying your thinking, and sitting here shaking my head slightly in bemusement, murmuring "ok, then. good luck." :-)

To some extent, "un-preppedness" may be a gender free problem. There are many men and women who are going to be horrified at their new lives, and very unwilling to accept them.

You are right, though, that being prepped may include dealing with gender realities. We still have real problems in dealing with "equal" meaning, or not meaning "identical".

I have an analysis which I haven't published anywhere, which seems germane here to me. So I'll risk just tossing it out.

One of the common observations on hunter/gatherer peoples; correct, or universal, or not, is: "The savages use their women as beasts of burden; look at them, the women are carrying everything, and the men are just loafing along only carrying their bows."

I think this was often true, as the camp moved. And I think it's very likely that any tribe where the men carried their fair share- is extinct.

If you think back to those days, neighboring bands often preyed on each other; and the favorite tactic of course is ambush. What better time to hit them than when everyone is loaded down with backpacks or tumpline loads, etc? Why, you can kill them all; or at least the useless men, before they could reach their weapons.

There's a very high chance the people in this situation did NOT ever sit down and reason it out; and may well have developed stories and concepts about "women's work" and "men's work" that were obnoxious. But tactically, I think the reason for that arrangement is very compelling.

Yep, it's the women's job to carry the stuff. It's the men's job to die. Which they often do quite enthusiastically. Crazy, huh?

Ok, I better stop. My unPhD thesis was going to be on "Sex based differential niche utilization in Geomyid rodents" - specifically because those guys are NOT sexually dimorphic... so there's grave danger of my going on too long...


One problem, of course, with "revaluing" labor is that economies tend to shift to production of what's valuable. Replace machines with animals, you get more animals. Replace machines with people, you get more people. Make manual labor expensive enough, and you get slave labor.

Which, of course, makes the means of production valuable primarily for its means of producing all of those laborers and makes the ability to acquire those laborers without the usual investment a very prized skill.

So, yes, I fear that a deindustrialized society is very much a women's issue -- and I fear that the primary means of population control in one will be the traditional ones of disease [1], starvation [2], and violence instead of contraception.

Enlightened public policies such as those you mention are very attractive -- but may not be positive survival traits for a non-industrial subsistence society.

[1] When digging sewers gets more expensive, expect fewer sewers. Likewise for water treatment. To pick just one example.
[2] A subsistence economy is by definition one which doesn't have substantial excess production of food. Which means that the usual random variations in weather etc. will cause famine.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink

Some random comments: Which people are the most highly paid? Some are professional athletes, movie stars, successful musicians and artists, Corporate CEO's. Is it because they doing work which cannot be replaced by a machine

Women have obtained more Bachelors degrees than men since the early 1980's. There is an increasing number of families where the wife is not only better educated but better paid than the husband. Read a piece in the paper basically advocating affirmative action for males.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink

Thanks Sharon, for a fine article, and more nuance to the discussion of work, energy & money. Interesting how the concentration of energy/money that is made possible by industrializing a (largely) subsistence economy, such as happened here over the last 100 years can be seen as a gender issue.
Living as I do in Kansas, though, I'll have to remind you that the 'Free State' movement that was such a driving force in Kansas statehood was mostly promoted by northeastern Republicans, who fought the slaveholding Democrats from Missouri. Mind you, I'm not defending the Republicans' ensuing history, just noting how weird and conflicted our stories are.
Those mostly eastern European socialist and anarchist coal miners that were such a presence in Kansas in the early part of last century were marginalized by both current parties, and are now largely forgotten, even here.

By Eric Farnsworth (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink

I really get the sense from this article that Sharon got mad at some of the comments at TOD and has decided to use this blog to launch a gender tirade.

I think this is one major distraction. It's NOT something we should be spending a lot of time on because it's basically a case of "a house divided on itself can not stand".

To start pointing fingers at women (the feminization of men meme) or men (the patriarchy is the root of all evil meme) is about as pointless as Republicans and Democrats throttling eachother over the credit crisis.

Our problems transcend gender. To get embroiled in the gender debate is just a mental trap.

Easy for you to say, Ed, as someone who belongs to the privileged gender.

It's little like a white person telling a black person "we should all just get over racism".

Excellent and insightful piece, as always, Sharon.

Yes, there is a long way to go to understand what it means to be the privileged gender; to really get it.

Until then, men need to engage these issues, not dismiss them as irrelevant as they often do.

My father served as a military attache in Saudi Arabia in the late 60's and returned with the opinion that energy independence was a matter of national security. For me it went farther than that; management of all resources is essential to our survival as a species. That's likely why Marvin Harris' Cultural Materialism was so appealing to me since it was the first sociological theory that used environmental limits to explain human behavior and culture as adaptions to our environment. (Harris is dead and other theories now use environmental factors, but he was one of the first.)

Your point about the despair and rage that men feel when marginalized by changing economic conditions reminds me to keep this quote from Mark Jurgensmeyer (Terror in the Mind of God) handy:

"What they have in common, these movements of cowboy monks, is that they consist of anti-institutional, religio-nationalist, racist, sexist, male-bonding, bomb-throwing young guys. Their marginality in the modern world is experienced as a kind of sexual despair that leads to violent acts of symbolic empowerment. It could almost be seen as poignant, if it were not so terribly dangerous."

I always said that I felt sorry because no matter how bad the jobs outlook got, there was always work for women. Someone always needed childcare or cleaning, washing and ironing done. In other words, women traditionally don't mind doing unskilled domestic work for little pay. But at least they were employable.

Men, in the same position, even if they were willing to do unskilled domestic or labouring work would have more trouble being employed as people are less willing to offer them tedious jobs for less than the average wage.

There are always two sides to every coin.

By Lori Scott (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink


I have three pages of notes, mostly spinoff ideas.

I feel you are looking too closely at the family and gender roles. I feel that the community, and unit of production or culture, are the important aspects.

I read that in 13th century Poland, it took 100 people to keep one knight equipped, all the people supporting the endeavor fed, etc. When I look at GreenPa's hunter-gatherer village (a model I idealize all the time), I think the issue is not gender so much - as community roles. The community needs the neo-militant hunters, defenders, and raiders. The hunters need a support structure to provide food, hygiene, and warmth when the blankets aren't sufficient. Communities need children (2.1 per adult pair, on average) to persist, so there will be some manner of sexual conduct. There may have been a tool specialist, maybe a healer and/or spiritual guide.

During American history, there were periods when individual couples staked a claim in the wilderness. Mating was about the only way for a couple to provide each other with enough support structure for each to survive, mostly. As they come of age, children used to (still do, in Amish families and some other communities) contribute materially. Families often didn't flourish until children's contributions began to add up.

That is, I think looking at gender roles in isolation, without the context of community, is missing the forest for the trees.

Do I know how many adults, or what mix of genders, make up a family? Nope. Communities and families have many needs, I can't think of any that are inappropriate. I do think we need to be looking at a different kind of architecture, where extended families share an enterprise and a dwelling. I have felt for some time, that an act of birth should be an act of marriage. That is, an unwed woman might enter the birthing room/facility/bedroom, but at the moment the child breathes, she is married to the father. It would just be a matter of tracking him down. I also oppose court-awarded custody, short of the state taking custody where there are no fit parents. Instead, the children should be sole custody of the mother, unless and until she gives or loses that custody. If the father wants to be in the children's lives - he better figure out a way to keep Mama happy. We need more frequent jail time - or exile - for abuse, and fewer divorces where no one is "at fault".

I feel that families form to define a new entity within the community. It is that new "family" entity that defines community roles for the individuals in the family, some chosen and some imposed.

Some communities in the past looked on widowed and abandoned women and mothers as resources - and imposed on some single guy to take them in as help or as wife. Sometimes, I think, the arrangement worked OK, but fewer lived in poverty than what welfare does to people.

I do take issue with you on one point. Here in Ponca City, OK, I see coal trains rolling through town, to the nearby electric generating plant. Until the last fossil-fuel fired plant closes, I don't believe discussing "fossil fuels" when talking about Peak Oil is sufficient. Electricity has to be equated to oil and coal for cost and for carbon expelled into the air, at least until the last coal-fired plant is retired. We have to plan on cutting back total electric usage drastically or we will continue to need that high level of coal and oil. In some cases, the losses of electricity in remote, centralized, national-grid generation, transmitting that energy trans-continental, and serving that energy to the community and home, make the efficiency of burning oil and coal suspect, with regard to value of electricity. Because I also watch trucks loaded with wind turbine blades - and their lead escort vehicles - rolling through town. Most of those trucks still seem to be diesel, and the escort trucks and SUVs are gasoline powered.

And, as you have pointed out, it takes a *lot* of oil to build, transport, erect, operate, and maintain all those alternative power devices. So, please, consider referring to "fossil fuel and electricity" when anticipating erratic but escalating cost, and diminishing availability. The future may be different, but today electricity is not much more "green" than ethanol, at 1 barrel of oil to produce each 1.35 barrels of ethanol.

Oops! That should have been "I don't believe discussing "fossil fuels" when talking about Peak Oil is *not* sufficient"

"I have felt for some time, that an act of birth should be an act of marriage. That is, an unwed woman might enter the birthing room/facility/bedroom, but at the moment the child breathes, she is married to the father. It would just be a matter of tracking him down."

And what if the woman doesn't want to be married to the father of her child? This is, frankly, a view that negate's a woman's rights. It also ignores lesbian mothers, women who've fled violent relationships, and a whole bunch of other issues.

Whether or not I birth a child is my choice, whether I want to be married - also my choice, and as far as I'm concerned an unrelated issue. Legislating something like that is just so wrong I can't think what angle you thought it was a good idea from.

I am a survivor of my partner's suicide. No one can begin to understand this trouble unless they are a close survivor. No one should dismiss the impact. Statistically, older men do complete suicide far more often than women. Men do define themselves by their work, and feel a burden if they are not. I am fearful of the future.

Actually, Ed, at the point I last read them (there were about 80 then), I thought the comments at TOD were good, actually. I have no issue with them - rather there were a lot of comments I would have liked to address but have no time to do so, so I thought it worth mentioning that that particular short article wasn't a stand alone.

I admit, I'm always amused by the idea that talking about gender is inherently divisive - that we cannot talk specifically about differences in perspective or circumstance without inherently setting us in opposition. That seems like such an obvious logical error - I can speak of the employment situation in the US without implying that the one in Britain is unimportant or lesser. I can speak of the loss of one habitat without demeaning the importance of another biome. Why is it imagined that it is impossible talk about men's issues and women's issues without setting men and women at each other?


You are certainly not an economist.

Sharon-"Why is it imagined that it is impossible talk about men's issues and women's issues without setting men and women at each other?"

:-) Because it happens so frequently? Happened last week (I think) over on TAE- VK (a mere 23 yrs old, male) made a comment in what he thought was a non-confrontational way, and a couple people took exception- with bombs.

I think it was 95% mutual misunderstandings, but so many are primed that way. Didn't tke long here either, #7- and then on. I think there is NO chance you would "launch a gender tirade" - what a silly idea. But- people take it that way anyway.

I tripped over a pretty good article on the NYT yesterday- in the TV section. The writer does an amusing analysis of "Spike TV" and "Lifetime Channel" -

from the standpoint of someone struggling to understand gender. Here is his summary, which I love:

"In the galâs perfect day she is kidnapped on the way back from putting the kids on the school bus but vanquishes the kidnappers in time to go for a fattening lunch with her single-mom pals, at which they lament their lack of dates before donning designer gowns to go to a school board meeting where they successfully address all major educational problems.

In the guyâs perfect day he awakes and, still sleepy, sticks his hand down a running garbage disposal trying to retrieve the bottle opener he has dropped in it; an ambulance crew made up entirely of strippers rushes him to the Hospital for Advanced Trauma Care and Stripping, where naked but highly trained female surgeons sew his hand back on, then take him home and wash his entire house as well as his car with their breasts while answering questions like: Does being spanked make a woman want to have sex?

So, clearly, members of one sex are living in a sad, unrealistic fantasy world, trying in vain to compensate for the drabness of their day-to-day lives. Members of the other are living a rich life of the imagination, at peace with their self-image and excited by what the future might hold. Which is which goes without saying."

"Why is it imagined that it is impossible talk about men's issues and women's issues without setting men and women at each other?"

Or maybe it's because men don't believe women are fully human and therefore take exception to the idea that we should be fully autonomous and have the same rights? See Brad's comment above, about forcing women to be married to the father of their child.

Rebekka, I don't agree with Brad, but in his defense, my impression of his remarks was that the functional definition of marriage would not be "access to the woman with whom he conceived the child" but "unarguable legal and economic responsibility for the child and the woman whose economic abilities were just radically undermined in many cases." I still think this is problematic in a whole host of ways, but I don't think Brad meant quite what you think he meant.


Aimee: "greenpa, that's a fascinating (if unprovable) thesis and it sure hits my "truth-bone." I bet you're right."

Thanks. :-) You're right about it being unprovable (so far) - I haven't been able to think of any falsifiable test so far. I have professor friends who would refuse to talk about it all, for that reason.

I like your "truth bone". It hits me the same way- another phrase in the vernacular is "it rings true".

I'm not sure science is right to ignore that kind of "understanding"; it's a thing I've had long conversations about with respected friends.

I think it's a good bone to gnaw on. :-) Now all we need is a good falsifiable hypothesis about the accuracy of truth bone perceptions...

Hi Sharon,
first time I've read your blog, was pointed here by a (male) friend.

I'm a feminist from New Zealand - and peak oil discussions here are frequently leading to discussions how to re-learn skills our grandparents had - so a lot of us are beginning to grow our own vegetables in the cities, there are community garden projects for those who live in appartments without any gardening facilities being set up on land owned by the local authorities, and a lot of discussion about improving public transport delivery, creating cycling networks to make work communtes safer, and a whole lot of the other usual green tangents.

Your argument about peak oil being a feminist issue immediately struck a chord with me, as the strongest advocates for change around peak oil that we have in our Green Party (9 seats in a Parliament of 122 members) are the women, hands down. Although I will give the Party co-leader credit for catching up to them quickly.

The second thing I noticed is that the american infrastructure is heading for a big paradigm shift, real soon, if the goals you have discussed are going to be realised - many of the issues that you have identified as key for women on low incomes are already covered in our State-provided education, health and welfare systems, as they are in most countries whose laws were based on British constitutional practice. [I can hear the howls of 'commie pinkos' already, thanks guys, no need to elaborate...]

We have had some of the same economic shocks as the USA over the past three decades; generally, with a much lower effect on the general population, because our society doesn't run with the same degree of bank-approved dependance on loans and consumer debt (the housing crunch has begun here, but since nobody was lending over 100% on finance contracts, and very few were even lending 95%, it hasn't been as bad as 2008-9 in the USA ... yet. The jury's still out on whether it will get that bad, due to a lot of leveraged property speculation which may collapse, dumping a swag of 'mortgaged-without-equity' houses onto the market.)

The difference here has always been, that the unemployed are given ample assistance to re-train, re-locate, or otherwise re-tune for the jobs that exist - although I add the caveat that this assistance is not targeted to women if they have an earning partner - her redundancy is considered 'a great time to start a family'. Men here are less likely to think that the world has ended if they lose a job in one industry, knowing that it is still possible to re-train for something else.

The default option, always available, is move to Australia. :-p
Where there are always enough kiwis to swing the election on 'out of country' votes, counted after the national votes are done with on election night...

By Kerry Tankard (not verified) on 06 Feb 2010 #permalink

This blog is really very nice. Relaxation is the key. Having sex when you and your partner are both relaxed. There is no specific time for having sex. May he break of dawn, afternoon or darkness of the night. More important dating services than the time of day is the time you spend. Have a lot of time to have sex the first time. For "long time, I mean at least all day, including sleep time.

Hi Sharon,
That link to 'Peek Oil is a Women's Issue' isn't working. Is the article still available online?

I read it a couple of years ago and it has come up in conversation so wanted to go back and look at it.