Just a reminder to everyone that we'll be starting Kurt Cobb's _Prelude_ on Monday. I have several people who have copies available for circulation, so if you'd like to read along with the group, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll get a copy in the mail, with only the requirement that you pass it on if more people want it! Kurt is going to be able to participate in our discussion as well! But first, I promised a discussion of sex and gender in The Witch of Hebron.
I said I'd write another post about _The Witch of Hebron_, this time explicitly addressing the sex and gender issues that Kunstler raises, but I've been putting it off, wondering if I was beating a dead horse - while the book has some real virtues, this isn't one of them, and I was quite critical of the book on other grounds. What more is there to say?
I can think of two things, the first a partial defense of Kunstler (believe it or no!). Kunstler has taken a lot of heat in this from women for his portrayal of prostitution as normative and integrated into society - a number of reviews I've read suggested that his representation of the sex trade in and of itself was prurient and despicable. I don't think that's true, and here is a place I strongly *agree* with Kunstler about the future - there's going to be a lot of trading sex for food and protection if, as seems likely, the world gets a lot poorer.
Why do I think this? Because human history suggests that it is true - we know for a fact that the main victims of climate change world wide are and will be women and children, and that many of them will be forced into prostitution. We know that in any time of trauma, the exchange of sex for safety is a normative thing - for example, it was estimated that more than tens of thousands of women after World War II exchanged sex for food and other needed items in Europe. Disasters breed the sex trade - tragically, but also inevitably.
I've seen it argued that the problem with Kunstler's prostitutes is that they aren't miserable enough - that, fine, prostitution is going to be part of the future, but no need to glorify it. Let's be blunt, the sex trade sucks. No little girl ever says she wants to grow up to be a whore. At the same time, Kunstler is writing a novel, not a work of social criticism. I daresay he'd get a lot less criticism for writing an expose of potential future suffering by prostitutes but that's not his game, and as a piece of writing, it shouldn't have to be. Moreover, I'm not sure that the only honest way to explore this issue is to pity prostitutes - it isn't a good job, it isn't something you want to have to have happen, but somewhere between the hooker with the heart of gold and the pure victim is a place for women who have accepted their painful realities and made the best of them. I'm not sure Jim Kunstler (for reasons discussed below) is the person to find this happy medium, but I don't think that he deserves the outrage he's gotten about the sex trade subplot.
The sex scene between Jasper (12) and Robin (13) has been called pedophilia, and it has been implied that it was inappropriate of Kunstler to write it. I don't find the representation of teen/preteen sex to be either shocking or inappropriate. Given the situation, it doesn't seem unreasonable to imagine that a 13year old who has to have sex with old men would find a healthy boy her age attractive, and express what she expresses in the terms she is most familiar with, or that a 12 year old would be as Jasper is, simultaneously uncomfortable and pleased by the experience. It is actually one of Kunstler's better written scenes - the provision of birthday cake is particularly evocative, and does a really good job, I think, of showing what their relationship should be in better times.
The problem with Kunstler's writing is not that most of his women deal in sex in a world where they have little else. The problem is that Kunstler never actually explains why they have nothing else, and why they are so content to have what I am tempted to describe as "the gift economy of pure pussy" emerge without critique, dissent or doubt that this is the only way to be. We have plenty of evidence that this is not - consider, for example, the collapse of Russia and the way that some women did find themselves forced to trade sex for either escape or protection - and the way older women, Russia's "Iron Grannies" held together their families and maintained personal economies. Women simultaneously traded sex for protection and a better life and also used a host of other techniques to preserve what they had. What makes no sense in Kunstler's novel is that his women only grow up to be whores, they never even conceive of using any other tools.
Norman Mailer famously advised John Updike to give up on his sylized meanderings and to stick to his literary strengths, ie "keep his foot in the whorehouse door." Kunstler clearly0 doesn't need that advice. The biggest weakness of the book is the way Kunstler's reliance on sex as the only way women express themselves seems like a retreat, a way of covering up the fact that there's no evidence he can write a credible woman character with the same complexities he imputes to his men.
indeed, I kept finding myself thinking of Ang Lee's movie "The Ice Storm" - the latter takes place in affluent suburbia, among priveleged, vacuous, mostly emptied out people who rely on sex and their landscape to express their desperate need for a meaning they lack any ability to construct for themselves. The reasons why Kunstler's characters are emptied out are more compelling, but ultimately, Kunstler's book reads like the suburban-search-for-meaning-in-nookie novel. The characters go to whores, not to key parties, but the differences aren't so very different - Kunstler's women are the same vacuous suburbanites of 1970s novels by male authors like Mailer and Updike, only having been through trauma. They aren't emptied out by the disaster, they were empty to begin with.
Read as an example of two archaic styles (1970s era masculine novel, 1870s era American coming of age novel), the lack of women worth reading makes a bizarre sort of sense sense, I suppose. The problem there is that while the evocation of the 19th century is manifestly intentional, working to emphasize the changes that have been undergone, there's less reason for why the people of 2020 should look like a bunch of affluent suburbanites of the 1970s at a post-apocalyptic key party. The failure to notice that 40 years have passed and that the middle aged women of Kunstler's book had an entirely different set of experiences than the characters he actually writes is a weakness, not a strength in the book.
There are things I don't and can't do well as a writer, and every writer writes around their weaknesses - this is entirely normal. The problem is that in writing modern fiction, the inability to write women outside of sex scenes is a pretty big gap to have to cover, and that's one of the reasons I think he's more successful in writing non-fiction than fiction.
Kunstler tries - he covers it by trying to cast us back to eras where one could almost get away with not having any real female characters. He covers it by taking us to the door of the whorehouse. He covers it with a host of protests that the women who criticize him just don't understand how deeply he understands us. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work.
What did you think?
The Jasper-Robin scene certainly has nothing to do with pedophilia, by its commonly-accepted definition. The authors of DSM-IV write that "Pedophilia involves sexual activity with a prepubescent child (generally age 13 years or younger). The individual with Pedophilia must be age 16 years or older and at least 5 years older than the child." By this definition, there is neither the requisite age difference between the parties, nor the requisite absolute age of an older party to qualify the depicted activities as pedophila. In addition, if memory serves, neither character was prepubescent.
..the main victims of climate change world wide are and will be women and children, and that many of them will be forced into prostitution. We know that in any time of trauma, the exchange of sex for safety is a normative thing -
Isn't it always like this, in times of trauma or not? Isn't the exchange of sex for goods & services, as well as for cash, a common theme in the everyday economy of many women, and presumably gay men too? Over the course of my career I've known several women who would exchange sex for having her car repaired or plumbing fixed, etc. I even knew a woman who would exchange sex for firewood - and she owned her own home and half the block her house was located on besides. Most of these women were alternative lifestyle single moms but not all were. Some were college students. Some had boyfriends who either didn't know or didn't care about these practical arrangements. And what constitutes prostitution or the sex trade, anyway? My wife & I had a friend, who we've sadly lost track of, who never worked but attached herself to one boyfriend after another who supported her. Was this not a form of prostitution? I haven't read Kunstler but sounds to me like he's just describing a rather pervasive way of life, in good times or bad.
"Women simultaneously traded sex for protection and a better life and also used a host of other techniques to preserve what they had. "
I am curious as to why, and on what basis, you chose the past tense for this statement.
Having read over the last couple months quite a few of the list of recommendations people made for the PANRC, let me make it plain that it isn't the presence of prostitution or rape, it is (just as Sharon says) the exclusivity of it. None of those other books shy away from the unpleasantness that would face women or the grittier aspects of the post-apocalypse. But by the same token these books routinely are populated with competent women. Nurses. Female mayors. And this includes Alas, Babylon or On The Beach from 50 years ago so you can't just shrug and say Kunstler is just too old and male to realize that competent women exist. And it is hard for me to envision a world where competent intelligent women would all, each and every one become helpless and stupid (or magical, pity my imagination). As someone brought up in the original discussion there were only 3-4 scenes including a woman that did not revolve around either food preparation or sex. Not knowing the man I am not going to say he is a misogynist, but his book most certainly is misogynistic. And the worse for it.
The sex scene with 12 year old Jasper and the 13 your old whore did not strike me as pedophilia or particularly bad. Not one but two scenes of Jasper watching adult men masturbate... unnecessary at best.
"Women simultaneously traded sex for protection and a better life and also used a host of other techniques to preserve what they had. "
I am curious as to why, and on what basis, you chose the past tense for this statement.
Greenpa, she was referring directly to the experience of women during and after the collapse of Russia. Not that it isn't something that has and may always exist, but her sentence referred to a specific instance in the past.
Jason, I'm aware the reference was to a particular time and place; but I'm still puzzled about the past tense- which would seem to imply things are now different. I am unaware of any evidence that things are different; on the contrary, there is a good chance things are now worse. General information from the region is that the rule of law has been consistently decreasing, and mafia style governance increasing. To date. Not that this is an area of expertise for me.
Greenpa, again, I was speaking of a specific place and time that is generally considered to be past - ie, the Soviet Collapse is generally considered to be still happening. That doesn't make conditions wildly better in all parts of Russia, but we are now in a new stage of crappy for some women ;-).
DD, well, if you take it far enough I and all other married women in history are whoring ourselves to our spouses for the fruits of their labors and the protection of their offspring. The difference, however, is that not only do I get protection and help with the mortgage, I also like having sex with my husband and would do it for free ;-). I'm impressed that you know so many women who trade sex for car repairs, I can't say is or was that common in my social circles, but I tend to think that the line is drawn somewhere along the "would you do it for free" point, and do you feel free not to do it.
Sharon, I think the key point you bring up is 'do you feel free not to do it'. Honestly, I think this applies to Kunstler's novel as well; I have an idea that in his mind there would be no feeling free to 'not' do that. Not if one wanted to continue in one's present state of being. Even with a love relationship.
I think Kunstler's attitude, his lack of fleshing out of the female characters betrays what is a very common attitude: one that is really much more common than realized, and very thinly overlayed by our 'modern' sensibilities of sex equality -- that quite a few men (including Justice Scalia, apparently) honestly think the world would be better if women were back in the home and quiet like they used to be, and where they think we belong. It's only our modern industrial society that has enabled us to close that gap, but on the downslide I think many of the strides women have taken will be taken away, by sheer necessity of survival. The power of the Russian women takes place in a specifically female sphere, and in a socially acceptable way. The women of the Middle East have a similar power, and are very capable of influencing larger society via the home sphere. This is the power Western women perhaps need to study and learn from, so we don't suffer the fate of the women in Kunstler's novels -- being cardboard sperm depositories :)
It's neither a recent novel nor a post-apocalyptic one, but Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin, would fit well into this particular discussion. It depicts a science-fiction future in which women are once again chattel, but are in no way cardboard figures. Nor is their role limited to sex and food preparation; they make quite useful linguists, nurses and housekeepers.
Kunstler is certainly not the only novelist who has struggled to create credible female characters. A friend of mine told me once that a critic reviewing Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy had remarked that his most believable female character was the spider monster Shelob. Tolkien's women are just about as one-dimensional as Kunstlers, though unlike Kunstler, Tolkien avoids evoking their sexuality, either explicitly or implicitly.
I believe I commented in the earlier discussion about what I thought was gratuitous sex (and violence) in the novel. I still think thought the Jasper-Robin scene was gratuitous, although I was intrigued by Sharon's comments about it; though I regarded it as gratuitous, I agree with Jason--I never considered it pedophilia. But in my opinion it doesn't really add anything to the narrative.
While most of the women in the novel fit the stereotype discussed here, the "queen bee" figure doesn't seem to. How does she fit in? Not that she's all that believable a character either.
Another thing struck me about the post-apocalyptic world that Kunstler is creating, though it's not related to today's topic: why is this imaginary town of Union Grove the only place he's described, so far, that seems to be prospering in any significant way? Certainly Albany (described in the first novel) and Glens Falls (described in this one) aren't. I think this is rather curious; does anyone else think so?
And perhaps the strides women have made in our industrial society may not be taken away in a post-petroleum world. At least that's not the way it is taking shape in the imagination of John Michael Greer. In his imagined world of 400 years hence, described in Star's Reach, the online blog-novel he's writing, the women are the religious and academic powers.
Kunstler can invent any type of society that he wants to in his novel. His novel's society is certainly not modern in the treatment of women but does resemble some historical societies. The WoH suffers mostly IMHO not from the treatment of women but from the new mental capabilities that seem to have sprung from no apparent cause. There is no hint of an explanation why precog or mind linking have sprung into being in this near-future novel. If it were a far-future novel and Humans Have Evolved, then I would withdraw my objection.
With respect to the viewpoint of the current American Psychiatric Association about how Pedophilia is defined, it does not apply to a near-future novel in which boys become men at a much earlier age and the APA does not exist.
I will concede that Kunstler could have expanded his female characters (even if they were whores) into much more robust characters.
..if you take it far enough I and all other married women in history are whoring ourselves to our spouses for the fruits of their labors and the protection of their offspring.
Naw, I wouldn't say so, although this may describe the mid-20th century stay-at-home "housewife" model pretty well. Over the course of the 35 years my wife & I have been together there's been times when she's worked & I haven't, times when I worked and she hasn't, and times when we both worked. I've whored myself to her as much as she has to me.
..I tend to think that the line is drawn somewhere along the "would you do it for free" point, and do you feel free not to do it.
A women needs to have her car repaired and doesn't have the money to pay a mechanic. Maybe she needs to drive her kids to day care & herself to work. So she comes on to some guy she knows has mechanical skills. Is she in a position to "feel free not to do it" in such circumstances? Maybe she can even manage to convince herself that she likes him enough to "do it for free." Who is the victim here? The woman forced to prostitute herself to the petroleum industry that rules the world? Maybe the guy thought that she really liked him. How's he supposed to feel when it becomes clear that she only fucked him so he'd replace her clutch?
You may not be too familiar with such sexual economics of necessity in your social circle, Sharon, but that's probably because such transactions aren't widely admitted or talked about. In my experience such arrangements are utterly ubiquitious and I bet they were where you grew up, whether you were aware of them or not. These sorts of arrangements will only become that much more common as times get tougher but they are already quite common now.
Well done, Sharon. I could go on... but enough about Kunstler. For a good long while, I hope. ;-)
Horrific. But somewhat relevant to this thread; here is the top #1 news line from the Google news feed:
"Arizona Congresswoman Shot, Married to Astronaut
Fox News - â37 minutes agoâ"
There is no humor to this, of course. I actually knew Rep. Gifford; very slightly. Enough to feel it just a bit more, perhaps.
Point; here; Fox defines the woman by her man. She didn't need that. And, this is the #1 choice of usacos for news.
All of Tolkien's characters are one dimensional, Don. Consider the males: the warrior hero, the faithful sidekick, the clown(s) who provide comic relief, the wise old man, the wicked villian.. Stereotypes one & all. The one character in Tolkien that I thought was original, although still not "believable," was Tom Bombadil, who was completely omitted from the movies. And what's so believable about a giant spider that doesn't scale allometrically? She's totally biomechanically unbelievable. Allegorists such as Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, et al., can't seem to improve on the mythologies they plagiarize.
I suppose you're right, DD. Just one comment, though: Tolkien would have bristled at your characterizing him as an allegorist. Not that readers could never find allegory in TLOTR, of course. But he hated allegory. He didn't think much of Lewis' Narnia stories, largely for that very reason.
Tolkein also wrote umm...a while back ;-).
DD, it isn't that the economics of sexual necessity don't exist, it may also be that I'm from a different generation. I could screw someone to get my car fixed - I also could take a book out of the library and figure out how to fix my own car. They both cost the same ;-). Sort of sad to think that everyone's doing it and the girlfriends talk to you but not to me ;-). My own observation is that it was rarely that straightforward - that we tend to clothe sexual exchange in more complicated narratives, some of which are true. The direct "car for sex" equation doesn't occur as much in my experience - but ask men and women why they are together (or intermittently together or hooked up) and what they get from one another, that's complicated.
My own observation is that it was rarely that straightforward - that we tend to clothe sexual exchange in more complicated narratives, some of which are true. The direct "car for sex" equation doesn't occur as much in my experience -
Exactly. The arrangement is rarely as explicit as, "I'll replace your clutch in exchange for eight screws & three bjs over the course of the next two weeks." It's almost always much more nuanced than that. But the point is that the outcome is the same: the sex takes place & the car gets fixed.
Have you ever read Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman (1981) by Majorie Shostak? There's a scene in that book where Shostak asks Nisa why she has sex with men other than her husband. Nisa replies that it's because they give her meat and glass beads. Then the author asks Nisa why her husband has sex with other women besides herself. Nisa looks at her like it's the stupidest question she's ever heard and says, "Because he's a man!"
I guess that my point is that sexual economics is a human universal, just as pervasive in modern society as it is among the !Kung of the Kalahari. I think that people tend to divide sexual behaviors between "legitimate sex" based on physical attraction or romantic love versus "illegitimate sex" based on coercion. The point I want to explore here is what "coercion" amounts to. Coercion could amount to violence or blackmail and we call it rape. But isn't not having the money to purchase the necessities of life - not having the cash to pay for getting a car fixed - a coercive situation? Seems like there's a huge gray area between what many would consider to be "legitimate" sex, and rape. Seems like people are far too ready to pass judgment on the "whore" while praising the "gainfully employed," yet the economic motivations of each are the same. Ideally, we would have constructed a fair & equitable society by now, in which sexual economics wouldn't have to be based on necessity or coercion. This wasn't the case even when we were flush with cheap oil and certainly will be even less the case in the resource constrained future. Maybe this is the point Kunstler is trying to make. And maybe men in power never wanted a fair & equitable society because such a society would make it more difficult for them to coerce sex. In any case, I don't know if Kunstler is portraying the sexual economics of necessity as an artifact of a post-petroleum world but if he is, he's mistaken in doing so since it's always been pervasive in every human society.
Just another current datum in the developing future of gender relations:
I don't disagree that sexual economics are part of every society, and yes, I remember that part of Nisa - fascinating book! Nor do I think they work only one way - my step-FIL for example lost his wife when his children were young, and while I don't think anyone made the bargain so explicit, it seems pretty clear that he remarried for the sake of replacing the childrearing and domestic services provided by his wife. This is a pretty common human scenario as well. I don't disagree with you that the inequities in our society reinforce the commodification of sex - as do gendered divisions of labor, in which one partner can't meet basic needs for money, childcare, car repairs, cooking, etc...
But there are different levels of coercion, as you put it. Staying together for the sake of the kids or because you can't afford to support two households is a kind of coercion - but the actors aren't necessarily the participants, if that makes any sense. That is the person you are having dutiful sex with because you can't afford the divorce or getting a brake job from isn't coercing you - they didn't create the circumstances that make it economically impossible to divorce (generally) or to get your brakes done. Ultimately, the layer of consent that overlays it is that the two people in the arrangement both can say yes - for complicated or uncomplicated reasons, but they can say yes.
Most prostitutes (with the exception of the pricey ones like the Witch) don't have that layer of consent - even if Johns aren't forcing women into prostitution directly, they can't honestly say no. Maybe the woman who needs to get to work can't honestly say no either, but she can choose which guy who knows how to fix breaks she has sex with, she can layer it with complexities like affection and liking or even passion and love. Those things are explicitly unavailable to prostitutes for the most part.
Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with women who choose prostitution. I'm a supporter of organizations like COYOTE, and honestly, I think the point you make is the right one - sex is almost always a transaction complicated by economic motives, and we legitimize some of those motives and deny others. I don't think I've ever traded sex for remuneration directly, but i've been in circumstances where I've been required to do things that were at least as humiliating and unpleasant as that, and that could have been less so. I just think that the distinction you want to make is less about formal legitimization than the power of imperfect consent. I don't think that consent must be perfect to be consent. The line at which consent's ambiguities become seriously problematic is complicated, and worth exploring (I don't think Kunstler does this at all) - obviously, it is different for different circumstances. But I do think it isn't prejudice against prostitution that implies that there's something different between that and somewhat less explicit engagements that have a layer of consent within them.
I don't disagree with you that the inequities in our society reinforce the commodification of sex -
..a kind of coercion - but the actors aren't necessarily the participants, if that makes any sense.
Maybe the woman who needs to get to work can't honestly say no either, but she can choose which guy who knows how to fix breaks she has sex with, she can layer it with complexities..
The line at which consent's ambiguities become seriously problematic is complicated, and worth exploring..
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I think that you and I are in virtual agreement about these issues, Sharon, or at least think similarly about them. Thank you for having this discussion. In my present circumstances I'm not sure who else I could have had it with.
Sharon there does exist one simple test regarding prostitution's aspects.
Ask a women engaged in the practice: "Would you like your daughter to enter this business?"
I've run into several reports of conversations I judged to be real, of exactly this question, and I'm not aware of any woman answering in the affirmative.
I suppose it could happen; in any case, it's a valuable light to shine on the problem I think.
"Would you like your daughter to enter this business?" ..I'm not aware of any woman answering in the affirmative.
That ain't right, I know for a fact. There are plenty of whores who know that there are guys willing to pay ten times more for their pubescent daughters than they are for old skanks such as themselves. My mom remarried after I was grown & married myself. My step-dad, a retired Army lifer, characterized his ex-wife as a whore. I figured this was just 'dissin' the ex-' rhetoric until I met my step-sister. She was just a teen & had ran off from her mom, to show up unexpectedly at my mom & step-dad's house. My wife & I had to get permission from her PO to take her out of Illinois on an outing to an Indiana state park. On that trip my step-sister told me that her mom used to pimp her out, which was why she ran off from her. My step-sister was later killed in a car wreck, but not before she'd given birth to a baby girl. The dad took the kid - my step-niece - after her mom died. I don't know what ever happened to that girl but I hate to imagine, knowing what a bunch of drunks & meth-heads all those people were. There's little reluctance to offering children up for prostitution among that class of people. Get real.
Sadly, DD's right there - there are parents who pimp their kids out there, and if even they don't actually think "I hope my kid will grow up to be a prostitute or a brain surgeon" they certainly act in ways that make it happen.
The reality is that no thinking person wants their kid to be a prostitute, son or daughter, but there are a fair number of just plain unthinking people out there, and selfish bastards.
My hope is that in a post-petroleum society, the status of women will increase. I suspect that there won't be the luxury of relegating half the human population to insignificance- rather, it will be a case of "all hands on deck". Instead of this current cultural insanity of focusing on strung-out hollywood bimbos, hopefully an individual woman's status will be determined by her skill, thrift, resourcefulness, and work ethic. I do expect a return of gender roles, as industrialization has allowed us to work around biology in many cases. Men can't lactate, and most women aren't as well suited to moving heavy objects as men... and with less fuel, muscle power will make a comeback. Hopefully, we will lose the attitude that "women's work" is a pejorative statement. I suspect we may return to our Colonial American values, where women not only cooked, but were also the herbalists, de-facto physicians, textile and clothing producers, and had a strong role in the family farm and/ or trade- far more like "Sarah Connor" than "Scarlet O'Hara". Hopefully we can retain our modern concept of legal and political rights for women, which that era did not have. Rather than prostitution, I think marriage will be dominant, because it satisfies not only our romantic needs, but also our more prosaic needs in a consistent and more efficient, socially-stabilizing way. You aren't going to dump your spouse over some hot new sweetie, when said spouse is keeping you alive.
Regarding the comments about informal prostitution- you guys are depressing me! In 20 years of contracting, I've never had a female client make an offer of "creative financing"! I must be pretty ugly- even the priests and brothers at my Catholic high school left me alone. Sheesh.
I suspect that in many cases, that if a woman figures that she can get what she wants merely by smiling and batting her eyelashes, then there is no need for more. I have had female bosses do that to me, and it did piss me off- I considered it a form of sexual harassment, albeit one I enjoyed.
In 20 years of contracting, I've never had a female client make an offer of "creative financing"!
I presume that you're a licensed, bonded, insured, tax paying contractor, John. If so, you're the person women resort to "creative financing" because they can't afford.
Prostitution has been around forever, and will be around after Peak Oil. That part didn't offend me at all. And fine...Kunstler looked to the past to form his peak oil society, but he didn't look hard enough.
I once read an essay written by Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter). She made the point that there was more equality on the family farm than in the cities. Wives were equal partners in the running of the farm and making money. Husbands may have milked the cows, but the wives were the ones that tuned the milk into good quality butter and cheese which were then sold. Of course I'm not saying everything was perfect or every household had the same level of equality, (and of course didn't have equal rights in society) but it was much more equal than a household in the 50's would have been...where the woman stayed home and really didn't contribute anything financially.
Next complaint is Kunstler took his characters from today's society. Women who are used to voting, working, and having an equal say. In Kunstler's first novel, there was no "revolution" or other force that kept women out of local governments, but because women didn't care and gave up. That is just plain silly. No matter how hard things became, it wouldn't even occur to me to stay home when the neighbors started getting together to reorganize. And maybe older men still aren't used to strong women, but what about younger men? Our sons and daughters have just witnessed a presidential election where a woman was a viable candidate for the Democratic ticket, and a woman was the VP pick on the Republican ticket. These things do leave an impression.
Today's nurses have more medical knowledge than doctors in the 1800's. There are still more female nurses than male nurses. There are also many women doctors, vets, and other professions that will be needed after peak oil. Kunstler woulnd't have had to look very far to find strong women to bring into his books.