1/28/09

Is that a bridge in your stimulus package, or are you just happy to see me

When I was studying women's history at UCLA, we used to talk a lot about how things could be gendered, sort of like Romance languages.  For example, In Italian you add an "a" to a feminine noun and an "o" to a male noun.  English does not have specifically gendered nouns, but it does have implicit ones.  Truck, for example, is implicitly gendered male.  So is construction worker, mass transit, freeway, investment bank, financial institution, commercial real estate, prison, infrastructure. It's not just that men predominate in the professions suggested by these words, it's that these word imply the kinds of power and control that we associate with definitions of masculinity.  

Of course, there are also implicitly gendered female words, like healthcare, library, elementary school teacher, arts institution, universal preschool.  Again, it's not just that many women work in fields suggested by these words.  These words themselves are engendered with female connotations about caregiving, service, collaboration and -- let's face it -- lack of profit.  

Now, I'm not an economist, but I know a gendered stimulus package when I see one, and it seems to me that, as the stimulus package is shaping up, it is becoming more and more male.  I'm all for safe roads and earthquake retrofitting, and apparently so are most policymakers.  These are the easy things to get people to agree to fund.  But just this morning I heard that family planning has been stripped from the stimulus package.  Yesterday, NPR did a report on how Republicans don't want to use stimulus money to support arts organizations, even though arts organizations provide jobs and make revenues that are often pumped directly back into local economies.  

It troubles me.  I worry that the privileging of institutions engendered male will weaken the already suspect cultural authority of institutions engendered female.  And I worry that that same privileging will hurt women because the fields in which they often predominate will be seen as unworthy of protection.  And, of course, when you hurt women you hurt children and families, and you even hurt men.  When even our institutions suggest to men that their work is the most worthy of protection, that their livelihoods are the most sacred to our society, we instill in men the kind of patriarchal thinking that can only lead to psychic damage and really bad things.  

On KPCC's Talk of the City, Patt Morrison spoke yesterday of the triggers of familicide.  This very uncommon yet horrific crime is almost entirely perpetrated by men deluded to believe that their success is so important to the family that the entire family would be better off dead than stuck with the humiliation of an inadequate male provider.  How scary is that?

Thus, as this nation tackles with this recession -- another 60,000 jobs lost just two ago -- and as it tries to negotiate its way out of this worrisome place, I can only hope that our representatives will hear the immortal words of Abigail Adams and, please, "Remember the ladies."  And not just the ladies, by their words.  

9 comments:

barbra said...

Wow, I have never thought of it this way. Thanks for sharing your insight. I will think more about this!

Cafe Pasadena said...

Both. I AM a dog ya know.


I wounder what the female would've called the "Stimulus Package?"

pasadenapio said...

I never really thought about the maleness or femaleness of some these words and phrases.

Is that a stimulous package in your pocket or are you just happy to see me??!!

altadenahiker said...

You know how your mouth opens but no words come out? My fingers move but no words print. I'm going to have to think about this. I wouldn't have divided the package into male/female, but maybe my math is wrong. You've made me run the numbers.

Margaret said...

Pasadenapio: your title is way better than mine.

AH: No need to run the numbers. Take a look at the stimulus plan highlights in today's LA Times and see whose on top. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-house-stimulus-assess29-2009jan29,0,5515444.story

Palm Axis said...

I'm over at Pasadena Adjacent now
You took on a lot in this post "bravA". I'm reminded of how our society often uses a paramilitary structure in organizations to map out power. Specifically the medical profession where you have the caregivers/nurses on bottom with MD's on top and heart surgeons in the alpha position. A reminder that bronze is always at odds with the philosophical (I'm thinking how the military frequently takes over elected governments). It's a spin but a thoughtful post opens up to ideas.
As Arnold might say, the arts are for girly men (although the commercial aspect of it made him rich).

Margaret said...

Ah...PA: I knew I could count on you to find the subtleties and complications of what I't talking about. Yes, the gendering of this institutions is complex. Arts institutions are girly by REAL artists are -- Pollack, Picasso -- are testosterone driven. Nurses are feminine but surgeons are masculine. Still, I'm talking broad strokes here. And I still think institutions gendered male are-- and will --reaping the most from the stimulus package. Ultimately, maybe most people wont' think that those gendered implications matter. Most people probably don't. Heck, I'm all for improving roads. You should see the potholes in front of my house! But to deny the gendered implications of policy is to not see the whole picture.

Petrea said...

It's so deeply ingrained in us. In high school I wanted to be a wrestler but there were no girls on the wrestling team and I never thought twice about the injustice of it. Certain professions are, as you say, so masculine or so feminine that, for example, male flight attendants are presumed to be gay. Female coaches are presumed to be lesbian. Etc.

I'm not quoting statistics here.

J&D said...



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