best when viewed in low light


Feminist Opus #1

[This is what I've been doing for the past couple weeks, and what I've been researching for the last year. Fuck formatting.]

Phoebe Harris Elefante
Professor Edward Castronova
T540 Independent Study
Day 30, Women’s History Month, 2010

PlayHouse: The Economic Argument for a Feminist Business Model

On the playground one day when I was very young, I walked up to a group of boys who were declaring their ambitions for the future; some wanted to be doctors, some lawyers, some baseball stars. When the circle came around, I threw mine out there: “I want to be a fireman.” Scandal! I was laughed at, dismissed, and forced to walk away wondering how those boys could be so sure that I had no place fighting fires. My career ambitions have changed since then, but I’ve consistently received incredulous and dismissive responses from men and boys every time I’ve dared to make them known. Even worse than the overt prejudices have been the subtly undermining assumptions, the unstated demands, the intimidations, the closed ranks, and the castrating aspersions that have characterized nearly every one of my professional relationships with men.

It is likely that most women who read this will laugh, reflecting on their own similar experiences, and that many men will be personally affronted or have no idea what I’m talking about. This isn’t intended to accuse or vindicate, but to offer some anecdotal justification for the solution I’ve settled upon: a new model. A business model, founded on feminist principles, that provides the financial incentives, organizational structures, and cultural supports necessary to encourage and promote the creative ambitions of women like me. I call it PlayHouse.

And I love men! I want to get married, have kids, go to work every day knowing that I will be challenged, and bring home a paycheck that accurately reflects how much I contribute. I’ll even do the laundry and sing the little ones to sleep, as long as he does the grocery shopping and the dishes (or vice versa). I know this is possible, and I don’t want an inherited set of deeply embedded social assumptions, institutionalized discriminations, or lack of imagination to get in the way.

What follows is a summary of the most insightful and innovative ideas of feminist economists and sociologists, which have helped to outline the points of contact between this new business model and the dominant socio-economic attitudes and institutions. Perhaps, by proposing a set of pragmatic solutions, the PlayHouse will inspire and/or provoke further innovations, better models, and—beyond my wildest ambitions—influence pervasive changes throughout our culture.

We are a force of nature
According to Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, women are one of three forces, along with the Internet and climate change, that are revolutionizing the way we do business in the 21st century (24-5). Through extensive interviews with business analysts and corporate CEOs, she has concluded that the “under-use of women’s talent has an impact on the bottom line” (5), and that businessmen must confront the reality that their existing organizational structures, financial incentives, and workstyles are unequipped to capitalize on this influx of talent. Women’s employment is equally important for social progress: children of happily employed mothers tend to be more well adjusted, have less tendency to subscribe to traditional gender stereotypes, and their daughters are more likely to pursue careers in fields dominated by men (Ferber & O’Farrell 47).

On a macroeconomic scale, the “World Values Survey … showed that countries with more gender equity are more democratic and prosperous” (Eisler 2009, 11), and a study based on United Nations data “found that the status of women can be a better predictor of quality of life than gross domestic product” (Eisler, Coughlin, et al. 27). If, as Marilyn Waring suggests, we construct our economic policies from values rather than statistics, it seems evident that the way to ensure long-term prosperity and improve quality of life is by setting policies that encourage the full participation of women in our economy and society (302).

In light of all the freedoms and advantages that women in the US enjoy, it may seem self-indulgent and unrealistic to press for more access and more equitable policies. Our concern here is with advancing the standing of women relative to our own progress, and we have further to go than we might think:
American women have … experienced a decline in reported well-being from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, while men have not. This comes as a surprise because these decades have witnessed a reduction in the discrimination against women and their fuller integration into working life. However, increased equality may have raised women’s aspirations so that they are less satisfied with the same life circumstances than earlier. (Frey & Stutzer 55)
This sense of dissatisfaction should not come as surprise – “the empirical literature reveals no differences between men and women with regard to the presence and intensity of the achievement motive” (Chester 84). In our culture, it is men who embody the standard by which all others are judged, and compared to them, women still suffer from a lack of access, institutional support, and input into the policies which frame economic incentives. “Diversity is too often about making minorities comfortable with a dominant norm … Women’s growing economic importance requires turning the analysis upside down and pointing out to those currently in power what their dominance is costing” (Wittenberg-Cox 17). Rather than comparing ourselves to women elsewhere, or even to the men with whom we compete for opportunities, what we require is a shift in the cultural perspective that is reflected in our economic concepts and our economic participation. We must see ourselves, and be seen by others without the “insidious looking glass that pictures women first in our ‘traditional’ role as wife and mother” (Wiehl 181).

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, known for his work on flow experiences, finds that because “women’s self-esteem … has traditionally been based on their ability to create a physical and emotional environment suitable for the rearing of children and the comfort of grown-ups” (56), it is still difficult for women to feel the full emotional rewards from paid work. He concludes his thought by saying that, “no matter how enlightened we have become in terms of trying to avoid these gender stereotypes, they are far from gone” (56). He illustrates the impregnability of this habit of mind by enacting it, claiming that, because women’s paid work is voluntary “it is more like play, something that they could take or leave” (57). This dismissive attitude pervades the study of women’s occupations, restricting both the field of study and the scope of related policy discussions (Dex 37), and presumes that women would prefer to invest their energy in household responsibilities (Ferber & O’Farrell 60).

Though no proof of this preference has been found (and how absurd to assume that, by virtue of some biological predilection (Nelson 1996, 5), women would choose to spend all day doing the mind-numbingly repetitive tasks of household maintenance that men seek to completely avoid (Csikszentmihlayi 58); even more so because the luxury of working without pay is limited to a tiny segment of the world’s richest people), “at least one study (Bielby and Bielby 1985) claimed that the opposite appears to be true” (Ferber & O’Farrell 60). What has been documented is that for most women the source of these psychic rewards is not in the paid work per se, especially if the work they perform is similar to housekeeping in its drudgery and lack of autonomy, but in the “congruence between what she is doing and what she would like to be doing” (Ferber & O’Farrell 46). Stewart goes so far as to say that the rewards derived from both the financial and psychic aspects of paid work:
have been identified as crucial to women’s liberation, including a sense of personal worth and value; a sense of purpose and achievement; a capacity to contribute to the wider society; experience with and control over social arrangements outside the household; and independence from the control of others. (262)
If we adopt the shifted cultural perspective which will ensure women’s equal participation in the economy, the question that most readily arises is: Why would women choose not to work for pay outside the home? And more critically, why would society discourage them from doing so?

The answer lies in the definitions of gender, and the roles we have inherited from previous generations:
Gender refers to the social organization of sexual difference. Social roles, responsibilities, privileges, and opportunities are allocated according to gender. The traditional view of women and men divides the world into male and female realms and accords the traits associated with masculinity greater value. The resulting dualisms—reason and emotion, strong and weak, active and passive, knowledge and intuition—are assumed to be given by biology so that women’s nature suits them to lives of domesticity and the care of others, while men’s nature suits them to competitive achievement in politics, business, and the professions. (Barker & Feiner 7)
Institutions and behavioral expectations have been formed around this division of traits, and incentive systems—in economics and in relationships—have been devised to ensure that these definitions are maintained. In her work Feminism, Objectivity & Economics, Julie A. Nelson describes in detail how these culturally constructed gender metaphors assign masculine-up-in-center-control-rational-superior and feminine-down-out-periphery-submission-emotional-inferior qualities to the “bodily experience of biological differentiation” (1996, 5-6), thereby giving the weight of evolution and “nature” to the value constructs.

The result of this differentiation was that “for centuries, male superiority and female subordination were taken for granted” (Barker & Feiner 8), and patterns of employment reflected the preferences, not of the women who occupied them, but of the men who made economic and political policies, and who established the structures of industry (Barker & Feiner 56). In the early twentieth century, the rights of women workers were of huge public concern because of the potential for physical and emotional damage caused by factory conditions. At a meeting of the Academy of Political Science in 1910, the assembled experts concluded that “industrial work is sharply separated from the management of the home, and there has come into the occupation of women a dualism that finds no parallel in the life of men. Most of the difficulties of women in industry relate themselves in some way to this fact” (Introduction 5). Though motivated by their concern for working women’s primary duties as wife and mother, they were prescient:
Even today, when more than half of all women work for pay outside the home, many people continue to believe that married women—especially those who are white and middle-class and have young children—should only work outside the home if the family needs the money. The persistence of this collective myth that designates women as the special, almost mystical source of childcare testifies to the power of ideology. As the ideology of the bread-winning husband and domestic wife became social truth, the gap between male and female wages was reinforced. (Barker & Feiner 29)
The idealized family structure and gendered role specialization in the household are reflected in the organization of work and in the economy as a whole. Even “the meaning of work for women is complicated by the different meanings attached to women and women’s work by the wider culture” (Stewart 261) [Emphasis in original].

Though women now have access to paid work, and are moving into the labor force at a rate that begs a reorganization and a new orientation, the filter of this ideology still pervades social expectations. Liz Wiehl is understandably exasperated: “Why is it that women are almost always made to feel they must make some kind of choice between family and work” (76-7)? As the default caregiver in the eyes of society (and, perhaps, in their own minds and their families’), it is almost always women who must reduce their working hours—either by taking part-time work, missing days, or quitting their jobs altogether—in order to provide the care needed by small children, elderly, and sick family members; “If she doesn’t, who will” (Wiehl 39)? Though this has been perceived as a signal of women’s lack of commitment, most women—“particularly low-income women—say that they would work full time if reliable child care were available” (Ferber & O’Farrell 56).

It is only a matter of time before the system will be forced to change. According to The Economist, “girls get better grades at school than boys, and in most developed countries more women than men go to university. Women will thus be better equipped for the new jobs of the 21st century, in which brains count a lot more than brawn“ (Economist 1). Whether or not these young women have the expectation that they will continue to work when they choose to have families, the businesses for which they work will have every incentive to keep these highly qualified, hard workers employed, rather than trade them in for less dedicated, less qualified, and less experienced male replacements.

Nancy Folbre makes an important point: “Men and women have equal rights before the law” (2001, 4), but the statistics on women’s participation do not reflect this:
Since 1789 only 34 women have served in the U.S. Senate, compared to 1,850 men. In the workplace, the pink-collar ghetto is alive and well … once out in the workforce we are still only making 73 cents for every dollar a man makes, and of the Fortune 500 companies, there are only eight women in the top positions. (Wiehl, xii-xiii)
We know that, since Liz Wiehl was writing in 2007, these numbers have increased, and women sit in more positions of power than they ever have, but we know through casual observation that things haven’t changed enough to reflect the female 51% of the population that have a right to representation.

If our country has the legal foundations, and women have the desire to participate in the economy as equal contributors (and bear and raise children, care for the sick and elderly, and somehow make time for themselves), what are the remaining obstacles? The feminine-inferior-outsider metaphoric associations that we have inherited are so deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness that these value judgments and role assignments have become almost inextricably institutionalized by the primary organizations of human life: marriage, wealth, corporations, and the family. These “institutions are still broken, and if they are ever to be fixed women have to keep that outsider perspective even as they sit in the big chairs, make the big deals, hold the big jobs” (Quindlen 1).

Ironically, the ‘traditional’ family we envision – and to which women have been enslaved – is a creation of the aspiring middle classes in the twentieth century (Barker & Feiner 31). These family forms are yet another metaphoric construct:
In the ‘traditional’ marriage … the husband specializes in agency, as demonstrated in personal achievements in the market as well as chief decision-maker status at home, and the wife in affiliation, demonstrated by caring and nurturing activities, as well as a willingness to bend to another’s will. In such a household, agency and affiliation issues are apparently forever solved … Women in particular have, in large numbers, ‘voted with their feet’ in favor of lives with increased agency freedom, even if this means still shouldering all the affiliation tasks as well. One may want to treat with skepticism those attempts to sanction the highly specialized marital structure as natural, or as most economically efficient (Nelson 1996, 73).
From a personal perspective, it is almost laughable to suggest that the roles and behaviors of married people are static throughout the duration of a relationship, but it is the assumption of stasis that influences decision making in the public realm. In order to create a more realistic economic system, it is important to act upon more personal insights, rather than rely on ideology. And marriage is a defining factor in the economic lives of women, not least because “marital property regimes define the legal ownership of assets brought to and acquired during the marriage” (Deere & Doss 6-7).

The importance of wealth, in the form of hard or liquid assets, cannot be understated – wealth translates into well-being, but more critically, “in a representative democracy, the distribution of power is often [the cynic would say always] related to the distribution of wealth” (Wolff 131). Unfortunately, few insights can be gained into wealth allocation—and thereby, the political power of women in our democracy—because most studies assume that assets are owned jointly within the marriage (Deere & Doss 11). This assumption becomes particularly problematic when we find that “a statistically and qualitatively significant wealth gap persists between households based on both gender and marital status” (Schmidt & Sevak 161-2), especially in the richest [read: most influential] segments of society (Deere & Doss 3). There are, however, signs of hope:
In contrast with these results for the entire sample, an analysis of young households whose heads are between 25 and 39 years of age indicates that observed wealth gaps disappear for this cohort when controlling for observable characteristics correlated with gender, family type, and wealth. This suggests that these younger households may be systematically different than their older counterparts” (Schmidt & Sevak 161-2).
What that means for women’s influence in political affairs and the creation of economic policy has yet to be seen.

We already know that the means to acquire wealth—that is, working for pay and established capital networks—are less accessible to women. Corporate organization is not made for women, it “is made for men, and it wants only standard workers, working standard hours at standard speed. The workers must conform to this inelastic system or go without a job” (Academy of Political Science 6). This is almost as true of corporate life in 2010 as it was in 1910 at the time the quote above was written. Though women have become a large part of the workforce in the last hundred years, even the most advanced “companies resolutely ignored differences between women and the male employees on whom they had previously relied. They dealt with the arrival of women en masse by requiring them to fit in” (Wittenberg-Cox 13-4). Wittenberg-Cox suggests that, in their attempt to treat men and women fairly, companies have gone beyond an equitable system by assuming that every employee should be treated the same – ‘the same’ meaning the “traditional, linear, single-income male career model” (51).

The presumption that women fit into male corporate norms of behavior has generated as many obstacles as it has attempted to remove (Wittenberg-Cox 16), and forces women to adopt “survival strategies” (Leghorn & Parker 239):
A need for an alternative communications system which meets their needs, the necessity of coming across as ‘not serious’ so as not to scare and anger men, of being indirect in getting what they need to maintain men’s perception that men are always in control, etc. Men see only women’s powerlessness since they have such an investment in maintaining their own control in interaction with women, and so do not see women’s behavior in the total context of women’s lives. (Leghorn & Parker 239)
Ironically, though many corporations have established diversity committees and women’s networks to help them fit, it is the lack of integrated, informal networks that keep women on the outside: “These become increasingly important with age, starting in earnest in the 30s. Miss this boat, and you lose the foundation on which promotions are built: who you know, and who knows you” (Wittenberg-Cox 248). Much of this aspect of the glass ceiling has been counteracted by the arrival of women in senior executive and board positions, where “female directors acted as powerful role models for more junior colleagues and helped them defuse stereotypes about women in the workplace” (Guerrera 1). Though this may be helpful for small numbers of high achieving women, the difficulties for employers are just beginning to surface:
The sea change in composition of the employed population in the United States raises questions of balance among competing social needs. Difficulties have increased for employees who must balance their responsibilities to work and family … and for employers who can no longer count on workers who give their jobs undivided attention. (Ferber & O’Farrell, 7)
For women, family responsibilities have long been at odds with their desire to work, but the more women who enter the workforce and refuse to leave their positions at the first signs of motherhood, the more fathers are learning to balance family duties with caregiving. “Employers are increasingly concerned with the effects that families have on worker performance, particularly on recruitment, retention, mobility, absenteeism, and tardiness” (Ferber & O’Farrell 54), and more than 40 percent of workers report that their jobs interfere with their family obligations, rather than the reverse (Ferber & O’Farrell 44). Evidently, priorities are changing.

We are a force to be reckoned with
Gender, like race, ethnicity, class, nation, and other markers of social location, is central to our understanding of economics and economic systems. The categories of economic analysis do not express timeless truths. Economic categories and concepts, like the categories and concepts of every knowledge project, are embedded in social contexts and connected to processes of social differentiation. (Barker & Feiner 3)
Economics, at its heart, is about value relationships. Humans produce value in the form of labor, which, as Waring points out, is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “‘the pains of childbirth: travail,’” though the labor of woman—“the reproducer, sustainer, and nurturer of human life—does not ‘produce’ anything” (28). In order that we might adopt a new model, it seems necessary at this point to identify the foundations of the old.

Adam Smith, in his legendary An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, outlined the foundational definitions of economics as we know it. According to him:
The word VALUE, it is to be observed, has two different meanings … The things which have the greatest value in use have frequently little or no value in exchange; and, on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use. Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarce any thing; scarce any thing can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it. (15) [Caps in original; bold emphasis added]
Smith saw the purpose of the marketplace as providing opportunities for the exchange of value in the form of goods and services. His assumption about the dual nature of value provided the template for an economic system which assigns no innate value to the things that can be acquired with little effort, but serve to sustain human life (like water). Despite his definition of labor as “the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities” (16), his system completely overlooked the inputs and outputs which themselves produced the labor supply, and so these units had no value except as consumption outlets. His explanation for variations in the value of labor revolved around judgments of “agreeableness,” the relative ease or difficulty of skill acquisition, constancy of employment, responsibility, and risk involved (60). The role of management in relation to labor was to minimize its cost, and the role of workers was to revolt when they could no longer survive under such a regime (40). Smith’s most famous—if misinterpreted—assumption was that homo economicus was both rational and selfish, and that competition in the marketplace would drive all parties to agreement on the value of all things:
Adam Smith believed that competitive markets could transmute the selfish desires of individuals into outcomes that served society as a whole. He concluded that it was not only unavoidable but even beneficial for individuals to pursue their own interests. In the 250 years since Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, this widely believed prescription has almost certainly contributed to technological change and economic growth. The role that competitive markets play in our lives has steadily expanded. And encouragement for individuals to pursue self-interest has expanded with it, sometimes at the expense of care for others.
Adam Smith, a great thinker, anticipated this problem. But he didn’t take it seriously, because he optimistically assumed that people were not all that selfish. He considered love of family, duty to others, and loyalty to country the hallmarks of an advanced civilization. (Folbre 2001, xiii)
What Smith could not anticipate was the change in cultural attitudes (or should we say, values) that would result from his economic philosophy. By blaming his proposed system for any shortcomings we now suffer, we abdicate responsibility for changes in the culture and contexts of the intervening quarter millennium. Now that women are no longer bound by the demands of a rigidly patriarchal political, religious, and economic system, it’s time to look at the impacts of the system we have inherited but failed to instill with contemporary values.

Changing gender roles and corporate cultures, and encouraging further economic participation by women demands a corresponding change in the concepts and systems of economics. The first priority, overlooked in our inherited economic system, is the low value assigned to the labor of childbearing and childcare performed almost exclusively by women. Childbearing decisions are made within an economic context (Newman 1), impact the economic well-being of the parents (especially the mother) in direct and indirect ways (Berch 113), and contribute to the long-term health of the economy by producing the future labor force (Berch 109). As Berch points out, “bearing and raising children is economically productive labor that women perform for society … it is also structured by our economic system in a very deliberate fashion” (109):
America has been a labor-scarce country since colonial times, and our government policy has been pro-natal to counteract this scarcity … legislation was not designed to help women workers earn a decent living or to protect women from discrimination. It was passed (and judged constitutional) only because by protecting women workers, it protected the unborn generations of workers these women would bear (111).
Though we might disregard this as a necessity, reflecting the needs of a time long past, we can find similar attitudes in today’s pregnancy-as-disability legislation in the US (Wiehl 62), and in Germany’s maternity benefits, which pay mothers a stipend to stay at home (Wittenberg-Cox 20). Waring claims that these policies stem from the political priorities of the “powerful patriarchs of legislative, religious, and culture bodies” (188) who wish to control fertility so that women can’t.

Having established that “women’s work” is economically valuable, it is necessary, in order that it might now be measured, to put a price on it. As Csikszentmihalyi points out, “the cost of mothers’ nurturance of children, care of the sick, cooking, cleaning, and so forth at the market rate would double the national payroll” (58). But by how much?
Economists didn’t know how to count [“women’s work”] when they created the GDP in the 1940s, said David Levine, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. ‘The reason they defined GDP as goods and services is because it’s easy to measure, and it also was almost exclusively men who for pay making the decisions’. (Genercher 2)
This oversight (inadvertent, let’s assume) has made it possible for governments to systematically undervalue the inputs of women in national accounts, and in quality of life measures throughout the world. Now that women have benefitted from increased educational and occupational attainment (Yamakoski & Keister 171), they “are beginning to figure out just how disadvantageous their traditional responsibilities can be. Birth rates have long been declining in most countries of the world. They are particularly low in countries that provide little or no public support for child-rearing” (Folbre 2001, 41). This is, perhaps, adequate evidence that women no longer see themselves primarily as mothers and caregivers, and despite expectations, they are choosing in large numbers to retain their identity as valued, productive members of society. According to the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development:
If parents cannot achieve their desired work/family life balance, not only is their welfare lower but economic development is also curtailed through reduced labor supply by parents. A reduction of birth rates has obvious implications for future labour supply as well as for the financial sustainability of social protection systems. (1)
Whether or not women are accepted on their own terms as contributing members of the economy, this demographic trend ought to be enough to encourage a shift in policy at the national political level. At the societal level, however, women still feel punished by incentives that favor corporate productivity over all other priorities (Wiehl 62).

This is seen most dramatically in the pay structures that conspire to create disincentives for women to become mothers and invest even some of their energy in the difficult task of raising their children. The opportunity costs of motherhood can result in the loss of up to 56 percent of total earnings after only three years’ absence from the labor force (Berch 113; Wiehl 39). What’s worse, when she does return, typically within 12 months after her child’s birth, she will have difficulty finding a job with equivalent advancement opportunities, or the flexibility she’ll need as the default caregiver (Chester 83). Adding insult to injury, “the more children a woman has, the less she earns, even if she works the same amount of time and remains with one employer for the same length of time as a childless woman … the numbers show exactly the opposite effect for fathers” (Folbre 2001, 34-5). The timing couldn’t be worse, as women’s childbearing tends to coincide “with the time when those on the fast track are moving into their first management positions” (Wittenberg-Cox 47). And, because of pervasive perceptions of the valueless work of raising children, corporate power structures see this time away from work as a lack of loyalty and commitment, and a cause for the depreciation of their human capital (Barker & Feiner 68).

The graph below places the difference in earnings for women with and without children in stark contrast:

(Berch 115)

As we discussed above, the loss of wealth accumulation that is the result of this anti-motherhood prejudice has the effect of limiting women’s ability to acquire “political influence, educational and occupational opportunities, and social advantages for both current and future generations of those who possess it” (Yamokoski & Keister 168).
As Rianne Eisler puts it, however, “without caring and caregiving none of us would be here. There would be no households, no workforce, no economy, nothing” (2007, 9). Basic social support systems, like those implemented in Finland, Sweden, and Norway in the twentieth century, have the simultaneous effect of providing more opportunities for supporting women in the workplace, encouraging men to occupy an actively nurturing role in their children’s lives, and help to produce the higher-quality human capital that will ensure the nation’s long-term social and economic well-being (Eisler, Coughlin, et al. 28). Wittenberg-Cox, quoting from the Goldman Sachs Economics Paper authored by Kevin Daly in 2007, concludes that, “Governments could do much more to narrow the gender employment gap: reducing tax distortions that discourage female employment, eliminating differences in retirement policies and subsidizing childcare are three obvious examples’” (215). It could be that simple.

Aside from the philosophical arguments, the US fares unimpressively on counts of gender equity when compared statistically to other developed countries:

- Sixty-five countries grant fathers paid paternity leave or paid parental leave, with 31 offering 14 or more weeks. The US guarantees fathers neither paid paternity nor paid parental leave.
- At least 107 countries protect working women’s right to breastfeed – breastfeeding breaks are paid in at least 73 of these countries. The US does not guarantee the right to breastfeed, even though breastfeeding is demonstrated to reduce infant mortality by between one-and-a-half and five times.
- At least 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses. The US provides unpaid leave only for serious illnesses through the Family & Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers, and it has no federal law providing for paid sick days.
- 137 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave. The US does not.
- At least 134 countries have laws fixing the maximum length of the working week. The US has neither a maximum working week nor a limit on mandatory overtime per week.
- At least 126 countries mandate that employers provide a day of rest each week so workers are not required to go for long periods without a day off. The US does not.” (Wittenberg 205 – quoting from “The Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the U.S. Measure Up?” McGill University, 2007)
- The US is among the few countries that have not ratified the CEDAW (UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) convention, although most of its elements have been adopted by the twenty or so states that have passed equal rights amendments to state constitutions. (Deere & Doss 20)
- 25 years after women started to move into management in significant numbers – half of the 1000 biggest companies did not have a single woman in their senior executive ranks. (Wittenberg 11)

We are a force of change
“[Women] are the world’s most under-utilised resource” (Economist 1).
It is time to move beyond the limitations of the old model, and incorporate some of the most relevant insights and innovations of leading feminist thinkers into a way forward. Marilyn Waring quotes John Maynard Keynes when she refers to economics as “an apparatus of the mind, a technique of thinking which helps its possessor to draw correct conclusions” (17). If we are no longer drawing correct conclusions from curent theory, it is time to change it – the women I’ve drawn from extensively below have developed their own. And each one has helped to frame the culture and incentives that I have implemented in the PlayHouse model. Much of what follows is in their words, and I have done my best to select only what has been most useful to me.

I’ll begin with one essential value statement, which Waring has worded more eloquently than I could have: “Every time I see a mother with an infant, I know I am seeing a woman at work” (25).

Riane Eisler
Eisler first entered my consciousness as the author of a book called The Chalice and the Blade, and she has become well known in feminist circles for her work in a subject she calls “partnership studies.” If it is possible to summarize the essence of her argument, it is that the work of women in the household can be quantified (2009, 8), and must be measured in the male-dominant economic system:
We recognize that we’ve inherited a brutal gender double standard for sex in which those who held power (men) were judged by very different rules than those who did not (women). But what’s still not generally recognized is that we’ve inherited this same double standard for economics—and that this has distorted our economic systems, beginning with the economic indicators that purportedly measure what is economically valuable. (Eisler 2007, 69-70)
Because women (and men) spend more time in unpaid labor than they do working for pay (2007, 84), it seems logical that an accurate economic picture cannot be perceived without accounting for this time and effort. In addition, the economic system we’ve inherited measures activities that harm life as productive outputs, reflecting a distorted underlying value system (2009, 10-1). Government policies should instead reward investments in happy, healthy humans by subsidizing programs like universal healthcare, early childhood education, and paid parental leave which are proven to prevent many of the costly problems that arise from physical and emotional neglect (Eisler, Coughlin, et al. 31; Eisler 2007, 87 & 169).
We can quantify many of the economic benefits of caring and nurturance. Findings from neuroscience show that good caregiving is foundational for children to grown into productive, creative adults, and that there is a strong connection between poor child care and later health, social, and employment problems … Moreover, adults who feel cared for are healthier and live longer, which translates into substantial dollars-and-cents savings. (2007, 86)
She lists some examples:
- Children in high-quality [childcare] programs were projected to make roughly $143,000 more over their lifetimes than those who didn’t take part in the program.
- Mothers of children who were enrolled can also expect greater earnings – about $133,000 more over their lifetimes.
- School districts can expect to save more than $11,000 per child because participants are less likely to require special or remedial education.
- Participants were less likely to smoke (39% vs. 55% in the control group), resulting in health benefits and longer lives, for a total benefit of $164,000 per person. (2009, 5)
She draws on the work of the OECD and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) to recommend four possible methods for calculating the value of nonmarket household work:
One is the opportunity cost method, based on the wage opportunity lost by a woman who cares for her children or parents, does subsistence farming, or performs other unpaid work instead of having a paid job. The second is the global subsistence method, where the market wages of a housekeeper are used. (I should add that this is a poor method, since the value given to housework is still so low in the market.) The third is the specialist substitute or “replacement cost” method, which values household work by using a combination of the market salaries of cooks, nurses, gardeners, and others … [INSTRAW] has proposed another method: output-based evaluation. This approach measures household productivity in terms of the market value of the products and services produced; for example, meals served in a restaurant, child tutoring done by a professional, and so forth. (2007, 81)
Perhaps her most forward-looking conclusion is based upon the idea that technological advancement requires a reevaluation of productive work – she limits this to the sort of caring work that can only be performed by humans (2009, 8; 2007, 168).

Nancy Folbre, with Pietila via Waring
Folbre’s book The Invisible Heart introduced me to the feminist lens in economics, and completely redefined my feelings about women’s role as caregivers. Though her work seems too disconnected in its scope from her personal experience to carry pragmatism with its conviction, her shift in perspective on the household—from consumption unit to one of production—lays some of the groundwork for redefining the boundary between work- and lifestyles that has played an important role in my research on virtual teams and distributed networks (2008, 12).

Inside the economically excluded and uninspected household (2001, 66; 2008, 15), labor is produced with variable levels of quality, which impact the value of that labor in the marketplace (2001, 71-2). The quality of that human stock should be the central concern of economic and social policies, which “should encourage both men and women to combine paid work with family and community work—a new division of labor that would develop men’s capabilities for care along with women’s capabilities for individual achievement” (2001, 226). Introducing the metaphor of the “invisible heart,” Folbre lays out the conceptual shifts required of a more caring economic system:
Five guidelines for efforts to bring the invisible hand of the market into better balance with the invisible heart of care: 1. Reject claims that women should be more altruistic than men, either in the home or in society as a whole. 2. Defend family values against the corrosive effects of self-interest. 3. Confront the difficulties of establishing democratic governance in families, communities, countries and the world as a whole. 4. Aim for a kinder and wiser form of economic development. 5. Develop and strengthen ways of rewarding the work of care. (2001, 231-2)

Pietila’s model, promoted by Marilyn Waring, refers to economic output motivated by the invisible heart as the “free economy” (300), since it is performed without pay (a feature she does not advocate changing). Output here is expressed as a function of “volume: in terms of the labor power involved in the process (the number of workers) or the work time absorbed (number of hours). Volumes of input or output can be expressed in physical units or in the number of people cared for” (301).

Both the quality- and quantity-focused output models are problematic because they only go so far as to seek an appropriate construct for economic value, rather than redefining the context.

(Waring 301)

Julie A. Nelson
Julie A. Nelson is by far the most innovative of the feminist economists I’ve come across thus far. Rather than accepting the economic system we have inherited from a gender-biased, masculine-superior framework, she strikes out boldly into new territory, redefining gender, value, and women’s roles as she goes. She begins by creating her own metaphor for the economy as “a beating heart” (2006, 58). Rather than accept Folbre’s concession, she goes beyond:
Economist Nancy Folbre has also suggested bringing a “heart” metaphor into discussions of economics: The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values (New York: New York Press, 2001). While I have benefited enormously from her work, I should point out important differences in our use of this image. Folbre suggests that the “invisible heart” of “love, obligation, and reciprocity” undergirds the functioning of the “invisible hand” of “decentralized, automatic, self-regulating forces … in competitive markets” (xii). That is, she takes the “invisible hand” as given and argues for the importance of an additional image. In contrast, I use a “beating heart” as a single metaphor that includes the provisioning function and the regularities of economics life as well as care (and courage). I consider the “invisible hand,” with its implied automaticity and exaggeration of competitive forces, to be an often-misleading abstraction rather than a description of a true, behind-the-scenes, independent reality. I therefore do not include it at all in my suggested imagery. (2006, 134)
Her main motivation is based in a complete rejection of the lack of responsibility and responsiveness created by the classical/neo-classical economic system (1996, 20), and demands that the physical and emotional needs of human beings be one of the primary factors in calculating the value of any good or service exchanged in the marketplace (1996, 20 & 34). She defines her approach as feminist, only insofar as it:
Revalues some of the concepts metaphorically associated with femaleness, and so leads away from a masculine bias. It is, however, distinct from what some might call a ‘feminine’ approach to economics, in which one simply emphasizes those stereotypically feminine characteristics that have been neglected in the current construction of science … just like the current masculine construction of economics, viewing economic phenomena in a one-sided way when an encompassing vision would be more appropriate. (1996, 36)
In an effort at true integration, Nelson rejects the assumption that “the world of morals and care is distinct from the world of business,” stressing that it is not now the role of women to introduce a softer, more feminine economic system (2006, 36). The oppositional pairings visualized in the graph below describe the unproductive lack of communication she observes between the self-styled greedy capitalists, and the self-righteous moral activists who oppose and demonize them (2006, 31).

(Nelson 2006, 55)

One additional point is worth taking into account as we finalize our new perspective. We have yet to address the changing relationships between men and women—so far, we have only charged women with the responsibility for changing economic priorities—embodied in the universal care giver model crafted by Nancy Fraser. According to Barker & Feiner, “in this model both women and men would participate in both paid and unpaid labor. Child and dependent care, along with housework and working for pay, would be shared equally between adult householders” (33-4). The obviousness of this solution makes the proposal of such a model seem almost laughable, but upon casual observation it appears more idealistic and unachievable than unambitious. This becomes more apparent when we see the rankings of the US on the Human Development Index:
The HDI provides a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), being educated (measured by adult literacy and gross enrolment in education) and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income).” In 2009, the US ranks 13th in overall HDI, 9th in GDP per capita, 105th in gender disparity (GDI), and 18th in gender empowerment (GEM).” (HDR 2009)
Not nearly as impressive as we might assume, but there are signs of hope.

According to The Economist, “female employment in the rich world has been the main driving force of growth in the past couple of decades. Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants, China and India” (Economist 1). As more women move into paid labor, and the demand for domestic help increases “it becomes easier to make the case that paid or unpaid, these services have value” (Gerencher 2). Women’s role as economic decision-maker is also becoming more prominent:
The average American woman will earn more money than the average man within 20 years. Women make up 57% of undergraduates and 59% of graduate students. There is a perfect correlation between education and income. As a result, the balance of power at home has shifted and will shift further. We are seeing women ‘control’ and ‘direct’ family discretionary spending. ‘She’ decides when the family is going to eat out, when they will order the new kitchen or bath, go on vacation, buy a new car. It is the first step in the creation of a matriarchal society where the female uses economic and social power. (Wittenberg-Cox 73 – quoting from Michael J Silverstein, Senior Vice President, The Boston Consulting Group)
This is even more pronounced in the wealth holdings among younger statistical cohorts, where there is evidence of a convergence between the educational and financial attainment of men and women (Schmidt & Sevak 156).

The rapid movement of women into the paid labor force is bringing the culture surrounding women’s work full circle – returning it to the importance and status it occupied in family and tribal economies (Folbre 2008, 1770; Sumner 11). These women are less bound by unwanted family obligations, and are encouraged to pursue their own interests, a sign, perhaps, of a more widely held recognition of women not simply as mothers and wives, but as people with the desire for full self expression (Folbre 2001, 4).

The glass ceiling that has, until now, kept women out of leadership roles in the realms traditionally dominated by men is cracked, and showing signs of imminent collapse. Though fiercely resisted by corporate culture (Eisler, Coughlin, et al. 21-2), the traits associated with women’s leadership (“participative, while communicating a vision and a path to achieve that vision … addresses higher-level needs for self-actualization and therefore motivates members to perform beyond expectations” (Aldoory 249).) have proven to be valuable. Recent studies have shown that higher numbers of women on corporate boards is closely correlated with “above-average return on shareholder equity, sales and invested capital” (Masters 1; also Wittenberg-Cox 8): ROE “was 35.1% higher, while the total return to shareholders was 34% better” (Wittenberg-Cox 32). Though it is true that women leaders “are often perceived as going against the norms of leadership or those of femininity” (Wittenberg-Cox 115), there is a growing appreciation for the diversity of perspective that brings higher quality decision-making to senior executive teams and corporate boards (Maitland 2-3). Women’s relationship to the power that these roles bring is refreshing (and, perhaps, emblematic of the outsider perspective Quindlan champions):
Power is a privilege, not a right. You have to use it in the service of others – or lose it. You have to have the interests of the institution at heart, not your own celebrity or ambition. Power demands integrity. The role of power is to have the courage to decide – to influence – and then to take responsibility for the consequences. (Wittenberg-Cox 223 - quoting Anne Mulcahy, CEO, Xerox [speaking at a Fortune conference, 2005])

Even if all the doors, ceilings, and windows were flung wide open to us, we could not discount the psychic inheritance of the prejudices and expectations that have brought us to where we are now. As much as we may strive to discount them, we have our own expectations to manage. And we have one last test for an economic concept that is slowly shifting to accommodate our contemporary needs and desires: “To what extent does the economy provide opportunities for work that are meaningful” (Barker & Feiner 2)?

May the force be with us
Despite signs of progress—women and men participating in paid work in roughly equal proportions—the added responsibility “for child and dependent care still falls mainly to women” (Barker & Feiner 1). According to interviews conducted by Liz Wiehl, “Most women agreed that they were willing and happy to bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, but they want to feel supported and assisted in the endeavor not only by their spouses but also by our laws and society at large” (191). We are looking to society, government, corporate culture, and economic incentives to assist us in achieving the ultimate goal: balance (Wiehl 191).

“Women no longer want (or can afford) to be forced to choose between work and family. They want both” (Wittenberg 186). The difficulty is in drawing and enforcing the boundaries between work, family obligations, and increasingly limited leisure time (Csikszentmihalyi 57; Folbre 2008, 107; Curtis 67; Leghorn & Parker 202). We have been bequeathed the myth of the Super-Mom as the standard of feminine achievement, attempted to make it real, and are now suffering from the unmanageable demands we’ve placed upon ourselves: we must be the primary caregiver as well as the bread-winner (Curtis 20), the attentive mom and the domestic goddess (even though we hate doing household chores) (Curtis 55; Csikszentmihalyi 58), and we do all this just to give ourselves the permission to do the work we really love:
Although combining work and parenting is still socially sanctioned, mothers who attempt to do so are faced with social and economic realities that make this a difficult choice. Although it is not uncommon these days to see images in the media of the well-dressed, successful professional woman kissing her smiling baby goodbye as she leaves for the office without a care, rather little institutional support exists for such a lifestyle. (Chester 99)
Perhaps the desire for balance requires a similar perceptual shift to the one we’ve employed with respect to economic systems – rather than reaching a stasis where our priorities, responsibilities, and support systems are in harmony, balance may simply be the freedom to make choices among these continuously competing forces. Maybe we’re closer than we think.

Force of habit
Each woman’s loss of an opportunity to create has done violence to her and to her society, which has lost the richness that her talent might have contributed. Women who have had any opportunity to be creative at all have usually been forced to choose between family and art, since the responsibilities of a family usually preclude the time necessary to develop one’s work … Women with families have had to do their creative work in bits and snatches between household chores often with children at their feet or on their laps. (Leghorn & Parker, 203)
All of this rearranging and reprioritizing and demanding our right to work is all in service to a single goal: how can we create and excellent life and achieve happiness (Csikszentmihalyi 5; Younkins 46)?

Though we can hope to influence the society, push for a reassessment of economic values, and advocate for more supportive policies, the plain fact is that we can only control what is within our direct control. Towards this effort, I have envisioned a small game design company, which attempts to exemplify the feminist philosophy and shifted economic priorities discussed at length above. PlayHouse is a theoretical model, but I aim here to identify pragmatic solutions to some of the challenges facing women in today’s economic environment.

We must take certain things as given:
The lives of men and women have certain permanent aspects; whether in the stone age or in the twentieth century they must rear their descendants, they must between them produce material support for themselves and for the growing generation, they must lead their own personal lives and feed and discipline and “invite” their own souls and minds. (Balch 61)
By providing the following organizational structures and cultural supports internally, I believe that we can achieve all of these goals without overburdening ourselves.

First, we must establish a structure that leverages individual talents and motivations. A heterarchical structure (Eisler calls it an “actualization hierarchy”) embodies the partnership model by flattening leadership and establishing relationships among equals, allowing each person an opportunity to lead when it serves the interests of the group, and maximizes the collective expertise (Wittenberg 228; Eisler, Coughlin, et al. 23 & 29). By incorporating intrinsically- and extrinsically-motivating features, we provide individuals with autonomy and a sense of control, and reward them for acting on their productive inclinations:
[Intrinsic features]
- The opportunity for personal control.
- The possibility of utilizing one’s skills.
- The variety of work tasks.
- Supportive or controlling supervision.
- Opportunities for personal contacts.

[Extrinsic features]
- Pay, including fringe benefits.
- Working conditions.
- Job security.
- Physical security at work.
- Social status—for example, social rank or occupational prestige.
(Frey & Stutzer 103-4)

Second, we want to pay special attention to the needs peculiar to women, and in so doing:
- understand that everyone’s work priorities change at different life stages;
- recognize that the linear, unbroken career model is unsustainable;
- broaden narrow definitions of the career path at the top;
- abolish age limits for spotting and developing “high potential” people;
- treat flexibility and work-life balance as issues for everyone;
- measure performance by result, not hours. (Wittenberg 297)
As a game design company, we can go even further by aligning our products with the talent and experiences of our employees. If we have a company inhabited by women with children, then we make games designed for children and families, allowing us to capitalize on the creative talents, technical skills, and life experience of our employees. We do not just accommodate life and work, we draw from life to enhance and inform our work, and we work to enhance and fulfill our lives (Eisler 2007, 18).

Even the organization and timeline of the design and production process maximizes the changing priorities of mothers with children – the comings and goings of the employees (Balch 63 & 70), rather than creating a barrier to productivity, leverages a growing network of skilled individuals that can provide a dispersed community of support and an expanding body of knowledge and expertise (Wittenberg 280). The shared experiences of women and mothers allows us to develop deeply caring and understanding relationships with each other (Folbre 2001, 77-8), from which we can derive a sense of personal pride and collective achievement (Nelson 2006, 81-2).

From the safety and support of this organization, we can explore innovative ideas, and capitalize on our creative inclinations (Frey & Stutzer 105). By cultivating inspiration from our daily lives, linking our product ideas to relevant needs, and developing payment and equity models that suit individual needs, we can ensure that economic incentives reflect the particular situation of each employee-owner (Folbre 2001, 181; Nelson 2006, 71). Individually tailored schedules and financial rewards respond to the needs of current and future generations of workers, providing flexibility, encouraging creative reinvention, and utilizing networked technologies to create a collaborative and innovative working environment (Wittenberg 292).

Most importantly, we will invest continuing attention and effort in soliciting the feedback that will ensure our long-term adaptability and survival. This is only the beginning.

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Another spectacular technosynthesart project

by (the unbelievably brilliant) Elie Zananiri

it's called Scrape, and even the about page is totally over my head.


Starship Troupers

If you're a nerd, and you haven't yet spent hours marveling at the exquisite detail and awesome scope of Starship Dimensions, you are so many light years away from cool, you may never get there.

Just kidding. Just go look.


cuteness overloadextravaganzathon

I want to tango

I am just now recovering [read: making up on all the work I didn't do] from a music/dance-a-thon in Champaign Illinois [I know, right?] with my brother-from-another-mother.

Here's a summary - the BFAM picks me up in Indianapolis [do NOT get me started on the inadequacy of public transportation out here in the heartland] and we get to Champaign.

I find and buy the most glorious batwoman coat.

We go to hear a hypnotic violin & piano recital by the world's hottest violinist.

We after party.

We "work", frequently interspersed with first-spring-days outdoor breaks.

We play video games and eat kobe burgers.

We watch the lamest dance performance ever, no thanks to you Mark Morris. Ugh.

We tango with the world's hottest violinist.

We eat tons of sushi.

We run around outside some more.

We shake our asses at the nightclub. [it's sooo "ultra"]

We attend Indonesian Students Club biannual Culture Night [the BFAM performs in said event].

Here's what I got out of the weekend: a killer coat.
Here's what I want to do A LOT MORE OF: tango!

Progress Quotas

Look, when systemic incentives exist, and the (inadvertent) result of those incentives is to marginalize, devalue, and disenfranchise groups of people, then you gotta do what you gotta do to make change.

Quotas are no way to run a business/government/society, but they DO get the job done.

The only thing that is upsetting and offensive about India's new regulation to reserve 1/3 of all legislative seats for women is that ONLY INDIA IS DOING IT!

Who's democratic now, hunh?

In the past...