Saturday, October 26, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Workplace, Pregnancy, or Harem?

What are Harriet Taylor Mills counter argument to the three standard arguments against woman in the work force? Are they convincing to you? Why or why not?

Mills identifies the three arguments against women in the workforce as:

1.) Pregnancy is incompatible with public life.

2.) Public life will harden women.

3.) If women work outside of the home, there will be increased competition for jobs.

Her first counter argument is quite simple, but quite effective. She states that women are not required to become pregnant. To us, this is an obvious fact, but it seems to have escaped the minds of the male-dominated society of her time. In fairness, most women had to marry in her day as a economic necessity. Furthermore, contraceptives were very unreliable until recent decades. She goes on to state that women are fully capable of deciding exactly how much pregnancy does or does not incapacitate them. Therefore, women are capable of deciding whether they should or should not do work.

Her second counterargument is that we longer live in a society in which we are likely to engage in which what she refers to as "hand-to-hand combat" is likely to occur in the workforce. She goes on to point out that if men are merely trying to protect women from disagreements or disputes the only way to succeed in accomplishing this would be to create a harem system in which women are isolated from all men except their husbands and, I add, are required to take a totally submissive posture toward him.

Again, this is an excellent criticism. I am surprised that she did not realize that women coming into the workplace could make the workplace a gentler place rather than hardening the women. This is what is happened in our world, in which matters such as sexual harassment and aggressive behavior on the part of male employees is now regarded as illegal activity.

It is interesting that she failed to note, perhaps because she was unaware of, the extreme stresses which existed in the harem system. The rivalries between concubines and wives is horrific. There are many stories from antiquity, including stories of Alexander the Great's harem, in which we find the supposedly sheltered women murdering each other's children so that their child has a better chance of finding favor with the master. I would think that, in reality, a harem system would do much more to harden women than would result from their merely appearing in the workplace. That a harem can turn into a place for hand-to-hand combat is a real possibility!

Her third counterargument suggests that if women create more competition for jobs, this will break the current monopoly on men holding jobs. Since free markets can only exist in the absence of monopolies, she argues this would be a positive. She adds that her worst case scenario would be that men and women would have reduced wages as result of increased competition, therefore requiring both of them to work to earn a paycheck. This, she argues, would result in women finding more equality in the relationships with their husbands.

These are valid arguments. However, she missed certain economic effects which have occurred partly as a result of women working. They include:

Increased numbers of individuals earning money can increase the amount of money in circulation and therefore the demand for goods. This is a powerful economic stimulus as described in Keynesian economic theory. So it is unlikely that women in the workplace would reduce the number of jobs available. On the contrary, the stimulus should create the need for new services to fulfill new demands which can now be adequately paid for, thus creating even more jobs.

The problem of childcare does arise. Of course, she was assuming women would enter the workforce only if they chose to do so, and therefore would not enter the workforce if they were busy raising children, having have made that choice instead. She did not imagine an economy so troubled that couples would both be forced to work even if they preferred not to do so.

Sociologists have noted a growing problem in America which I am certain was quite unimaginable in previous centuries. That is, women are now in increasing numbers making more money than their husbands. This makes them, at least theoretically, the breadwinners of the family. This is creating marital stresses, especially among families which take a more traditional approach to values in which the man is expected to be the provider.

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