global woman

Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) is in Edinburgh promoting her new book, Global Woman, in which she argues that those “who hire cleaners and nannies so women are free to go out to work are contributing towards a new exploitative ‘servant economy’ which is destroying families in the developing world.” The main blame, she says, lies with men who fail to share the burdens of the home. The article is too short to allow her to make a convincing argument, I think.


5 Responses to “global woman”

  1. Miel Says:

    I think it is overstated. She tends to do that. There is a real issue there. I hardly think it starts with the woman who hire nannies. It’s much more a feature of the terrible economic and educational prospects in the home countries of the women who emigrate. By the time someone gives you a job–especially if they pay you fairly and well–you have already ended up somewhere else. The woman you meet in Guatemala who leave their kids and emigrate are just as likely to work at Walmart. What people need are education and jobs in their own countries.

    Thanks though–interesting.

  2. Miel Says:

    I also can’t believe she blames feminism for this problem. Does she travel to the places these women come from? She blames a cultural shift for what is a worldwide economic injustice.

    Sorry–this story is just the kind of thing that always gets me hyper.

  3. irritant Says:

    I think you really need to understand the premiss of her thinking before you say something like that. Erenreich has a first-class mind and it’s worth making the time to study her work.

    Firstly there are various types of Feminism.
    The different types of feminism are not in harmony with each other. In fact some are in bitter conflict. Take for example Dworkin and Paglia. Dworkin would probably refuse to be in the same room as Paglia.

    My understanding of what Erenreich is trying to say is that
    The thing is most of the jobs the immigrant women are given are usually on or below minimum wage and employment conditions that people in our countries would refuse to even consider doing. Hence others ending up doing the work. So yes she does attribute responsibility for the ‘cultural shift for what is a worldwide economic injustice’.
    Cultural shifts are made by people, just as the system of worldwide economic injustice are too. These points you make are in no way mutually exclusive.
    Erenreich is for the types of feminism that improve equality for women overall, not just for a select few.

    The view you have asserted “…woman you meet in Guatemala…” is a oft used but (by some) a long discredited position which refers to a peice of 17th century ideas of English philosopher John Locke (incidentally, whose thought is pivotal to the making of the US constitution) a kind of ‘trickle down’ effect. The issue for this view is that it can create as more problems as it aims to solve.
    Now the issue for people like Erenreich is that many of the problems these countries have, Guatemala amongst many others, is the issue of exploitation by dominant countries such as my own and the USA. The USA has interfered to an obscene degree in South America.

    This is what she is trying to spell out in small words:
    [1] Dominant countries have rigged the global economic markets that foster the ‘worldwide economic injustice’ that you originally mention.
    [2] Guatemalan women would not need to migrate if their countries weren’t being strangled economically in the first place.
    [3] Can anyone call themselves a feminist when women in developing countries are obliged to leave thier countries just to feed thier kids to work for women who usually pay close to starvation wages when they work for them?

    This is an old issue in feminism that most versions of feminism have yet to begin to address.

    I have done the research on it and I can tell you for a fact that the conditions most of these women are working in are ghastly. In some circumstances it is close to slavery. But that’s what Erenreich is trying to say in the first place.

  4. Miel Says:

    When I said ‘women you meet in Guatemala’ I meant exactly what you said with 2. And what I meant there was that this issue goes far beyond the issues that feminism addressed itself to (in any form).

    There’s very little that Locke said that I agree with. As far as he know he has no trickle down theory but I certainly don’t believe in the trickle down theory.

    I wasn’t clear. I meant only that women immigrate to get a job. They may or may not end up working as nannies but they are not drawn to the U.S. because of the availability of childcare jobs. Once they have immigrated they will be exploited regardless–whether they work for upper middle class white women or not. So won’t it be a kind of red herring to target that as the main problem?

    I guess I wasn’t being that clear.

    The argument you attribute to her is very plausible and has been made by many other people. However, other things she says give this argument a misleading spin if her view is the view you attribute to her.

    I see there are many kinds of feminism. None of them on their own offers a solution to global injustice. I think that it might be nice to argue for changes in labor laws, the reformation (or elimination) of some trade treaties, the IMF, the World Bank, global markets. You can say “if you aren’t for those things you aren’t a feminist.” But that seems strange to me. Perhaps feminism should be generalized to include all sorts of other political issues when these involve injustices done to women. On its own though, feminism doesn’t seem well-equipped to handle every economic and social problem simpliciter. Rather, there are gender dynamics here that seem to relate to feminism but which she suggests are central to the problem. I don’t think they are central. So I disagree with her mainly about that.

    What I meant was that to say: Feminism failed seems very odd. It was Marxism and anti-colonialism that mainly took on the tasks she blames feminism for failing at.

    It seems like a tactical mistake to focus on individual women who hire immigrants. It isn’t that I don’t think that people have personal obligations to treat others justly or work for justice. The women who exploit immigrants for child care are doing something wrong. Still, I think we should be careful not to personalizes and individualize all social problems because they can’t be solved by personal choice. Yes, SUVs pollute. But I think if we focus on those who drive them we won’t stop global warming. It is the same with targeting women who work and use child care workers. It seems to put the emphasis in the wrong place.

    To be honest, I am thrilled that Erenreich is bringing her clout to this issue. Overall, I don’t think the details I am mentioning matter that much. I guess when I hear her argument I want to restate it for myself in a way that seems more plausible for me. But what really matters to me is doing something about it. I certainly agree with her about the basic problem–so that is more important to me.

    Sorry I wasn’t clear! I just was trying not to babble on and on as I did here.

  5. Dud Says:

    “Destroying families in the developing world”? No more than any other form of economic migration. As Miel points out,that’s driven by supply (global inequalities) rather then demand (the existence of the nanny market).

    “Inculcating racism in children in the west”? Yes,probably. That’s hard to disagree with.

    It’s kind of an argument between utilitarian and idealist points of view. From the utilitarian point of view,it makes no difference whether migrant women are flipping burgers or minding Ms Careerwoman’s kids. From an idealist perspective,one might be repulsed at the re-invention of a servant class. Especially if it’s imported.

    I’ve got some sympathy with that. I don’t like the idea that human beings are one more labour-saving device that the burgeoning middle classes can pop in their shopping trolley (Look! You never used to be able to afford these. But now you can.).

    The bottom line is probably the contents of the paypacket. That’s what defines whether the relationship’s exploitative or not.

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