Economic Power

Thrasymachus has a posted the following theory:

My new working theory: By embracing the politics of equality, female influence and power has declined drastically. While some few females have been successful in traditionally male environments, the majority have lost out. Females traditionally wield power through social and family networks, the simplification and weakening of such networks tends to be a good measure of female decline. Modern social networks, rather than being inward-looking, are most often outward-looking and goal orientated, a better fit for the male psyche.

“NJ Sue” responded with this comment:

It would be helpful to specify what kind of power you believe women have lost. Are you talking about economic and political power, or emotional and sexual power? For example, one could say that a child has great emotional power over its parents when it is young and dependent, while an adult has little power to influence his parents’ lives or actions. Does that fact make the adult less powerful? Historically, women have exercised affective power over men by appealing to the masculine sense of noblesse oblige. A woman had to get a man to support and protect her, just as a young child needs a parent. This is no longer the case.

I take umbrage in the assumption that economic and political power are mutually exclusive of emotional and sexual power, and the unspoken assumption that they are somehow inferior.

Beyond that, though, the presumption that women are expected to compete toe-to-toe with men in commerce (men who are not going to have to put their careers on hold for some period of time in order to have children) has put many women into unnecessary hardship. The traditional gender roles (ones that I believe are biologically influenced) have been so perverted in the last 40 years that we don’t even seem to have a working knowledge of what they were.

Economically, the gender roles were clear. It was the man’s job to go out and earn the bulk of the income. The woman wasn’t totally dependant, of course — women often had odd jobs, especially ones that coincided with their domestic duties, like laundry, tailoring, or baking. (This was the genesis of the multi-million dollar “Mrs. Baird’s, Inc.” here in Dallas. Mrs. Baird baking bread in her kitchen.) However, one thing was clear: no matter where the money came from, it went into the wife’s hand when it came home.

I think this is the main reason that men went out drinking on payday — he didn’t really know how much his wife was going to let him spend the rest of the week, so it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. Payday was the only day he had his hands on all his money. (I’m sure this had no small effect on the temperance movement.) The wife ran the household, no ifs ands or buts. In our times, this is almost unheard of outside the Hispanic and Asian enclaves of America. You are much more likely to hear about “separate accounts” and his money and her money. The old joke of “What’s her’s is her’s and what’s mine is her’s” was funny then because it was true.

This has been the way of the world, from Cornelia Caesar to Martha Washington to Alice Kramden, and deviating from it has not, in my opinion, served society well. No woman needed to exercise “affective power over men by appealing to the masculine sense of noblesse oblige.” She exercised power over her husband in the area that she was most suited for — managing the household. There if there was no noblesse oblige. He had his job, and she had hers. He turned his pay packet over to her because she demanded it.

One Comment

  1. rae says:

    Hmmmm. In my household growing up my Mother took my Dad’s paycheck because he worked 70 hours a week and didn’t have time to pay bills. My Father was never a drinker so I’m not sure about the going out on payday theory. Now- my mom works full-time, raises my brothers, and goes to school part-time (just got her B.A. in Sociology and trying to get into Grad school). My Father does all the chores-cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. and works maybe 50 hours a week-and handles paying the bills himself and they seem to have a good balance. I could only hope that I can have that too (in my third marriage :))