Friday, 7 December 2007

Join the Fight Against 'Inactive Women'

I've long maintained that, despite its ostensible focus on individualism, our society is becoming increasingly one-dimensional and conformist.

One casualty of the capitalist-materialist world in which we live is that the family, indeed, human relations in general, is paid little more than lip service by policy makers who view life exclusively in economic terms.

People are no longer treated as citizens but workers, taxpayers and consumers who matter, if at all, only in terms of their productivity and spending power. Little attention is paid to what other factors are necessary for a pleasant, fulfilling, and ultimately ethical, stay on this planet of ours.

Thus people are educated not so they can gain knowledge, insight, or creativity but so they do not place a burden on the state. Innovation is important not to improve lives but so we can produce more, faster, than ever before. Witness so-called labour saving devices, which, far from giving us more time for leisure and family, simply allow us to spend more hours in the office.

People must keep healthy not so they can profit more from life but so they can work harder. Of course, if they are so foolish as to smoke, or to get old, then they must accept being treated as human trash for which our economy (read society) no longer has any use.

It is clear that the 'government machine' is more interested in perfecting its various systems - the prison system, the education system, the health system - sorry, 'service' - than responding to the real and varied needs of human beings.

This is disturbing because it means that citizens have gone from being the ideological end, to the means, of democratic government. Ministers are more interested in managing the systems in place than rethinking them in terms of what citizens actually want.

That wouldn't be so bad European States claimed to be feudal oligarchies instead of liberal democracies - then we would all understand the deal. But we are simultaneously proferred the illusion of political choice by parties whose policies are little different and no real means of changing anything.

What if I don't want to live in an atomistic, selfish, and material society where consumer goods are prioritised - for example - above social relations and solidarity. What if I don't want to live in a society where I only really exist if I am young, pretty and dynamic? What happens if I don't want to live in a society where the old, infirm, disabled or simply dumb, are sidelined? Where everyone must conform - or be discarded.

No-one is spared this relentless economisation (if that's indeed a word). Witness a recent European Commission press release which pointed the finger at all the inactive women out there who are sacrificing their economic prime to - gasp - raise their children, look after their parents, and get an education.

Not surprisingly, the UK won the war against 'inactive women' before anyone else. That is the predictable legacy of Thatcherite policies that cut welfare for (single) mothers and force children into full-time schooling at the age of three. Compared to our near neighbour Ireland, where 30% of women are 'inactive' due to family responsiblities, the figure in Britain is only 1.9%.

However I fail to see why this should be a blueprint for the rest of Europe to follow. A few more statistics are necessary to see why. Britain has the lowest productivity and job security on the continent - surely no coincidence. British kids are the most depressed in Europe according to recent OECD figures, have the lowest educational attainment in the EU, and are most likely to take drugs and be involved in knife crime.

Perhaps it's time we stopped taking such a reductive attitude towards work-life balance. It is not good enough just to shove as many people as possible into professions. It is also necessary to raise non-dysfunctional children into a society where people can once again learn to take responsibility for their local community, environment, and yes, occasionally, their own family.

Not that this should be too prescriptive. I am a firm believer in the fact that what works for one, will not necessarily work for all. But people should be given a real choice, and a real voice, when it comes to determining the priorities that drive our society, and indeed, their own lives. Forcing all women into the workplace is as violent a violation of our rights as the Victorian practice of forcing us to stay at home with our children.


Tristan said...

You make some good points, but also repeat some fallacies.

We work less than ever before - once you include housework.

Personally I view the world through economics a lot- but economics, but economics is not just about money, its about how we get what we want. Thus it includes all those concerns you say are not included.
The atomised society you decry is the liberal society - it isn't just about material goods - it is about the individual and their interactions - that is society.

The problem comes when the collectivism is introduced - then you are meant to learn to better society, or to reduce the burden on the state, as you say.
The materialism comes when the state tries to take over society - rather than individuals helping each other, the state takes on the role (badly as well) and the individual only has those materialistic things...

The liberal idea is not for the state to take over, but for the state to enable and to provide a safety net.

Cayrn said...


I couldn't agree more.

It's a matter of priorities, and what defines our priorities, is our identity. Women are recognized in our civilization, not by their own identity as women, but by their capacity to mimic men in their attempt to reach success - whatever that word means.

Inactivity is, for me, the condition of reflexion. Our system exclude inactivity because it exclude reflexion. And u may understand "reflexion" as "self-centered consideration".

Maybe you know that book i am reading now : "Beyond Power" by Marilyn French ... soo interesting.

Have a good day,
Cris (a Belgian fellow citizen)

Consider This said...

Tristan, you mentioned "The atomised society you decry is the liberal society".

Perhaps you're right. I hope not. I always considered myself a Liberal, because I don't believe ppl should be compelled to conform to prescriptive ways of life.

But what I see today - as I tried to make clear in this post - is that many people, specifically women, no longer have a real lifestyle choice as a direct result of state policies which put 'freeing their economic potential' ahead of the freedom to balance work and family, if desired.

This involves, as Cris mentioned,the tendency for women to mimic men in order to gain access to economic and social goods (sorry for all the pseudo-philosophical terms, btw).

I don't believe Liberalism, Capitalism, and Individualism are indirect synonyms for each other. Like you I believe the state should enable people to take opportunities yet provide them with a safety net when necessary.

We do live in such a state. The only difference between this and a liberal state, however, is that there is a stranglehold over what constitutes a valid choice - with corresponding measures to prevent ppl going down those routes.