This week in the New York Times, Catherine Rampell explained how the recession was affecting the ratio of female to male workers:

The proportion of women who are working has changed very little since the recession started. But a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction. Women tend to be employed in areas like education and health care, which are less sensitive to economic ups and downs, and in jobs that allow more time for child care and other domestic work.

Here are the results:


Excluding farm workers and the self-employed, women held 49 percent of the nation’s jobs as of November. Including farm workers and the self-employed, women held 47 percent of jobs.

But, Rampell reminds us:

Women may be safer in their jobs, but tend to find it harder to support a family… Women are much more likely to be in part-time jobs without health insurance or unemployment insurance. Even in full-time jobs, women earn 80 cents for each dollar of their male counterparts’ income…

If the recession continues as it has, the U.S. workforce may soon be majority female.

See also this post on job segregation.

In From Motherhood to Citizenship, Nitza Berkovich traces a global shift.  Sometime during the 20th century, nation-states became convinced that women could boost national economies and foster development.  Accordingly, states began thinking of their women as potential productive workers instead of reproductive mothers.  It was this economic argument, not necessarily a feminist one, that led to women’s incorporation into the public sphere as citizens (workers, voters, etc).

I was reminded of Berkovitch’s book by a short video sent in by Fran.  The video, produced by a non-profit called Girl Effect*, argues that if you get girls into school and give them cows, the world will be a better place.  As Fran puts it:  “Apparently, girls are only worth supporting if they improve the economy!” Here is an image from the website:


“Girl Effect” is defined as:

The powerful social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate in their society.

The logic is not that girls deserve education or the opportunity to sustain their livelihoods (a feminist argument); the logic is that we should invest in girls because it is good for the world (a global improvement or humanist argument or something).  I’m not arguing that the former is better or worse than the latter, only pointing out that it’s interesting that feminist initiatives (helping girls) can be supported with non-feminist logics.

The video:

*  As an aside, I always think it’s interesting when and how people choose to use the word “girl” as opposed to “woman.”  In this case, I suspect the activists think girls are more sympathetic than women.  Kids always pull at the heart purse strings moreso than adults.  I suppose this is because we ascribe to children a sort of innocence.  That, in itself (though socially constructed), doesn’t seem troublesome… but, if we can give the benefit of the doubt, we can also take it away.  I always wonder, for example: When do boys growing up in poverty transition from innocent victims of circumstance to potential criminals?  When do their sisters transition to welfare queens?  When do we decide to retract our generous offering of benevolence and replace it with malevolence?  These are just things I wonder.

Thanks to Captain Crab for letting me know about this fun 20-minute video by Annie Leonard called The Story of Stuff.  It it, using animation, she explains how “[f]rom its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad.”  Basically it’s about the externalized costs that allow us to get things for $1.99 at our local big-box store:

Found at The Story of Stuff.

NOTE: As several commenters have pointed out, this video is definitely a simplification–it is, after all, a very brief overview of an extremely complex process. The video still provides a fairly accurate portrayal of some concerns expressed by critics of globalization, despite the simplifications.

One commenter in particular argues that the statistics used in the video are flawed or even entirely made up. I really have no way to judge that one way or the other, not being an expert on this. At the website for The Story of Stuff, there are citations for all of the numbers used, so if you’re really interested in that, you might want to look more fully into where the data came from. Again, I can’t take a real stance here one way or the other because this isn’t my area of expertise; the data might be flawed, but the commenter doesn’t provide other data to contradict it. It might make for an interesting discussion on the use of data and why people with different views on globalization might use different numbers. You take students through it and ask “What’s useful here? What statistics might be inaccurate? Why might they be presented that way? Why is it possible to come up with statistics that say completely different things about the same issue?”

Click here for a discussion of how one Professor uses it in a Rhetoric and Writing class.

In this video, from the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that sweatshops are, despite their drawbacks, the best option for many people in many places… and that anti-sweatshop activists should keep that in mind.

Hyundai, like all the other automakers, experienced a sharp drop in sales. According to the Examiner Las Vegas, Hyundai sales are down 40%. In an effort to attract buyers, the company now offers what they call the Assurance Program. Here’s a commercial that explains the program:

It’s a pretty interesting program. A company is basically saying, “If you aren’t buying a new car because you worry that your financial situation is unstable and the economy sucks and it would not be a fiscally responsible decision for you, don’t worry–we’ll let you back out if you really need to.”

This brings up what appears to me to be an economic paradox. On the one hand, for the economy to improve, consumers need to buy things so businesses, factories, and other employers can put people to work. So from that perspective, this program is good: it might give consumers the confidence to go ahead and buy a car. But as an individual, it seems like in an economic downturn it’s probably in your individual interest to cut back on spending and save money in case of job loss–unless you are wealthy enough and have enough savings to really not be concerned about the downturn. From that viewpoint, buying a car, particularly a new one, is probably a poor decision, unless it is absolutely necessary. Even with the Assurance Program, you still have made a number of months’ worth of payments, plus a down payment, and have nothing to show for it.

This might be useful for a discussion of self-interest and the possible conflicts between what is good for the group (and the individual members of it) in the long term and what is best for the individuals in a more immediate sense. Should we, as consumers, reduce our financial risk by saving as much money as we can, limiting consumption and spending as a result? Or should we increase our personal risk by participating in behavior that very well may lead to better conditions, but not immediately, and possibly not for us if we end up with fewer financial reserves to fall back on in case of a job loss? How do you convince people to do something that might be good for the group when it might not appear to be in their self-interest on a personal level? And does it matter that companies are asking individuals to take possible financial risks so the company can make a profit?

On a non-sociological note, holy crap the automakers are desperate.

Francisco (from GenderKid) sent in a cartoon that questions the benefits of the One Laptop per Child program, which aims to give a simple version of a laptop with internet access to kids in less-developed nations, and also Alabama (available at World’s Fair):

From the OLPC program’s website:

Most of the more than one billion children in the emerging world don’t have access to adequate education. The XO laptop is our answer to this crisis—and after nearly two years, we know it’s working. Almost everywhere the XO goes, school attendance increases dramatically as the children begin to open their minds and explore their own potential. One by one, a new generation is emerging with the power to change the world.

There are a number of interesting elements you might bring up here, such whether introducing laptops is necessarily the best method to improve education wordwide, or who decided that this was an important need of children in these regions (my guess is the MIT team behind OLPC didn’t go to communities and do surveys asking what local citizens would most like to see for their educational system). I recently heard a story about OLPC on NPR, and while there seemed to be benefits in some Peruvian communities, in others the teachers spent so much time trying to figure out how to use the machines to teach subjects, without really feeling comfortable with them, that almost nothing was accomplished during the day. But once the laptops were introduced, they overtook the classroom; teachers were pressured by the Peruvian government to use the laptops in almost every lesson, even if it slowed them down or it wasn’t clear that students were benefiting from them. Another problem was that, though the laptops are built to be very strong and difficult to break, on occasion of course one will break. Families must pay to repair or replace them, which of course most can’t do, meaning kids with broken laptops had to sit and watch while other kids used theirs in class.

Benjamin Cohen uses the OLPC in an engineering class and brings up  concerns about…

technological determinism — [the idea] that a given technology will lead to the same outcome, no matter where it is introduced, how it is introduced, or when. The outcomes, on this impoverished view of the relationship between technology and society, are predetermined by the physical technology. (This view also assumes that what one means by “technology” is only the physical hunk of material sitting there, as opposed to including its constitutive organizational, values, and knowledge elements.) In the case of OLPC, the project assumes equal global cultural values & regional attributes. It also assumes common introduction, maintenance, educational (as in learning styles and habits), and image values everywhere in the world. Furthermore, it lives in a historical vacuum assuming that there is no history in the so-called “developing world” for shiny, fancy things from the West dropped in, The-Gods-Must-Be-Crazy style, from the sky.

How could the same laptop have the same meaning and value in, say, Nigeria and Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Alabama, Malawi and Mongolia?

These critiques aren’t to say there is no value in OLPC, but that there are some clear questions about whether this is the most effective way to improve education in impoverished or isolated communities and what its consequences are. I doubt the OLPC creators meant for teachers to face government pressure to use the laptops for every lesson, no matter what, but that’s what has happened in at least some areas.

Another problem the NPR story highlighted was that the kids they reported about in Peru live in areas where there are absolutely no jobs available to capitalize on their tech skills, nor any reason to believe there will be any time soon. The government is pushing laptops in education, but without any economic development program to bring jobs to the regions to take advantage of these educated students. So the question is, after you get your laptop, you learn how to use it, you graduate…then what? Will the laptops spur more brain drain and out-migration? Is this necessarily good? Are countries like Peru using the laptop program as a quick, flashy substitute for the more boring, difficult, challenging process of economic development and job creation? As an educator, I’m thrilled with the idea of valuing learning and knowledge for its own sake, but on a more practical level, these questions seem like important ones.

Thanks, Francisco!

UPDATE: In a comment, Sid says,

…there’s kind of a vaguely imperialistic nostalgia in the first image of “Darkest Africa” as a simpler, more wholesome place where kids still play together in front of the hut and there’s a sense of community that you just don’t get in the modern world and blahdee blahdee blah.   The entire thing kind of smacks of a enterprise…

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Recently Lisa posted some photos of what resource extraction looks like. I thought I would show a different side of this phenomenon: what an oil bust looks like. I grew up in the Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. The area has been through two oil booms, one in the 1920s and one in the 60s through the 80s.

But with any energy boom eventually comes the energy bust. I took some photos I took showing what communities looks like if their economy is disproportionately based on oil and the oil companies leave, which were reproduced at Business Insider.

Oil wells that have never been installed sit around on empty lots, slowly rusting. Many oil wells that were in use at one time now sit motionless. Because of high oil prices in the last few years, some oil wells have been put back in production; it’s the first time since I was a kid that you can look across pastures and see many of the oil wells actually pumping. Pipes crisscross the landscape, often slowly tumbling downhill from lack of maintenance. When they get old and rusty enough they start breaking apart, leaving jagged edges that occasionally lead to trips to the doctor for a tetanus shot. An old storage tank, long past any usefulness, slowly rusts.

In an energy bust, real estate prices plummet. If there aren’t many other industries in the area, there’s no way to attract buyers, and houses flood the market as people move looking for work. Houses, many of them perfectly serviceable, slowly decay from lack of upkeep. Families that became wealthy from oil lose their fortunes. The house below was owned by a family that became wealthy from the 1920s oil boom. When that oil bust hit, they lost everything. Their house sits far out in the country and slowly crumbles. Downtowns die and the buildings sit empty and deteriorate over time. Towns don’t have enough children to run independent schools, so rural school districts consolidate. This school was sold off and a local resident told me that it has been, at various times, a bed and breakfast, internet cafe, and beer-only bar, between bouts of sitting empty.

Ponca City is centered around the Continental refinery plant. Continental was owned by Conoco until 1984. There used to be a significant Conoco presence in the town, and as with Bartlesville, it has faced hard times since the Conoco-Phillips headquarters moved to Houston. Some neighborhoods were polluted by the refinery, leading the company to buy out homeowners and tear down the houses (some owned by private individuals, others by the Ponca tribe). In one area where this occurred, the land is now a park. Local residents have heard that Conoco is planning to tear down a lot of its old administrative buildings so it doesn’t have to pay insurance or maintenance costs, meaning there will be even more large swaths of empty land scattered around the city.

There’s nothing exceptional about the experience of these communities. They simply represent a story played out in many towns as oil booms fade and corporations move their headquarters to larger cities. Now, as the Keystone XL pipeline project goes forward, many such communities gear up for their next ride on the energy roller coaster.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Stephen W. sent us a link to a Walmart YouTube channel that recreates the supermom mythology.  The website encourages moms to submit videos of themselves explaining how they’ve figured out how to save money while shopping, cooking, and cleaning.  The website reads:

With creativity, ingenuity, and Walmart’s unbeatable prices.  Moms can do anything.

(I bet they can’t coupon us out of this economic crisis though.)

Here’s a screen shot:

My first thought was: So apparently the wife is the one doing all the spending and, if she is a good little wife, she’s frugal and makes her husband’s hard-earned money go further.  This would reproduce the husband as money-earner/wife as money-spender stereotype.

But then I realized: There’s no mention a dad or any earner anywhere on the front page.  It’s nothin’ but moms.