Women and the New World Order

CATHERINE RAMPELL reports in The New York Times that, “With the recession on the brink of becoming the longest in the postwar era, a milestone may be at hand: Women are poised to surpass men on the nation’s payrolls, taking the majority for the first time in American history.”

In “As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in Job Force,” Rampell says that, “The reason has less to do with gender equality than with where the ax is falling.”  The ax is falling on jobs that have been dominated by men.  “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.”

This, I believe, is a major shift in our cultural construction of how power is controlled, even determined.  In fact, this bit of news can be seen as  a last breath of the old hegemony that has nearly driven us to the point of complete destruction.

The jobs typically held by women–education and health care–are the fabric of society; everything else –finance, construction, high-tech, etc–is crumbling.  The old guard is indeed falling apart, but the fabric of society, patched together by women, is holding.  And with the Obama stimulus package, even increasing its strength.

According to Peter Sloterdijk, the renowned German philosopher and a professor of philosophy and media theory at the Karlsruhe School of Design, there have been 3 phases of globalization: (1) the metaphysical globalization of Greek cosmology; (2) the nautical globalization of the 15th Century that creates global provincialism; and, finally, (3), the overcoming of distance.

It is this last phase–our age–that is extremely interesting from the perspective of a new world order and the emergence of women in powerful positions.  For the past 10 to 15 years, women from traditionally male-dominant cultures have found their way to Western colleges and universities.  It’s an amazing ratio.  Women from the East, especially China and Korea, accompany women from South Asia–India and Afghanistan , for instance–and mingle with women from Africa and the Middle East and Latin America.

These young women, to use Homi Bhabha’s term, choose to be “unhomed” in order to advance.  This, for them, is where “presencing begins because it captures something of the estranging sense of relocation of the home and the world–the unhomliness–that is the condition of extra–territorial and cross-cultural initiations”, says Bhabha.  It is a form of exile apprehended so as to better themselves.  In this condition, women are shifting, apparently always in movement, and challening deeply held beliefs about what has been accepted–to a fault–as the location of women in culture.  Women are re-articulating boundaries. They are redefining material reality.

This re-articulation of boundaries increases the potential for the feminization of cultures.   The current generation of women in our colleges and universities and heading into the (traditional) world is searhing for interconnectedness, though they suffer a sense of estrangement in doing so.  These are the women of the Third Wave of Feminism: the overcoming of boundaries, I call it, which is consistent with the movement’s history. Following Bhabha,  women are inhabiting a space “narrower than the human horizon” that provides an “ethical entitlement to, and an enactment of, the sense of community.”  This is something new, different.  Michelle Obama’s planting of a White House garden, which follows Elenor Roosevelt’s garden historically speaking, is a case in point.  The First Lady’s garden implies the need for a healthier nation, one that grows foods locally and that eats healthier–challenges to health care, the food industry, and the psychology of dependency of American citizens.

Moreover, Michelle Obama is a new model.  Gracious, elegant, classy and beautiful, she is also in shape, as our obsession with her arms shows.  Mrs. Obama is the Third Wave of Feminism, as opposed to Hilary Clinton who represents the Second Wave.  The difference is fundamental: the professional women of Mrs. Obama’s generation did not give up men or family; they pursued careers, but also kept the hearth moving.  This Third Wave comes with an “ethical entitlement to, and an enactment of, the sense of community.”  Women are demanding very different things of the social structures and the institutions that support them.

Women are negotiating languages used in the past to (pre) define notions of reality–and truth.  Nationhood, we can see by how women are stretching themselves across boundaries, is a morally arbitrary notion, a necessity of the post-colonial state, for instance.  Rather, women are more concerned with an “insufficiency of self” and the needs of new urban communities of interest.  Women fully understand the precarious sense of survival we are living today since this has been women’s historical position.  They are best qualified to guide us through.  Women are therefore the agents of change we need.  Women working through their identities, as these come into conflict with ancient–and broken–models, discover their agency and, in turn, transform formally oppressive ways of thinking and being.  It is a slow process, historically, but we are on a path we cannot now change.

What in the past has been perceived as less valuable and thus exploitable, disposable and forgettable in the global political economy, now is no longer.  Opportunities are shifting.  We may be in fact witnessing the emergence of the Fourth Wave of Feminism–matriarchal societies.

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4 thoughts on “Women and the New World Order

  1. Hector, I like how many places of thought you travel to in your posting–current economic trends, political leaders, philosophical perspectives about globalism and identity. But most of all it is encouraging and refreshing to read something so optimistic about women! My students were talking the other day about rationalism and western civilization and spirituality…they read a piece by Nasr, an Islam scholar in exile in the US who argues in a 1990′s piece called “Islam and the Environment” that we should dethrone humanism and recover a more sacred relationship to the earth, which other writers that the class read, Stephen Rockefeller, for example, identify as a relationship ruptured by 17th century models of science and patriarchal, anthropocentric (vs. biocentric) models of religion. Initially students were angry and understandably concerned that a scholar would propose we dethrone humanism! But they were also intrigued by the connections that Rockefeller makes between social oppression and domination of the earth, the environment–its roots in both religion and science, and several women in the class turned the conversation to gender, wondering if it we weren’t ready for a paradigm shift that would bring into question our notions of humanism and spirituality as divided…that would make the environmental justice movement one that is both rational and more emotional, more sensual, more spiritual for those who are comfortable with that word. I found myself listening to very smart women from very different backgrounds and parts of the world in conversation on this topic and felt hopeful because of their perspectives and ability to communicate with one another. I thought of this when I read your post because what you’re talking about here of course is a paradigm shift…one grounded in economic realities, interestingly, and connected to politics and education, but one that deals with perspective: the perspective that one brings to bear on local and global realities and daily life. And yes, try as we might to get away from identity politics, we are all “subjects in history,” as Freire and hooks put it, even as we are also “unhoming” as Bhaba observes…so our historical situatedness is both part and not part of our perspective, making this a process of feminization that is both about women and about something much larger than women, about all people who see it, feel it, regardless of their gender. Very hopeful and interesting work that you’re doing here. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Hi, Catharine, thanks for the comment. I appreciate it. Maybe you should turn your class towards my “little post.” ;-) It would be great to hear from them, actually. ( I say little because it’s basically a snapshot of the larger talk I gave in Amsterdam last summer.)

    Anyway, I particularly like this idea of “turning away from the humanities.” I happen to be revisiting my old work on Modernism and I’m discovering how much of that world was about a furthering of the humanities by fracturing and de-centering art and identity from nature, which in turn gives rise to deconstruction (in the ’60′s), which happens to coincide with a world coming apart along racial, gender and economic lines. It’s no wonder that the post-everything world of today is bifurcated along a continued deconstruction and an attempt at a unification. The unification side of things, the “whole being” approach, interesting enough, is a consequence, in part, of the sciences–see Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience–and economics (Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth).

    This is a paradigm shift that’s incredible and the reason why economic models are faltering–that and human nature tied to avarice. I also find interesting that this is happening as more people are working and living around cities; likewise, we see a “new geography” (Joel Kotkin) evolving.

    Finally, as you suggest, I do also think we need to expand the notion of “feminine” and “feminization.” I think, yes, it has a lot to do with where women are today (more to go though), but more to do with something else, “much larger than women,” as you say.

    I wonder if your class, your very talented women can come up with ideas about what this may be?

    Thank you so much! thank you for keeping up with me and finding my work still interesting these days…

  3. Wow, there is so much, and such powerful things in this piece. Thank you!

    Not to ignore the weight of the larger points in this post, but one point in particular I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on. In the Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, 2nd & 3rd wave comparison — would you say this comparsion is still relevant today? Clinton as a first lady was certainly quite different than the Hillary we’ve come to see as Sec. of State in the past few years. While she certainly is no Michelle, I think we’ve come to see a different side of her (esp. recently, her endorsement of “texts from hillary,” submitting her own even which the media is loving: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/hillary-rodham-clinton-makes-her-own-meme-for-texts-from-hillary-blog/2012/04/10/gIQAKFgl8S_blog.html)

    I just hesitate to so place them as distinct waves, even just as a means of comparison, though I can appreciate it. Clearly, they’re brilliant, unqiue, and strong women for their own reasons, each drawing on their strengths and experiences, but I’d pause putting Hillary in second wave. I think part of the third wave is the confusion and lack of definition — and I think these two women (both role models) are emblematic of that in a way.

    • Hi Brittany,

      thank you for the comment, indeed…And thank you for the Hillary link to the texts from Hillary piece — interesting. I think that what you bring up is very valid, indeed. And makes me thinking of the role of the offices held and how these manifest a representation of “the feminine,” if you will.

      For instance, when I spoke in Amsterdam, one argument I held — and the women agreed — was that during the campaign, the feminist candidate was, really, our future President Obama; Hillary, trying to be the nominee had to prove she was “man enough” for the job. Many women flocked to Obama, and only the hard nosed Hillary supporters kept allegiance.

      At the same time, there was a lot of work to “feminize” Michelle Obama — that is to say, handlers were trying to ‘soften’ here (the press’s nomenclature). At the time, there was an interesting New Yorker cover and I wrote a “hot” piece, at the time, that might interest you: http://hectorvila.com/2008/07/28/newyorkercover/ It’s really how we, the public, confuse images and myths with realities. In this piece, I give a Michelle background. But as we fast forward to your comment and to the state of affairs, today, we see that we can argue that perhaps the roles of Hillary and Michelle have been somewhat reversed, inverted by the positions they hold and the demands of each, respectively.

      Hillary, now, is, after all, the Secretary of State, a very tough position (she’s stepping down, by the way) because she’s basically in that very intense arena where power is filtered, designed, assumed and designated; it is where war is declared and body bags counted. Michelle, on the other hand, is the “first lady,” the title itself a total male-dominant nomenclature that objectifies the woman as a prop, an ancillary piece in support of her husband in a very traditional family. She can’t cross over and talk about power relations, doctrine and policy; she must deal with children and literacy, for instance, roles and representations that are traditional to women. So the Michelle Obama of the Barry Blitt cartoon I speak about, above, had never materialized (though we, the public, continue down our merry road of the unconscious).

      So that’s my 2cents — for now ;-)

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