Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Men on Strike

So as I was telling you yesterday, once the planned economy of the USSR collapsed, the Soviet men collectively gave up and, in a way reminiscent of Faulknerian women, refused to accept the new reality. Of course, there was also a bandit class that serviced the needs of the apparatchik class but those had always existed and were fine with the changes that they had engineered themselves.

There were exceptions – my Dad, N.’s Dad – men who left their non-paying Soviet jobs, started their own businesses, and enjoyed making money. They were very exceptional, however. All of my friends’ fathers, men you would call “educated professionals”, refused even to try to feed themselves, let alone their families. The need to look for a job, offer their services, go to job interviews was something they perceived as profoundly humiliating.

Most families survived thanks to the women. There were isolated cases where women were as infantilized as men, and then the entire family either had to find somebody else to feed them or would get pauperized. For instance, my schoolmate’s parents both decided to check out and sit vapidly on the couch all day long. The entire family of 7 had to be fed by the elderly grandpa, a World War II veteran who was less beaten down than his 35-year-old son and who started a business of his own to put food on the table. Today, the grandpa is dead but the son is still refusing to work. Fortunately for him, this is now the problem of the government of Canada where the family resides.

I’m not sure whether I need to point out that unemployment benefits did not exist, and the men who checked out of active employment brought no income whatsoever. This would not even be the worst thing, though. What was really intolerable was that they didn’t just sit on their couches quietly, waiting peacefully to be fed and clothed. No, they made sure that everybody else in the family suffered as much as possible. Their greatest resentment was reserved for those who actually worked and supported them.

The way this would look, most often, is that the wife would come home from her three jobs and proceed to do the household chores (we are not a culture where men are capable even of boiling some water for their own tea). In the meanwhile, the man, who spent all day long sighing in front of the TV (we are not a culture where men do any child care), would start to scold, nag and pester her with things like, “Ah, so now you are too important to spend any time with your family,” “All you care about is money,” “What kind of a horrible mother would leave her kids to run around God knows where all day long?”, “The house is a pig-sty, and you are not even around to do any cleaning.”

Another classmate of mine had a Dad who guilt-tripped not only the poor overworked wife but even the kids. I once saw him stand over his own 7-year-old daughter as she tried to eat, berating her in a monotonous voice for eating too much and being a huge drain on the family finances. The man’s explanation for not working was that he was too sensitive, intellectual and spiritual to waste his energies on the evil capitalist market. The elder daughter had to start working at the age of 14, helping her mother haul huge sacks of canned good the women were peddling at the black market. And in the same monotonous voice, Daddy would scold the daughter for spending too little time on her homework.

These were not all middle-aged men. My first husband perceived the need to look for a job as impossibly traumatic even though he was in his early (and then mid, and then late) twenties. Gradually, he slipped into all of the nagging, guilt-tripping, showily depressive behaviors of the older post-Soviet men.

This was a phenomenon that knew no generational, ethnic, or class boundaries. The men in question were striking against the need to be adult men. The role they claimed for themselves was that of children, and they would feel resentment towards the wives who wouldn’t recognize their status as babies and their own children who’d claim the role of babies for themselves.

Just Kids

A little boy in Germany was asked if there are any foreigners in his preschool.

“No, there are just kids,” he said.

The Easy Way to Prevent Social Change

The best way to defeat any possibility of social change is to pit different groups of population against each other. Working class whites in America were sold the idea that their impoverishment is caused by the “lazy” blacks or “job-stealing” Mexicans. As a result, they joyfully forgot about any questions they might have had for those better off than they are and ganged up against those who are as deprived and oppressed.

The same sad evolution has occurred with the Black Lives Matter movement. What started as a crucially important conversation about racism, devolved into a meaningless and hopeless “police officers are evil” narrative. The message of “Darren Wilson is a racist murderer” was swapped for “Darren Wilson is a policeman”, which is the most self-defeating narrative any movement can come up with.

And we are also seeing this logic eagerly adopted by professional middle classes. The erosion of the middle class is blamed on educated immigrants, and this destroys any possibility of solidarity and does nothing but distract everybody from doing anything but hating, blaming, and fantasizing about deportations.

Losing Faith in Humanity

Back in 2012, the long-beleaguered Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania ran out of money — literally — and the unionized teachers and staff agreed to work without pay. Well, it’s happened again — at least the part about the district being out of cash and all of the teachers, support staff, bus drivers and other adults in the system agreeing to work for free.

No, no, Americans, not you, too. Back in Ukraine in the 1990s, I remember feeling so much rage and disgust towards the people who would agree to work for free (sometimes for a year or longer) that I realized that if I didn’t leave the country, I would inflict grave bodily harm on someone.

But at least the post-Soviet people had an excuse. They had collectively woken up in an entirely different country without any warning. They were traumatized and severely depressed as a result of this shattering transformation. They are still stupid, irresponsible idiots who preferred to deprive their own children of basic necessities rather than get a grip on themselves and go find paying work but at least there is an explanation for their passivity.

Americans, though! People who have not been infantilized by a totalitarian regime that, for decades, eliminated and persecuted anybody with the entrepreneurial spirit! People whose courageous workers’ movements transformed labor conditions throughout the civilized world! You, too, are patiently trudging to work for free, setting a horrible precedent for your colleagues everywhere? And there is not a single person among all these unionized workers with enough self-respect to refuse to be humiliated and exploited in this way?

This is profoundly disappointing. If people who have not known any real hardship (compared to how the rest of the world lives) are so pathetic and beaten down, then it becomes unclear what needs to happen for anybody to recover any human dignity.

The Future

According to Business Insider, climate change is having a tragic impact on women:

Countless studies show that natural disasters on average kill more women than men — 90 percent female fatalities in some cases, prevent girls from going to school, increase the threat of sexual assault. And the list goes on.

This issue has leapt to the fore in global negotiations on climate change, which scientists warn will be responsible for increasingly violent and frequent natural catastrophes around the world.

Coupled with the insanity of dramatically reducing female population in countries like India and China, global warming might create a world where crowds of men will wage wars over the few remaining women.

“Not Another Politician”

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is not just another politician. He doesn’t play the game. I could go on and on about how the big problem in democracy right now is campaign finance, and that corporations have essentially bought both parties. But Donald Trump is the first guy who can honestly say they haven’t bought him. If he had a mind to, he could finance his entire campaign out of pocket and he honestly might.

All true. And he’s still as horrible as anybody or worse. “Not another politician” who is not beholden to anybody else is not a hope for everything good and wonderful. It’s a total nightmare. If the doctors in this country suck (and they mostly do), taking an ill relative to a witch or a soothsayer whose only qualification is that he’s never seen the inside of a medical school is – shockingly – not a solution.

The Black Hole

For the entire two weeks of the vacation I was telling myself, “Do not approach the computer! Whatever you do, stay away from the computer.” I heeded my own advice (the blogging was done form the phone) and was a very happy person.

Since I came back, I managed to stay away from the computer for a while but then I turned it on “just for a quick second”. . . and the nasty thing had me trapped for a long and painful time. I can say “no” to anybody and anything but the computer has me bent to its will every single time.

Easy Recipes

As usual, the presidential campaign is getting bogged in the discussions of feel-good non-issues.

It’s obvious that nobody is going to deport 11 million illegals. The cost and the logistics of that would be insane. But there is a huge number of simpletons who are choosing not to notice that any discussion of the mass deportation is a con man’s trick of distracting a mark while reaching into the poor sod’s pocket.

The same purpose is served by the endless discussions of the need to raise taxes on hedge fund managers. I could care less about hedge fund managers. Tax them to the gills, deport them and their anchor baby, track them like FedEx packages – whatever. But don’t talk about raising their taxes like it’s going to change the world.

There are about 7,000 hedge funds in the US. Many of them will go bust this year. Most of them don’t make that much money at all. Raising the taxes on the salaries of their managers should definitely be done but it’s not going to make a major difference to anything.

Easy recipes do not exist. The politician who offers you one is reaching into your pocket while you are distracted with the shiny bauble of a cutesy slogan.

By the way, have you noticed how all these feel-good easy recipes are about inflicting pain on somebody who is supposedly depriving (“robbing” is always the preferred term) you of something? The con man politician needs to convince you that somebody else is robbing you so that you don’t notice that it’s what he’s doing.

Midcareer, midschmareer

Somebody just called me “midcareer.” WTF, midcareer? I’ve only been working for 7 years and there’s about 25-28 left in me.

People are so desperate to categorize and label that they don’t even stop to wonder if their labels make any sense.

The Labor Market

This is a job seeker’s labor market, and workers feel secure enough to leave the jobs they don’t like:

Hires climbed to the highest level of the year at 5.12 million and the number of Americans voluntarily quitting their jobs climbed to 2.75 million from 2.73 million the prior month. The number of voluntary quits tends to rise when people are confident about job prospects.

Most people are so comfortable that they can’t stand good news, so here is what many will consider a welcome worrisome trend:

And the share of Americans participating in the labor force, at 62.6% in July, matched the lowest reading since 1977, a possible sign there’s a mismatch between job openings and job seekers.

I noticed this problem when we were looking for a departmental secretary. This is an office position that requires a very limited skill set. Yet out of the 8 people we considered, 5 were utterly unprepared for any office job. (Out of the remaining three, one was not a good fit on a personal level, one couldn’t decide if she wanted a job, and one we hired.)

We had to hire someone with an MA because candidates with lesser qualifications showed an extreme incapacity to conduct themselves properly in an office setting.

This is a serious problem on the job market these days: jobs that require nothing but a warm body are increasingly rare. In the meanwhile, the number of jobs that require a worker who is a confident denizen of the modern world is growing. And there are not enough people to fill these positions. For instance, one of the insurmountable obstacles for our candidates was the need to work with people from a wide variety of countries. The candidates were visibly (and sometimes offensively) uncomfortable with anybody who was not exactly like themselves. And how many jobs these days welcome this sort of thing?

A significant number of job seekers eventually give up the search altogether because there’s nothing they have that the job market is ever likely to need. Such people are unequipped to arrive at the real reason for their marginalization by the job market (if they were so equipped, they would easily get employed) and start coming up with all kinds of bizarre outlets for the anger this incomprehensible reality produces in them. The political consequences of this anger and confusion are easy to observe.

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