Feminism in presidential politics

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(Host) A book by a feminist writer has made commentator Allen Gilbert look at the presidential election in a slightly different way.

(Gilbert) This year’s presidential campaign is well underway. Most of the focus has been on who’s in front in the Democratic pack. But President Bush has also begun to hit the campaign trail.

Somehow, it seems that the candidates haven’t scratched what may be the country’s greatest itch – a sense of unease and discomfort about the country’s overall drift. Sure, foreign policy has gotten a lot of attention. The war in Iraq is making many voters nervous. But there’s something else making us nervous that I think none of the candidates has really articulated.

I live in the Montpelier area, and the recent news that the National Life Insurance Company would outsource more than 100 tech jobs – many of them abroad – hit hard. National Life is one of the state’s oldest and steadiest employers. So to come to work one day and be told that your job is going to another worker halfway around the world in India – well, that’s a sock in the gut.

Executives say competition is forcing them to send jobs abroad. Tech workers in India earn a lot less. That cuts a firm’s labor costs. And if one firm’s labor costs are lower than a competitor’s, the competitor has to match the savings.

That sort of logic puts untold millions of white-collar American workers at risk. Insurance companies, banks, tech firms, design studios – much of the work these companies do is no longer tied to place. Just as electrical power cut mills loose from the water power of New England’s streams and rivers, telecommunications are cutting white-collar jobs loose from American office buildings.

I’ve recently picked up a book called “Stiffed” by Susan Faludi. Faludi is a Radcliffe graduate who first made her mark with a feminist book, “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.” In “Stiffed,” she turns her attention to men. She wanted to know why many men oppose feminism.

Faludi concludes that at the root of men’s unease is the sense that they are losing control of their lives. But even though men may center their anger on feminism, it’s not necessarily feminism itself that’s making them feel that way. Most unnerving is men’s loss of control in the workplace. To lose one’s factory job to Mexico, Faludi says, is to get stiffed. Men define themselves by the work that they do. To be told that America no longer needs your labor is a betrayal.

When the jobs hemorrhaging abroad were blue-collar jobs, it was mainly men that got stiffed. But in the fast-paced world created by technology, Faludi’s ideas about who’s getting stiffed may already be out-of-date. Today, women may be just as likely as men to be white-collar tech workers, data clerks, and customer service representatives.

President Bush says that the economy is picking up. But every day, in communities across the nation, more and more Americans – white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, men, and women – are getting stiffed. I wonder if any of the Presidential candidates will call the folks at National Life and ask how they’re doing.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert is a writer active in civil liberties and education issues.

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