Sunday, November 28, 2010

Junk Sex: Prostitution and Notions of 'Choice'

Not long ago, here in the UK, there was a bit of a sensational news story over the outing of a ‘high-class’ hooker. She had published (as ‘Belle du Jour’) a number of popular books about her life in prostitution (did proceeds from her books go to women’s shelters? Educational initiatives for young girls? Perhaps to a women’s health clinic in rape-ravaged Darfur? I highly doubt it, but would be happy to learn otherwise). The sensational bit was that this ‘high class’ hooker turned out to have a PhD in a scientific field.  (She worked as a prostitute to survive financially during her PhD studies.  Funny, I've been doing my PhD studies for five years and not only have I not needed to become a prostitute to do so, but I have saved 20+ grand along the way...).  The fact that Belle du Jour's father has used over 150 prostitutes, even introducing many to his daughter, had absolutely nothing to do with her decision to pursue this work (really?).

So what’s wrong with a smart, pretty woman cashing in on her sexuality? It’s the oldest trick in the book, really, and good for her if she’s clever enough to make a fortune off of it, right? Besides, it’s much easier (why pay your way through college with a work-study or minimum wage coffee shop job when you can strip or prostitute a couple of nights a week and make loads? The joke’s on them, right? Right?) 

I must growl at this notion.  The issue of prostitution-as-empowered-choice gets right to the heart of my own biggest frustration with mainstream feminism today: how we think about choice.  Not reproductive choice, but women's agentic choice.

Women have fought long and hard (and continue to fight) to have choices.  To choose to work, to choose whether or not to marry, to choose when, how, and under what circumstances to reproduce, to choose how to dress, to choose when, how, with whom, and under what circumstances to have sex, to become educated, etc. etc.  Having some choices in life is integral to human integrity and the pursuit of happiness.  Many more women are now able to make choices than has been the case historically.  Still, many, many women today live highly constricted lives with little or no choice- not only women in societies that burn and disfigure women routinely, deny them access to education, etc. but also in societies that deny poor women access to healthcare and contraceptives, or to stable, living wage jobs, and deny women, poor and privileged alike, choices about their own sexuality, beauty, and bodies and freedom from violence, sexual and otherwise.

Now it seems to me that there is an ever-widening gulf between privileged women who have some choices, and disadvantaged women (economically or otherwise) who have little or no choice.  It seems to me that many women are increasingly divorced from both a sense of liberation from patriarchy and solidarity with each other (not that women have at any time nailed solidarity on the head).  

This is particularly evident and disturbing in regards to beauty, bodies, and sexuality.

It's more than a little suspicious to me that the 'choices' of privileged women coincide so perfectly with male and media-driven consumer capitalism.  That the totems of male and media-driven consumer capitalist conceptions of beauty and sexuality- extreme waxing, extreme thinness, breast implants, skyscraper heels, heavy makeup, dressing hyper-sexually, stripping, prostituting- turn out to also be the empowered choice of masses of privileged women is... well, it's a bunch of junk.  I can't be the only highly sexual woman with more interesting and nuanced ideas about my beauty, my body, and my sexuality than those copied from mass media and male 'fantasy' (I'd also like to believe there are men out there with more interesting and nuanced ideas/fantasies about beauty, bodies, and sexuality than those for which they are generally credited).  

This isn't to say that only privileged women are spending vast amounts of time and money trying to emulate 'beauty' standards, or taking pole-dancing classes, or watching violent, misogynistic porn, or buying Belle du Jour's books and reconstructing prostitution as an empowered life choice.  Disadvantaged women do these things too.  But it is to say that privileged women- that is, women with choices- should feel some obligation to do better.

A woman with choices is a profoundly fortunate woman.  It seems to me that she should show her gratitude for her own good fortune, and her commitment to women's broader liberation, by making principled choices that are in the interests of raising life standards for all women, instead of making 'personal choices' that, oddly, seem so often to revolve around expensive shoes and pandering to men's (apparently sadly limited) sexual fantasies.  

But who are you, Penny Sociologist, you may be asking, to decide what a 'principled choice' is?  Ultimately, it is up to each of us to draw out our own principles and to decide what principled choices might be.  I do not advocate organized religion, or popular media, or parents, or partners, or friends, or myself as the arbiter of principles and dictator of choice.

I ask only that we reflect deeply and seriously on the question.  And I suggest that weighing what is 'good' for one’s self against what is good for women might be a place to start.  

For me, principled choice means doing my absolute best to make choices that do not hurt other women, and certainly not to profit from choices (practices) that hurt other women.  At the same time it means giving absolute protection and support to women who have no choice.

In practice, acting out my principled choice might mean not buying Belle du Jour's books and not promoting prostitution as glamorous (or selling myself as a high class hooker), while volunteering at a shelter for trafficked women, working to raise awareness about the costs of prostitution, and fighting to end penalties for women who prostitute and impose penalties for the men who buy them.

But, Penny Sociologist, you might say, not all women in prostitution are drug-addled, or come from sexual/physical abuse backgrounds, or are driven to it by desperation, or are beaten up by pimps, or live on the streets, or are desperate women desperately in need of real help.  Some are just powerful, healthy women who are happily making choices.  I would first say that, in fact, the vast majority of women in prostitution are there without their consent or have 'chosen' to prostitute because, in fact, they have abusive backgrounds and very little other choice.  The powerful, healthy women happily making the empowered choice to prostitute under safe conditions are quite rare in practice.  And even for those women in prostitution who will state that it is their 'choice', we must keep in mind psychological mechanisms whereby human beings reap mental health benefits by accepting and rationalizing their 'choices' as free and agentic even, or especially, when they are not.

But even if I grant that there might be a minority of healthy, happy prostitutes out there, it really is ultimately quite irrelevant.  The happy, healthy, well-paid prostitutes are much like the happy, healthy, well-paid loan sharks, tax lawyers, bankers, and assorted corporate overlords who profit at the expense of society in general and the poor in particular.  There are many distasteful, predatory jobs out there that ideally would not exist, and it is not unreasonable to hope that bright, capable people with the resources to make choices might choose to do something better with their talent and energy.  A happy, healthy, well-paid prostitute is, at the end of the day, propping up and sometimes glamorizing an industry that at worst enslaves and at best seriously hurts millions of women.  There is nothing to celebrate in that.

A final point in this long, difficult, somewhat rambling post: Just because a woman makes a 'choice' does not mean that it is to be unthinkingly celebrated.  We don't generally celebrate men who use prostitutes, so why should we celebrate women who are 'empowered' prostitutes?  We don't celebrate men who produce violent, misogynistic porn, so why should we celebrate the women who (freely, empoweredly) 'act' in it?  We don't celebrate men who watch violent, misogynistic porn, so why should we celebrate it when women do?  These choices/practices are no savorier when enacted by women and dressed up as empowerment, to hell with the realities and consequences for the overwhelming majority of women.

And to extend the idea of making principled choices: Beauty, sex, and bodies are an easy place to start thinking about choices and consequences and principles.  But it is by no means the only area in which women (and men) who have choices should perhaps feel an obligation to make principled choices.  Think about domestic work.  The low wages and poor conditions of domestic workers (i.e. maids) are well-documented.  Is it even vaguely principled for a wealthy woman to use her class privilege to exploit and oppress a poor woman by employing her to work in her home as a nanny or maid, paying her lousy wages, and demanding far more than 40 hours a week of her time?  

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gender Junk: Rise of the Killer Heels

There was an article in the Guardian the other day about sales of killer heels (i.e. 4-6 inches).  Seems sales are through the roof, having quadrupled (yes, quadrupled)- at least for one shoe retailer- this year.  Apparently "huge interest in celebrity fashion" is credited for driving sales.  Guess all those WAG-wannabes aren't hampered by gloomy economic times (the shoe retailer in question, Geiger, sells heels from £100-£400 per pair).  Was that too snide?  Well, I'm tired and have been fiddling with my syllabus all day and the thought of superficial women teetering on skyscraper heels is just...well....annoying.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I am a former fan of heels.  In fact, I still own 2 pairs of 2-inch heels, and I have indeed worn them 2 or 3 times in the last year and a half.  In the past, I wore them regularly.  Why?  Well, I am quite short, and pants are often quite long, and heels are a cheaper alternative than alterations.  But more importantly, heels are indeed a quick and easy way to exaggerate a woman's body.  Throw on a pair of heels and suddenly you're taller, your legs look longer and much more toned, your walk changes such that your breasts are prominent and even your waistline looks slimmer- and the higher the heel, the more pronounced the changes.  All those billboard and catwalk girls are strapped into 6-inch heels for a reason.  You may walk far too slowly, or teeter or collapse, or have to hang onto a man to get where you're going, but if it summons the male gaze (and it does), apparently it's worth it.  Of course, as most women will tell you, with time and practice you can get quite good at walking in heels.  But even getting used to walking in heels won't prevent long-term damage such as shortened Achilles tendons, hammer toes, lower back pain, bunions, blisters, excruciating foot pain, damaged arches, etc.  

I largely gave up high heels after foolishly walking around New Orleans' French Quarter in a pair after a conference presentation a couple of years ago.  The blisters and foot pain were horrible, and I had my 'It's not worth it' moment.  Saving money on alterations, appearing taller, slimmer, sexier, the easy attention from superficial men- it just wasn't worth the cost anymore.

So why am I going on about sales of killer heels, anyway?  I guess because I wish more women would see the light.  Buying pairs of 6-inch, several hundred £ shoes in an attempt to emulate pornified celebrities and hopefully get some of the attention they get from the real men in one's real world is....sad.  It's very sad.  It's sad that so many of us are willing to endure such costs for such fleeting attention, and it's even sadder that this is what so many men want.

It's sad that the porn aesthetic increasingly dictates what we wear, what kind of practices we're supposed to exercise upon our bodies (waxing, etc.), what kind of sex we're supposed to have, what kind of visual environment we have to live our lives in, and whether or not we are deemed worthy of male attention at all.  

Women have a crappy choice- I get that.  Porn hot or invisible.  No in-between, no appreciation for your own real and highly individual beauty, or for character, or life experience (much less intelligence).  I know it sucks to watch a man express more interest in a billboard than in you- a human being- real, breathing, beautiful in a thousand much more intriguing ways than some 2-dimensional manufactured object.  But is it really worth the costs- economic, physical, emotional, political- of carrying on objectifying ourselves in ever more extreme ways, in pursuit of a standard that will always remain elusive?  In pursuit of men who, if that's their bag, are clearly undeserving of women?  Isn't it long past time to rethink sexiness and beauty, to redefine our worth in terms of our accomplishments and health, to achieve emotional and sexual fulfillment through independence of mind and body, rather than to keep on doing all that costly junk in the hopes of a few crumbs from the entitled male's table?  Isn't it time for all of us, men and women alike, to think for ourselves and explore our own attractions and desires, rather than just parroting the for-profit cartoon aesthetic?


Monday, November 22, 2010

Junk Government: Tax Cuts for the Rich, Nada for the Long-Term Unemployed

Today I am going to write about something that is about to happen, rather than something that already has. Perhaps in a few weeks I can put up a post called 'Solutions: Government Does Right Thing', but I doubt it.

In October, there were 6.2 million long-term unemployed Americans (jobless for 27 or more weeks). 41.8% of unemployed Americans have now been jobless long-term (in 2006, it was only 18%). With 5 people for every job, their prospects for employment are grim. Not only is there too much competition for too few jobs, but those who find themselves unemployed long-term are often older, with less education and the wrong skills compared to the competition. To make matters worse, employers are often unwilling to 'take a risk' on a long-term unemployed person as opposed to a younger, better educated, and cheaper potential employee. Lest you think this is only a problem for the poor, the long-term unemployed also include educated and skilled persons who 'did everything right' but lost a good job in midlife and cannot find their way back in (see Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch for an account of their trials). These more highly educated and skilled unemployed then find themselves competing with less educated and skilled unemployed persons for the junk jobs of our economy- the low-pay, no-benefit service jobs that make up a large and increasing portion of our economy.

At the end of December, unless Congress acts, and indications are that they will not, emergency jobless benefits are set to expire, throwing these millions of Americans very much to the wolves. Allow me to personalize this with an example:

I have a family member who is long-term unemployed. Let's call her June. June came of age in a time and place that encouraged young women to marry rather than to pursue education. So June married, and ten years later found herself a divorced single mother with only a high school education. Thus began a lifetime of low-wage service industry work. June was a trooper, though, and bright, and extremely hard-working, so she managed to get by (just). She worked long hours for little economic reward, but managed to find personal rewards in her work nonetheless. Approximately one year ago, June lost her job. She is in her mid-50s, with a low level of formal education and outdated skills. June wants to work. June loves working. June has tried desperately to find a job for the past 12 months, and again and again, it goes nowhere.

What is June to do now? It is quite likely that she will never be employed again. She lives in a rural area with few jobs, and has all the wrong attributes for employment- older age, fewer skills, less formal education, the stigma of long-term unemployment status. June can count herself very lucky to have a decent car which is paid for, and a decent home that she will not lose- these facts put her well ahead of the other jobless and desperately vulnerable. But how will she eat? How will she keep the lights on and water running? Food stamps look promising for the former, but for the latter, she will have to rely on contributions from family. There is no other way around it. Hopefully, June's family members will be in a position to offer her support. But this is not ideal. It is not what June nor her family members want. But what is she to do?

An American citizen has given her whole life to uncomplaining overwork, with few rewards and very little support from her employers or her government, and now when she is most vulnerable, she is tossed out like so much rubbish. This is morally wrong.

It's also economically all wrong. At the same time that Congress is looking to let jobless benefits expire, signs are that an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich is on track to go ahead.

Jobless benefits get sunk right back into the economy- the poor need the money and they spend every dime, on new shoes to replace worn-out ones, winter coats, food, mortgages, and other services. For every $1 spent on unemployment insurance, $2 are spent in the economy. As for those tax cuts for the rich? Well, over two-years (the extension Obama has indicated he is willing to give), they will cost us $120 billion. Not only will we lose much needed revenue, but their won't be much economic stimulation from this- the rich spend only a tiny fraction of their incomes. (They have what they need and most of what they want, so this is just more money saved for them).

Letting emergency jobless benefits expire while giving the super rich another handout- just another way our government shows what a load of junk it truly has become.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Solutions: Teri Hatcher Boldly Confronts 'Beauty'

Way back in August, the attractive actress Teri Hatcher did something brave and good. I have been meaning to salute her for it.

As a feminist and something of a beauty rebel, I think it is very important for women to try, as much as is reasonably possible, to celebrate our natural beauty (internal and external) and to avoid buying into costly, time-consuming practices in the pursuit of the very false 'perfect beauty' that is shoved down our throats every single day of our lives. Of course, it's not only up to us. Men need to step up and do their part to appreciate and celebrate real beauty- I'll leave it to Single Dad Laughing to make the case for that.

But among us women- well, we could use a little solidarity. We could take some time out to think about how our beauty 'choices' (if you can call them that) effect other women, instead of how much esteem we might gain from shallow men for making such choices (for only the shallowest of men expect, want, or desire 'perfect beauty').

Us non-celebrity women might pause before getting a boob job, or having our wonky nose fixed, or botoxing the lines of a life beautifully lived out of our foreheads, or slapping on 65 lbs. of makeup, or waxing every hair off- and think of two things:

1. A flat chest, a wonky nose, some wrinkles, body hair, the features of a face as is- these are unique and/or functional features of our bodies/ourselves and the sources of true beauty- in fact, instead of thinking of these as 'flaws' that we can potentially 'celebrate', perhaps we should turn it around and think of our natural features as perfect, and those 'perfect' features made by science and bought by desperate women as the flawed features that they truly are.

2. Think about how difficult it makes it for women who might like to celebrate and respect themselves as they are when the vast majority of women are doing everything they can to meet (and thus reinforce) the 'perfect beauty' image made up by capitalist patriarchy to serve the interests of big business. The sad truth is that when most women are pursuing the alleged 'ideal' and most men are so desensitized that this cartoon 'ideal' is all they can desire, the flat-chested, wonky-nosed, naked-faced, somewhat hairy, perhaps wrinkled, really funny, totally clever, adventure-loving natural beauty standing over there becomes invisible. Think of that woman who wants the bravest and purest and most reasonable thing- to be celebrated for herself- and perhaps pause before becoming (or carrying on as) a 'perfect beauty' slave.

Now, as for celebrity women, and getting back to the point of this post: It's bad enough when everyday women give in and help move the goalposts of 'beauty' further and further away. But it's truly irritating when women do it for a profit. Celebrity women may or may not naturally approximate the 'perfect' beauty ideal. Undoubtedly, many of them do. Most definitely, many of them do not. But even when they naturally approximate the beauty ideal, it is never enough. They must have their own perfectly great noses and boobs and lips and cheekbones 'fixed', and never a photo of them comes before us without all the right hair, makeup, lighting, photoshop, etc. And they profit from this. False images that even the celebrity woman herself cannot live up to are spread throughout the world, and in lonely, dark rooms far too many women and girls lose the battle and starve themselves, or cut themselves, or even, sometimes, kill themselves because of the pressure and pain that those images (and the men who believe in and worship them) cause. I find profiting off of practices that hurt women gross and wrong in general. So not only are the companies that profit from these images to blame, but so too are the women who are paid to help make them.

But that's unreasonable, you might say. No woman can possibly succeed in the image/entertainment business without participating in these practices. Fair enough. I might argue that women of intelligence and character often pursue other businesses, and perhaps *should* pursue other businesses until the image/entertainment industry cleans up it's act. But fair enough. Enter Teri Hatcher. Teri Hatcher is an attractive woman. She has had a successful career in the image/entertainment business, and has profited from plenty of exaggerated images of herself.

These are photos of Ms. Hatcher done up to the 'perfect beauty' standard:

But one day in August, Teri Hatcher decided to make a bold and honest move. Tired of media comments about her face and botox (for women are both expected to and criticized for using plastic surgery!), and motivated also in part by her desire to make women feel a bit better about themselves and to thus unmask 'beauty', Ms. Hatcher posted a number of photos of herself out of the shower and getting ready for bed- no hair, no makeup, no special lighting. Just Teri Hatcher:

Imagine if all celebrity women who make millions off of images that hurt other women were to make a bold and honest move like Teri? Imagine if the internet were flooded with images of 'perfect beauty' unmasked by the 'perfect' beauties themselves? It's never too late to make such as stand, as Ms. Hatcher shows. And honest photos like hers are at least the tiniest beginning of a solution to the false beauty standards that are hurting both women and men today.

(**Ms. Hatcher's comments accompany the photos: "Out of the bath getting ready for bed. Thought about all those damn critics of my face. Love it or hate it, my face that is, no surgery, no implants, no matter what “they” say. Decided I’d shoot myself in to reveal some truths about “beauty” and hope it makes you all easier on yourself. Did I every toy with fillers or Botox over the years? yes. Tell me does this look Botoxed to you? Yes I am alone in my bathroom naked in a towel on behalf of women everywhere trying to make a point. Women YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL").

Friday, November 19, 2010

Solutions: Men Who Get It

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an incredible post at a blog called Single Dad Laughing.  The post, Worthless Women and the Men Who Make Them, blew me away.  

This guy gets it.  Here is a man who has looked around and dared to realize something is very wrong.  Here is a man who is trying to get beyond his own male privilege and the sense of entitlement that comes with it, and critically examine the consequences of living in a soft porn world** for women.  And then he attempts to examine the consequences for himself.  

And the real kicker?  He is not a sociologist, or a feminist, or a hard left academic type, those who are our usual allies, working in academia or the women's movement, engaging with works of feminist criticism and analysis, struggling to be human beings before they are 'men' (and struggling to redefine manhood in a less toxic way).  Of course women appreciate massively these allies.  But this guy- he's just a guy- a 30 year old single dad, an every day kind of man, with no agenda, twice divorced, who used to work for a company that does gel seat cushions.  And he gets it.  He gets it, he is struggling with it, and he is writing beautifully about those struggles.  And that a regular guy can have an awakening, and get it, and start engaging and struggling, is a beautiful, hopeful thing.

**We of course live in a porn-drenched world, not a soft porn world.  What I mean by 'soft porn world' is the fact that over the last 10 years or so our daily lives have become saturated with what used to pass, 30 years or so ago, for soft porn.  Billboards, magazines, newspapers, television, commercials, films- the mainstream in general features women on highly sexualized (and falsely digitized) display quite a lot of the time, in a way that they didn't when I was growing up.  It's quite an extreme, pornofied world these days, and many women themselves play into it- and when the choice is to be porn hot or invisible, is it any wonder?  As for porn itself, while the mainstream world has gone soft porn, the porn world has gone hardcore- violent, degrading, misogynistic porn is the norm and many men, it seems, cannot get enough of it.

Junk Sex: Chicken Ranch

Last week, I watched a documentary called 'Chicken Ranch'.  I posted this reaction originally at my (ostensibly) less political, more personal blog, Sociologist Abroad.  But I think it fits the ethos over here in Junkland pretty well, so here are my comments: 

I am no fan of prostitution, and at some point or other I must get a feminist/sociological criticism of the practice up (and yes, I am aware that there are plenty of feminist/sociological analyses of prostitution, or 'sex work', that are favorable to it). But for now, I have a visceral emotional reaction to the film that I must get off my chest.

Chicken Ranch is a 1983 documentary by Nick Broomfield that explores the lives/work of prostitutes at Nevada's famous brothel of the same name. The brothel is obviously preferable to the street, and would be fairly representative, I suppose, of 'higher end' prostitution in that time and place. It's clean, they seem to keep most of the lowest life forms out (though I maintain that any man who would buy a woman for sex is a pretty pathetically low life form), there is apparently no violence. The film hints at the economics of the situation (the girls split earnings 50/50 with the owner, 'plus rent')- though one suspects there are many more fines and hidden costs that keep the women tied to the lifestyle (i.e. health/medical 'services', airfare/recruitments costs, etc.).

But mostly, with no voiceover, no interruptions of stark facts, no interviews, the film just rolls and you find yourself in these women's world for 75 minutes. It is a desperately sad world. Abuse and economic desperation are, as is almost always the case, the factors that have driven these women to the work, and emotional withdrawal, depression, and anger are, as is almost always the case, the cost these women pay for their work.

One woman in particular, Connie, seethes with contempt and anger throughout the film. She laughs and cries at times, too, but her overriding emotion seems to be a very desperate anger, and beneath that, hunger. Watching Connie, I couldn't help but wonder what ever became of her, what she must feel in her private moments, what other possibilities there might have been for her obviously keen intelligence. Toward the end of the film, Connie is filmed dancing seductively by herself in the parlor to the Pointer Sisters' 'Slow Hand' (the kind of seductive dance in a nightgown most of us have done in our bedrooms sometime or other). Watching Connie dance, my only thought was 'what a beautiful woman- she deserves so much more than this.'

Criticisms of prostitution are easy to make- the violence, the poverty, the risk of disease, the drugs, the backgrounds that typically lead to a life doing the work- but at least as important is the simple fact that women deserve so much more than this. Pro-prostitution feminists like to construct sex work as an agentic choice of empowered women- while that may be true of the odd statistical outlier, it is a wildly overstated phenomenon. The need to fully support women in prostitution need not be confused with constructing it as something altogether more wonderful than it is. The bottom line is that all too often, beautiful women- beautiful in the internal as well as external sense- find themselves in work that is neither a free nor easy choice, and they deserve so much more than this.

One last thought: Watching the film, I was struck by the stories the prostitutes told each other in their banter- about going to school, about not putting up with men's violence, about making their own rules. It was absolutely stunning how much they sounded like the homeless men in the sociological classic 'Identity Work Among the Homeless'. Snow and Anderson document how homeless men construct identities of dignity despite their desperate circumstances through storytelling- stories of their big money past, or of the fortune they have waiting for them in another town, or of the big business scheme they are about to get going, or of their sexual prowess. These stories provide their tellers with dignity, status, and perhaps some illusion of choice and control in a world where they have neither choice nor control. Feminists would perhaps do well to examine the identity work of prostitutes before swallowing whole the notion of their 'empowerment' and 'choice'.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Junk Government: The Poor are Lazy, Part 5 Million

From our garbage government here in the UK comes news that the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (perhaps best remembered for the accusation that he was funneling large sums of public money to his wife for her nonexistent job as his 'secretary') plans to put those on Jobseeker's Allowance (who receive the oh-so-generous benefit of £65 per week) to work doing manual labor, such as gardening and litter pick up.  

These 30-hour-per-week placements are meant to give claimants deemed unworthy "experience of the habits and routines of working life".  Or, as Smith also states, to give these claimants the clear message to "Play ball or it's going to be difficult".  In short, benefits claimants will be exploited as cheap labor for corporations and non-profits that get involved in the scheme- at £2 pay per hour, a real steal (30 hours per week for £65 = approx. £2 per hour).

No word on what criteria will be used to determine the worthy from the unworthy claimants.

But we all know that all benefits claimants are unworthy, don't we?

At least, that is the attitude of our government representatives- a pack of corporatist pigs happy to plunder taxpayer money for the benefit of themselves, their families, and their business cronies, but who are so loathe to give a dime to the poor- who have been locked out of the deplorable economy that the corporatist pigs themselves created.

And sadly, it is the attitude adopted by far too many ordinary citizens, whom I can only surmise are too desperate, insecure, and angry to see the forest for the trees.  

If Smith were serious about getting the unemployed into work, why not turn this manual labor placement, for which, essentially, benefits claimants will now be working 30 hours per week for £65- i.e. about £2 pay per hour of work- into a real job?  Why not say: right, benefits claimants will all now be given manual jobs, 30 hours per week, at the minimum wage?

Problem solved.

But this isn't about getting benefits claimants into work.  It is about demonizing the poor for political purposes, and perhaps getting some cheap labor (like we Americans do with our prisoners) into the bargain.

I get so tired of the demonization of the poor as lazy, unwilling to work, freeloaders, etc.  News flash: our capitalist, corporatist, global economy is crap.  There are, on average, 6 applicants for every job.  Even college graduates in the UK have hit their highest level of unemployment in 17 years.

Most of the long-term unemployed would like to work.  THERE ARE NO JOBS.  Even the crap jobs are hard to come by.  You know, those crap retail, cleaning, and other low-end service jobs that happen to be virtually all that's left after the unfettered capitalist pillage of our economy.  Even *those* horrible jobs are hard to find.  

And what if you are older? You may be facing the prospect of never working again.  Whether you're uneducated and have worked in low-end jobs your entire life, or had the privilege of getting to do things "right", got an education, and worked a decent job- if you are older and lose it now, best of luck to you, but a life on benefits is a very real possibility.  For those who would like to pretend that joblessness is only a problem of the poor and "lazy", I strongly suggest picking up a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch, in which she devastatingly documents the reality of life-after-dismissal for mostly older, college-educated workers.  Not only are they likely to slip into competition with the poor for crap jobs, but an entire predatory industry has sprung up to supply "career coaching" and "resume services"- i.e. a false hope industry that fleeces money from citizens who did everything "right" while teaching them that their failure to get another job is ultimately their own fault.

"But I know lots of people who are abusing the system", your friend/cousin/uncle will inevitably say.  

I could say many things about "abusing the system".  I could say, "Make me a list of all of these people you personally know who are abusing the system and please provide detailed evidence of how they are doing so".  I could say, "Who would want to subsist on a meagre, demonized life on benefits if they had real, actual opportunities for so much more?".  I could say, "Be careful what claims you make about abuse of the system lest you find yourself in it and those claims being made against you tomorrow".

But right now, I would rather say, "Yes, there is most likely someone, somewhere abusing the system.  GET OVER IT.  The vast majority of claimants are decent people, who have worked and/or would like to work.  Even those who have spent a lifetime on benefits were most likely NOT given the tools to do better in the first place.  GET OVER IT.  Turn your attention to the members of the political/corporate classes, who are abusing the system in far greater numbers, getting far greater sums of your money in the process, and with nary a word of indictment or consequence for their actions."


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Junk Government: Election Day

I have been a bad blogger lately. What can I say? I can trudge along for so long before I get a bit depressed about the state of things and have to take some time off. Anyway, it's mid-term election day in the States. George Carlin sums up my sentiments exactly: