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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Family History Morning

Friday Noah doesn't go to playgroup, so the two of us bum around. We were sitting in front of the computer when I happened to mention that we were Ashkenazi Jews. I don't remember how this came up.

"No," Noah said, "we are Sephardi because we say Shabbat instead of Shabbos."

"Wow," I said, "I can't believe you remembered that from when we talked about it! But actually we are Ashkenazi because our ancestors were Ashkenazi, even though we speak Hebrew with a Sephardi or Mizrachi accent because most Jews switched to that after Israel turned into a country again..."

Noah frowned. I drew a map.

Just in case you wonder what Noah and I are doing all day.

(Also, we cleaned the house! I am ahead of Esther on the chore list, and only 170 or so behind Aviva.)

Posted by benrosen at April 6, 2008 02:03 PM | Up to blog

Not to derail your comment thread before it has a chance to get started, but I went over and read your chore list comment, and now I want to talk about the content of that post. Since that thread went dead two years ago, I thought perhaps I should comment here.

So, "women's work" as underpaid labor:

I don't know that's the right paradigm. I think it's true that women get paid less for the same class of labor as men, generally speaking, but I don't really think that unskilled, non-union construction laborers, say, earn more on an hourly basis than unskilled, non-union housekeeping laborers. Possibly on average, but not in any real sense. $11/hour to haul bricks will no more support a family in comfort than $10/hour to do laundry, right? I wonder if male housekeepers (we call them "janitors," "garbage men," and "handy men") make more on average than female housekeepers. Probably. But it's still in the "pittance" range.

Also, I think you listed accounting chores (ah, yes, here it is - "pays more bills") in your list of your perceptions of what "women's work" means, and accountants can make quite a bit of money. Women less than men in the same job, as ever. Chefs can make bank, as well, doing the cooking for rich people.

I think the difference is skilled labor vs. unskilled labor, with a cultural filter that devalues women as laborers, rather than women's work vs. men's work, with a cultural filter that devalues women's work.

Like, Martha Stewart, who has made housekeeping an industry, is a fat cat. The skill here, of course, is not housekeeping, per se, but business management, a "man's job." I wonder about Martha's cultural background/life history, such that she was able to put her own housekeeping on the back-burner such that she had leisure time to develop a "man's skill" - go to college, run the business, stuff like that. Probably privilege, but perhaps she had a good man for a while, who helped out with the chores while she did his job.

Kidding. Kidding! Enough with the rotten tomatoes!

Okay, I'm going, now. You can clean up the dang tomatoes yourself.


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 03:06 PM

I think the more insidious thing, Matt, is when labor is simply seen as not labor at all: Dad and Mom come home from their hard, for-pay jobs -- where they may or may not 1) make the same wage for the same work, and where, 2) if their work is different, the one is work is "feminized" is likely to make less -- and then they have to 3) clean up the house, make dinner, wash the dishes, and put the kids to bed.

Unlike the first two issues -- equal pay for equal work, and relative statuses of different kinds of work -- the third may simply be invisible. It isn't formal work structured for pay, so there's typically no tracking mechanism to make externally visible who's doing how much. And this means that, more than likely, the woman ends up doing most of it.

This is true (as studies have extensively shown -- anyone have the links?) even for couples who claim to be egalitarian, and who do not have "women should do the housework" as a conscious ideology.

It is certainly true of Esther and me when released from the constraints of our chore list. When, for instance, we are staying at my parents' house on vacation, it somehow is always Esther who ends up doing more of the dishes. This does not occur to me, I assure you, as a matter of me intentionally wanting to be selfish, nor of my thinking Esther's labor is worth less. It occurs to me as that I am in the middle of making this really important point, and then -- oops! The dishes are done.

Even where it's no one's conscious intention, observe some mixed-gender gatherings -- if there hasn't been specific process-engineering to counter it, generally the women will be doing more of the cleanup.

The reason this is distinct from just general classist "poor remuneration of blue-collar work" is that unlike the day laborer who knows perfectly well he's getting paid a crappy wage, someone cleaning up the dishes may well have the sense that she simply happened to get there first, and it does need to be done, and she cares more anyway, and she likes it done her way, and she doesn't mind, and he's hopeless at it anyway, and so on. In other words, ideology can render this kind of work invisible even to the worker... or where it's visible to her, it may be not visible to others, which makes it hard to negotiate about ("quit nagging, I took out the garbage!").

You will rarely find the landscaper's helper hauling wheelbarrows of mulch on the CEOs lawn saying to himself "well, this isn't really work, and I don't mind doing it, really it's relaxing for me..."

The other bit of your analysis I find dubious, is the claim that women's work is unskilled, and it's the bias against unskilled labor that mitigates against it's being valued. A reasonable definition of "unskilled" would be "I could pull someone random off the street, explain them how to do it in a few minutes, come back an hour later and be satisfied with the job they'd done." This is true of hauling mulch or scrubbing a counter, but it is manifestly absurd to say about raising children, cooking, or organizing the logistical systems of a house.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 9, 2008 03:46 PM

The bit of analysis I find dubious on your part is that you're analyzing something I'm not saying.

I don't think we disagree that female labor in the home tends to be invisible. What you're missing in my analysis, I think, is the leap from chores around the house to paid labor. I agree that the traditional feminine chores can be unseen and that women can undervalue themselves in a psychically damaging way, often due in part to the perceived lack of value of homemaking in society at large.

But I'm not talking about homemaking in the home, I'm talking about doing the tasks of homemaking as a job.

So, "raising children, cooking, or organizing the logistical systems of a house" - those three tasks are actually considered skilled labor when they translate to a profession: teacher, chef, accountant (or Logistics Officer, Grade 1, or whatever job you want to shove this set of tasks into). I'm not saying that "women's work" is unskilled labor. I'm saying that making a bed and vacuuming are no more skilled labor than hauling tables and setting up a conference room, to give a concrete example.

When I worked at the conference center, I really don't think the setup guys made any more money than the housekeepers (probably less, given the fact that the housekeepers stuck around and the setup guys didn't). I can also assure you that the housekeepers thought anything along the lines of "well, this isn't really work, and I don't mind doing it, really it's relaxing for me..."

They were getting, paid, dammit.


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 04:13 PM

I see. What does that have to do with the discussion I linked to, though?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 9, 2008 04:16 PM

Missed a grammar shift during a cut&paste task. Where I said:

I can also assure you that the housekeepers thought anything along the lines of "well, this isn't really work, and I don't mind doing it, really it's relaxing for me..."

Should have read:

I can also assure you that the housekeepers did not think anything along the lines of "well, this isn't really work, and I don't mind doing it, really it's relaxing for me..."


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 04:16 PM

I was reacting to something said in the original post, I think, not to something you said; nor, to follow the convention of blog thread conversations, to what Dan P said at the last.

Looking around in the thread, I think what I might have been reacting to was this kind of thinking:

If we decide that the labor of nannies/childcare workers/cleaning help should be valued at and compensated for at accountants' wages -- then what does that imply for someone who decides to quit work to act as a stay-at-home parent?

Maybe we'd stop treating them as if that implied a 75% drop in social status.

An accountant or a lawyer gets paid more than a laborer because the work is more skilled - accountants have to learn all kinds of minutiae in order to be good at their job. Household management, ditto, of course, but you don't get paid for good household management, you just get a well-managed household.

My point is that the equivalent "men's work" job to a 'cleaning lady' is not 'accountant,' but 'conference support personnel.'


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 04:25 PM

Hmm. You are on firmer ground with "cleaning help", I believe, than with "nannies/childcare workers".

The equivalent "men's work" job to "nanny" is "child psychologist, life coach, prison guard, personal assistant, middle manager, EMT, and teacher".

I do two main jobs, one generally considered highly skilled (programming), one generally considered unskilled (childcare), and I do not detect any difference in the amount of minutiae I have to master, or the amount of cognitive effort required.

Also, the reason an accountant or lawyer gets paid more than a laborer, strictly speaking, is not because the work is more skilled. Even in a kind of ideal model of a market economy, without intrusions of power, custom, ideology, coercion, etc., the reason they get more is that there is a greater demand for their services relative to supply. The fact that their job putatively requires more skills is only one possible reason for such a relative scarcity.

Supermodels demand more money than artist's models in sculpture classes despite the fact that the skill sets are very similar.

If star-bellied Sneeches like to go to masseurs who are star-bellied Sneeches, and you are a star-bellied Sneech, and star-bellied Sneeches command more income than those who have none upon thars, you will make a great deal more money than equally skilled masseurs who have none upon thars.

If you convince all the Grinches that all they are fit for is Christmas-stealing, and convince others that it is a poor idea to hire them for for Hanukah-, Ramadan-, and Kwanzaa-stealing, then you are likely to be able to get your Christmas-stealing at a bargain rate.

And so on.

I don't think anyone is necessarily proposing an immediate classless society by fiat in which being a brain surgeon and renting out beach chairs would command identical salaries. I think what the people on that thread are pointing to is that the relative remunerations of different jobs are often highly influenced by cultural considerations beyond the simple justifications ("this job is harder") often offered for them.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 9, 2008 04:56 PM

Well, accountancy and law (medicine, programming, copy editing) are professions that require certification, training, and education before The Man will give you that job, so if not "skill," how about "resource-intensive training?"

I'm with you on the nannies thing, but there's demand, yes, and then there's supply. If Sally's the best child care provider in the world with her own website (wow!), and she charges $240/hour for your services, but Susie down the street charges $5 for an hour of babysitting, the fact that Susie can barely pick her own nose has to be weighed against $500 for mom and dad to go see a movie this evening vs. $10 to go see a movie.

Now, obviously, Sally should be competing for a different class of work, and if she's any kind of business person, Sally will be next year's Martha Stewart, while Susie will be next year's cleaning lady.

I also don't think that anyone here is saying that homemaking is valued by our society (or any other, honestly) proportionate to its difficulty, cognitive engagement level, or importance to the life of our civilization. If Nancy wasn't the accountant she is, there isn't the faintest ghost of a chance that we would be able to afford our trip next month. I acknowledge her contribution to the family and value it more than I do my own work.

In my case, I know perfectly well that if she wanted to blow me out of the water with her salary, all she would have to do is work more hours. She's done it before. Also, she can kick my ass. She's done it before.

I'm not enlightened, I'm pragmatic.


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 05:15 PM

So... I still don't know where you're going with all this. Was there something you did disagree with?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 9, 2008 05:19 PM

Just the notion that I need to disagree with something to start a conversation.


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 07:58 PM

It's not that you need to, I just thought maybe you were, because you kinda sounded like it (viz., "I don't know that's the right paradigm....it's true that [X],.but I don't really think that [Y]; possibly on average, but not in any real sense....The bit of analysis I find dubious on your part is [Z]...What you're missing in my analysis [is Q]...")

So just checking if I may now read you as saying "homemaking and other traditionally female pursuits are drastically undervalued by our society; some but not all of this can be attributed to how much resource-intensive training different pursuits require."

Also, it may, I guess, as with your example about Sally and Susie, depend on people's tolerance for varying quality in different pursuits.

Anyway, I am not out to stop you riffing, though I admit to being most attracted to those bits of a discussion where disagreement is present. Wherever someone disagrees with me, it's a hint that I may in fact be wrong, and this is awesome, because it means there may be a hidden door from illusion to reality, and while I will never completely penetrate the veil of illusion, every opportunity to come closer to reality is precious. So I like to track down and illuminate all the areas of disagreement because they are like loose threads I can worry at with my teeth until they either vanish, or yield enlightenment.

I am thus always mildly disappointed when I turn out to be right, and very excited when I turn out to be wrong.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 9, 2008 08:27 PM

I think that my Urge To Post was specifically a reaction to this sentence: "I can't help but wonder if what's really going on here is some deep-seated ambivalence about paying other people to do things that were traditionally classed as unpaid female labor." I scrolled down to post, then saw that the last time anybody posted was 2006, but then I recalled you talking about accountancy, and I went "A-HA! A non-underpaid profession that tends to be seen as 'women's work' in the home, but 'men's work' in the professional world! I'll post over at Ben's place instead!"


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 08:33 PM

So, yeah, I was trying to say "it is my opinion that in the marketplace, as opposed to in the home, people will pay handsomely for skilled labor and a pittance for unskilled labor, regardless of whether that labor has traditionally been classed as unpaid female labor."

Oh, and as for the "hidden door from illusion to reality," been there, done that. It's illusion all the way down.


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 08:44 PM

Ah, I see. Interesting. That seems to me to be true up to a point. In the marketplace people will pay well for skilled labor they acknowledge as being skilled, regardless of whether it was traditionally female. But some classes of skills are still, even in the marketplace, undervalued, childcare being the obvious example.

I think it's the movement towards reality that matters, even if the reality is itself illusory.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 9, 2008 08:59 PM

I suggest googling "comparable worth".

(Also "pink collar." Modern industrial society most places has a pretty well-documented history of devaluing men's work as soon as women start doing it.)

(I think this comment thread can safely be categorized as "derailed.")

Posted by: David Moles at April 9, 2008 09:00 PM

Please to re-rail!

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 9, 2008 09:02 PM

But I just found this discussion which I think is also relevant!


(Particularly "Brad DeLong on Evsey Domar", a couple of hundred lines down, but you need what comes before that to make sense of it.)

Posted by: David Moles at April 9, 2008 09:17 PM

[Further derailing]: Interesting. The argument in the very last paragraph seems to suggest that industrialization = higher wages for "women and boys," while simultaneously creating wider variance within men's wages. I don't know what to make of that datum, but I also don't know how you think the DeLong comment is relevant, so I'm unclear on the terms of the discussion.

Not that it isn't relevant, but that I don't know how you think it's relevant.

[Possible re-railing]: Luke and I frequently spend a day bumming around, as well. Often, these days involve some form of chore, like cleaning the house in your example, but the other day we had a conversation about the ontological question. He asked where people came from, before there were people. When I started in about evolution, offering a bone to his indoctrination into Christianity (via grandparents and pre-school), as I am obliged by custom to do, he took the bone and asked about where God came from. The ensuing conversation was quite interesting, and I may have blogged it, but I took an anti-migraine pill half an hour ago, and... whoa.


Posted by: Matt at April 9, 2008 10:54 PM

So. This morning, I spot the post, think that I've been thinking about the Ashkenazic/Shephardic split a lot lately, between reading The King of Schnorrers and thinking about chumetz, matzah and kitniyot, and that I probably have some sort of comment on this thing about accents and traditions. So I left the blog open when I dropped my Perfect Non-Reader off at school, and then romped with the Youngest Member for a while, and then did chores, and then picked up from school and went to the library, and then dinner, and putting to bed, and then I thought I would just see if anybody had left a comment during the day, so I didn't duplicate what somebody else had to say about the sibilant tav.

Just in case you wonder what I was doing all day.

At the risk of re-railing, do you feel at all cheated by the loss of the Ashkenazic accent? I tried for a year or two to relearn and daven as my grandfather would have done if my grandfather hadn't been too modern to daven, but it didn't take. There are some songs (and prayers, whatever the difference is) I do sing in the accent, just 'cos it sounds better to my ears. I know I'm not the only one that does that, but I wonder if you are one of the other ones.


Posted by: Vardibidian at April 10, 2008 02:49 AM

Interesting question, V. I never thought of it before, but maybe I do feel a little cheated. I associate the Ashkenazic accent with Yiddish, and I do mourn Yiddish.

I essentially only use the Ashkenazic accent for speaking those Yiddish phrases, like "Gut shabbos", which do feel like they are legitimately part of my cultural apparatus... don't ask me why any part would not feel legitimate, but I do feel a little fake if I try to daven Ashkenazi-style (which makes it sound like East Coast and West Coast rap, doesn't it?), even though my grandfather did daven, and he did have that accent, and I even heard him.

I guess it was just made really clear to me at some point in Hebrew School that We Don't Do That Anymore. Presumably this was an attitude inherited from the pre-WWII Zionists -- you know, arriving from the shadowy netherworld of exile to the bright light of true humanity, you work in the soil with your own hands, cast off your slave name and name yourself after a rock or a bear or something, and start pronouncing tav like tet...

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 10, 2008 10:45 AM

Wait, Matt, what happened, the anti-migraine pill ate the God discussion blogging? Or ate God?

I find it interesting that a lot of religious stuff I pretty much avoided indoctrinating the kids in, they invented themselves, such as The Die Life.

This is similar to how Aviva invented base eleven the other day (by inserting the number "glob" between four and five... I am thus thirty-glob years old).

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 10, 2008 10:48 AM

Well, and I admit that my feelings about Sephardic pronunciation are hard to distinguish from my feelings about Zionism and the Hebrew/Yiddish question, since I resent being brainwashed by my Hebrew School on the wrong side of the latter two. Though to be fair, as I am only thirty-glob myself, those questions were all largely settled by the time I was in Hebrew School.

My Episcopalian wife, by the way, thinks I am making it up about the Hebrew School fetish about big sabra men named after sabra rocks and sabra bears, planting sabra trees in the sabra soil and punishing evildoers with mighty sabra fists. I wish I had kept my Sabra-Man comics in little plastic sleeves...


Posted by: Vardibidian at April 10, 2008 03:04 PM

V: Jack Chick gets around, does he?

Ben: the med ate my train of thought at that moment, as well as any motivation to see if I could find any online documentation of the conversation. I did search around, but alas! I didn't blog it, after all.

I wonder, tangentially, as ever, whether any of you other thirty-glob-year-olds has heard the Chavez song "Little Twelve Toes."

As for kids inventing religion on their own, I wonder if that's how it happened historically :-?


Posted by: Matt at April 10, 2008 03:54 PM

I think kids -- and teenagers -- probably invented a lot of stuff we assume was invented by adults. Certainly it's clear that kids are the generators of language: it's kids who grow up speaking a pidgin who invent the creole.

And since kids are the ones who play Let's Pretend and religion (and I say this as a believing religious person) is the most successful game of Let's Pretend ever...

I have not heard Little Twelve Toes. Does it involve base 12 mathematics? Got a link?

Does Jack Chick punish evildoers with mighty sabra fists?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at April 10, 2008 04:03 PM



Vaguely. Huh, turns out it was a Schoolhouse Rock cover. Hey, who knew. Crazy! I even remember the animation.

I doubt it, but wouldn't it be great if he did?


Posted by: Matt at April 10, 2008 05:21 PM

As a very late data point, I would just like to mention that Ben's chore system radically changed the way we did chores in my house, until we got a kid. Then we reverted to "oh god could we just go to sleep instead of cleaning the kitchen?" to which the answer was often yes.

I don't recommend that, though. But thanks, Ben!

Posted by: JessieSS at April 22, 2008 05:00 PM

I just have to say that map made me insanely happy. I do remember that my Hebrew school made that shift and I was very confused by it, but after having heard my father pronounce all the words in the Veahavta for years, I have to say it's easier in Sephardic. But sometimes, during Kabbalat Shabbat, I slip back into Ashkenazic and it just feels right.

Posted by: Batshua at June 16, 2008 10:26 AM
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