Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dissecting the He-Cession

The recession is many things right now: it's the marketing ploy being used to shill "cheaper" goods. It's the rhetorical trump card in speeches given from the political to social to corporate fronts. It's the word chosen to assigning a foreboding sense of financial hopelessness but we hide behind the comfort that at least it isn't as bad as "depression." Whether you’re being inundated with McDonald’s advertisements trying to shill their dollar menus, those glaring, red “Going out of Business!” signs, or huge corporate insurance companies regurgitating comfort phrases about “weathering the storm,” it is clear that the recession is a pressing matter with an effect on all socioeconomic statuses, races, and genders.


However, if you also enjoy a bit of eye-burning via the vast array of blogs on the internet, an interesting binary is being presented and it is known as the groan-worthy “He-cession.” While “recessionista” would definitely win the award for most annoying neo-economic vernacular offspring, the “He-cession” is making more blog-rolling rounds and finding itself into many mainstream news sources and is a topic that needs to be discussed: is it helping to make sense of statistics or harming gender relationships during an already tough time? Is it a reality that could potentially shift the future of the working men in this country? Will it dismantle gendered occupations like teaching and nursing? And what will the post-New Deal stimulus plan do for the men in this country?

“He-cession” is a term that was coined by David Zincenko, the editor in chief of Men’s Health magazine, in an editorial he wrote for USA Today back in June of this year. Within his op-ed piece, he discusses the “decline of the endangered male” and further his notion that men are suffering in a unique, and perhaps more painful, way due to this recession than women. Zincenko explains that, simply put, men’s jobs are more dangerous. Statistically, men make up the majority of those injured on the job with, particularly in the risky industries like mining and manufacturing. Additionally, he cites the Iraq War as another element of injury (psychologically, physically) and death for men, with 98% of those wounded being male.

A seemingly obvious statistic, Zincenko uses these two points as support of combinational issues that ultimately result in another life-or-death challenge for men: 36.8 million American adults lack health insurance, and 56% of them are men. With men also having a shorter life expectancy Zincenko claims that men need payback and, like the White House Council on Women and Girls that Obama brought with himself into office, men and boys need that kind of program in place. Zincenko’s overarching claim appears to be this: This recession is affecting men more than women, and their very livelihood is at stake. Zincenko doesn’t specifically blame anyone but the system (but implies that women are more so winning in this situation) that has somehow brought men into this place, and explores the topic in a rather shallow way. However, this gave birth to “He-cession” and its following dissection and discussion.

While Zincenko paints men as victims, Reihan Salam decides to go in another direction entirely in his article for Foreign Policy magazine entitled “The Death of Macho.” In his article, Salam breaks down the recession and puts the blame on men, and the solution in women – cautioning of a seismic shift in gender and work that could either nurture egalitarian or disastrous outcomes for the typical male/female dichotomy. Salam discusses the “housing bubble” as an example, blaming men for one of the most impactful mistakes on the United States’ economy. It was devised by real estate and banks (those of the investment banking variety often run by men and prone to engaging in “aggressive, risk-seeking behavior”) and ended up employing construction workers (a field overwhelmingly occupied by men).

Salam also shows the beacons of hope that lie within women leaders bringing the world out of this globalized recession. Salam discusses Iceland’s strategy of electing the world’s first openly lesbian leader, Halla Tomasdottir, as their prime minister, a woman who was the head of one of Iceland’s “solvent banks,” which are noted to be more pragmatic and logical in economic terms, than more market-based and gambling investment banks. Lithuania also elected its first woman president: Dalia Grybauskaite, a female economist. In support of this trend and post-Salam’s article, Elinor Ostrom became the first female to win a Nobel Prize for economics this past fall.

Salam suppositions a major shift to be necessary, especially since the current stimulus plan is going toward social services instead of infrastructure (like in the Great Depression/New Deal era) which means this recession/potential depression has no precedent and will have to incite true change in regards to gender and jobs.

So what do these two differing views have to do with the current situation? Well, they’re gendering a global issue that is potentially harmful to see it through such a binary focus. If Climate Change-related talks have taught us anything, it is that splitting groups via victimizer and victim is not conducive, especially in a time where everyone, in some way (whether they lost their job or their favorite store has closed), is being affected. Sure there may be a clear male dominating presence within corporations and investment banking, but women still constitute the majority of the voting populace. Men may be losing their jobs more rapidly, with a figure purporting a staggering 78% of losses held by men, but women are still making somewhere between 77 and 78 cents on the dollar and suffer additional pay penalties if they’ve ever taken breaks from employment to raise children. (Lisa Belkin: “The New Gender Gap”)

While it might be convenient to separate this issue by gender, it is unfair, illogical, and irresponsible: no one is winning here. On a global level the U.N. reports that, as an aggregate, more women are carrying the burden and losing the majority of jobs during this economic downturn. Relegating women to the simple role of “recessionista consumer” and men as “responsible and stalwart,” drawing parallels between masculinity and employment are also dangerous tactics used by many companies within advertisement. It is clear that with less manufacturing work (no houses need to be built in this market, out-sourcing continues), men will have to move toward more female work to thrive, and household dynamics may need to temporarily change as women retain their employment security. Advertisements already exist in print to bring men to fields like Nursing, and this appears to be the immediate next step to brace from further recession-related impacts. With the majority of federal stimulus funds going to industries like health and public services, this may be the time to employ that “aggressive” masculine behavior Salam seems to believe in towards helping others with just as much tenacity and interest. If men choose to not “woman up” and move toward typically female fields, statistics show that alcoholism (a la Russia’s economic fallout), guilt and household tension will soon begin to drastically rise, and this recession has the potential to turn into a different kind of depression entirely.

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