For me, the most fascinating segment of Obama's New York Times Magazine interview with David Leonhardt was the one on how the recession is impacting gender roles. Leonhardt begins with the premise -- a false one -- that the recession is primarily impacting men, especially on a sort of psychic level. He likens the situation to that of Obama's grandfather, who is portrayed in Dreams From My Father as feeling less-than -- in terms of masculinity -- because he earned less than his wife, a bank manager.
LEONHARDT: I think there are a lot of men out there today, working at G.M. and Chrysler and other places, who feel the same kind of dejection that your grandfather did. What do you think the future of work looks like for men?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s an interesting question, because as I said, you know, you go in to factories all across the Midwest and you talk to the men who work there — they’ve got extraordinary skill and extraordinary pride in what they make. And I think that for them, the loss of manufacturing is a loss of a way of life and not just a loss of income.
The thing is, this is not a male economic crisis. There is no nationwide pandemic of women out-earning men. Indeed, the opposite is true; women continue to earn just 78 cents on the male dollar, even for the same work, with the same educational background, and the same number of years on the job. Women still make up slightly less than half the workforce (49 percent). And while it is true that four of five jobs lost in this economic crisis -- so far -- were held by men, that speaks mostly to the inequalities borne of occupational gender segregation. Men are losing more jobs because they had more of the good, unionized jobs in construction and manufacturing to begin with.
In other words, just because men are losing-out, it doesn't mean women are winning. A recession is no time for a battle of the sexes. Rather, it's a time to remember that as more and more families lose the salary of male breadwinners, we must make sure that the jobs held by women pay better and have better benefits. Obama goes on in the interview to discuss the importance of attracting men to professions like nursing and teaching. The same logic should be applied to women getting into "green jobs" in sectors such as transportation and construction.
cross-posted at TAPPED