Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Don't People Get Tired Of Competition And Negotiation?

Simone de Beauvoir
You know that whole individualistic world view we inherited from the enlightenment?  I think it's wearing us out.

It's pretty much part and parcel of that individualistic world view that people have to compete and negotiate with one another.  I mean, if you want something, or even need something, the individualistic world view says you should try to exchange something you already have for it, presumably seeking out the "best deal" you can.

If you think of this as just having to do with some contexts of "commerce and business" it can be OK -- good, even.  But when it takes over everything, not so much.  For one thing, being in constant competition and negotiation is exhausting.

When I think about the exhaustingness of competition and negotiation, I'm always reminded of teaching Simone de Beauvoir in my Intro class a few years ago.  This was the old translation, and it's just my memory ...  but I remember her saying that one reason men had to create women in the nurturing passive image they did was so that they would have people around to support and love them.  People they didn't have to compete and negotiate with.

Like, if you're a man, you're out all day competing and negotiating, and that means when you get home you need something else.  Some nurturing.  And so it was much in the interests of men to remove women from the competition and negotiation zone.  They did this by making laws restricting women's rights, by rewarding them for passive nurturing behavior, and by punishing them for other kinds of behavior.  

Women, naturally, were all, "Are you kidding me"?  Even though the transformation isn't complete, it has happened.  Women work outside the house, they pay for stuff, and they're generally expected to do all the same competition and negotiation crap men have always had to do.

But this means intimate relationships are no longer a competition- and negotiation-free zone.  Couples have to negotiate over housework, over whose career will take precedence, over whose crazy obsessions the bank account will go toward, and so on.  Especially if they have kids.

I remember a discussion in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how the higher you go in the university hierarchy the fewer women there were.  The article said one main reason was that women were doing more housework and more childcare and thus didn't have as much time for research.  What might the university do?

And this one commentator said something like, "Nothing.  If a woman fails to NEGOTIATE properly with her husband about domestic duties, how is that anyone's problem but her own?"

So, yeah.

For a long time I wondered why so many people who were "conservative" in the sense of wanting tighter fiscal policies were also so often "conservative" in the sense of wanting women at home not working.  But this suggests, I think, a connection.  Tighter fiscal policies means the competition and negotiation game is especially tough.  Having the game be especially tough makes it tougher to have it take over your whole life.  Indeed, if you have kids, it might be frightening to think that someone being home to care for them would depend on having played the negotiation and competition game properly.  But women's-place-is-in-the-home:  solves that problem.

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