Laurie Penny’s Authorial Fantasy

Everybody’s favourite feminist Laurie Penny engages in a spot of authorial fantasy where she envisages a world where robots have taken all the men’s jobs, forcing them to become more like women.

ROBOTS ARE COMING for our jobs—but not all of our jobs. They’re coming, in ever increasing numbers, for a certain kind of work. For farm and factory labor. For construction. For haulage. In other words, blue-collar jobs traditionally done by men.

Perhaps Laurie is unaware of the Industrial Revolution which saw huge swathes of farm work move from man to machine. She also appears to have missed the de-industrialisation of the west as the factory jobs moved to Asia, which is strange for somebody who places all the world’s ills at the feet of Thatcher. The changes she is describing have been happening for decades, if not centuries.

Millions of men around the world are staring into the lacquered teeth of obsolescence, terrified of losing not only their security but also their source of meaning and dignity in a world that tells them that if they’re not rich, they’d better be doing something quintessentially manly for money.

Oh, I don’t know. I see plenty of men mincing around with useless degrees working useless jobs.

Otherwise they’re about as much use as a wooden coach-and-four on the freeway.

You said it, sister!

Some political rhetoric blames outsourcing and immigration for the decline in “men’s work,” but automation is a greater threat to these kinds of jobs—and technological progress cannot be stopped at any border.

Right, but that process has been going on for quite some time and, for men working blue-collar jobs, the worst is probably over.

A recent Oxford study predicted that 70 percent of US construction jobs will disappear in the coming decades;

Unless construction itself is going to come to a halt, it’s hard to see how. Robots aren’t going to be building things any time soon, even if there is one that can lay bricks.

97 percent of those jobs are held by men, and so are 95 percent of the 3.5 million transport and trucking jobs that robots are presently eyeing.

Oh right. Self-driving vehicles will put millions of men out of business. Presumably the fusion-powered jet-packs will make airlines obsolete, too?

That’s scary, and it’s one reason so many men are expressing their anger and anxiety at home, in the streets, and at the polls.

You can almost smell the glee.

While all of this is going on, though, there’s a counter­phenomenon playing out. As society panics about bricklaying worker droids and self-driving 18-wheelers, jobs traditionally performed by women—in the so-called pink-collar industries, as well as unpaid labor—are still relatively safe, and some are even on the rise.

Firstly, how many of these pink-collar jobs are absolutely necessary, and only exist due to government policies looking for ways to keep women occupied now the washing machine, fridge, and tractor have been invented, paid for in their entirety by the surplus wealth – taxes – generated by those blue-collar men you despise so much?

Secondly, a lot of these pink-collar jobs exist in order to “manage”, administrate, and generally get in the way of those men doing the work. Will we really need sprawling HR, diversity, and compliance departments if robots are doing everything? Who will pay for them?

Thirdly, Laurie seems to think a lot of this pink-collar stuff can’t be offshored to the Philippines where ladies called Cherry will deal with your pointless HR paperwork.

These include childcare. And service. And nursing, which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts will need a million­-plus more workers in the next decade.

Which might be why the Japanese are working on a Care-Bot. But is this what our womenfolk with English degrees from Oxford and law degrees from Harvard have in mind for the sisterhood? Caring and nursing? Somebody ought to tell them.

According to the logic of the free market, when jobs are destroyed in one area of the economy, people will shift to new areas of productivity, acquiring new skills as they travel. So you might imagine that factory workers are becoming nannies. Not exactly. That’s because we’re talking about “women’s work.” Women’s work is low paid and low status, and men are conditioned to expect better.

The reason these nannies are needed is because the mothers have all decided they’d rather work than look after their own children. Now some say this is forced on them, but if robots are doing all the work, why can’t mothers look after their own kids? And the main reason factory workers won’t become nannies is because mothers who hire nannies generally prefer cheap brown women to do the job rather than white men – at any cost.

Whether or not you believe men are about to go the way of the portable CD player depends entirely on how you define manhood itself.

I’d say so, yes.

A great many men have been trained over countless generations to associate their self-worth with the performance of tasks that are, in a very real sense, robotic—predictable, repetitive, and emotionless.

But nevertheless a job that needs doing.

The trouble is that machines are far better at being predictable, repetitive, and emotionless than human beings.

It amuses me she thinks this applies more to craftsmen and technicians than women in process-driven roles in a giant bureaucracy.

What human beings do better are all the other things: We are better at being adaptable, compassionate, and intuitive; better at doing work that involves actually touching and thinking about one another; better at making art and music that elevates us above the animals—better, in short, at keeping each other alive. We have walled off all that work and declared it mostly women’s business,

Sorry, what? Art and music are the preserve of women? And what about sales, management, even engineering – all require adaptability, compassion, and intuition. Methinks Laurie – having been a freelance writer since she left university – hasn’t the faintest idea what various jobs actually entail.

even as exhausted women have begged men to join them.

Oh please! Sure, women are just crying out for more men to take up primary-school teaching, psychology, and nursing!

Feminists have, in fact, been arguing for a basic income for decades as compensation for unpaid domestic labor.

Women want to be paid to keep their own house clean.

Now that men might find themselves with more time to perform household tasks, they’re finally starting to listen.

What decade is Laurie living in? Most men I know can cook, clean, and iron as well as their partners, if not better. None of them has yet asked to be paid for this.

Work is work, and as men come to realize that, society as a whole might start valuing pink-collar and unpaid labor more highly and—as men take these jobs and join the call for increased wages—compensating it more fairly. Benefits only multiply.

Cleaning your house is work, just like building a bridge. Uh-huh.

No longer forced to choose between work and family life, more women can remain and thrive in, say, fast-growing STEM fields, increasing the pool of talent and expertise.

If I’m reading this right, Laurie thinks robots will make men redundant, meaning they will campaign for a universal basic income, which will in turn mean women can thrive in STEM fields instead of being forced to look after their kids. Like all good ideas, it’s obvious when pointed out.

Automation doesn’t have to make men obsolete, not if they’re willing to change their mindset. As long as men aspire to be cogs in an outdated machine, robots may well replace them.

The irony here is that it is women who stand to lose the most from robots: if sex-bots ever become realistic enough to replace a woman in bed, real women are going to have a hard time of it. We’ve already seen the effect Tinder has had, providing men with a means of getting laid without all the bother of a relationship.

But if they have the courage to imagine different lives of service and dignity, and then demand that those lives be made feasible in terms of both hours and pay, automation can help all of us be more human.

So if only men become wetter than a weekend in Wales and emasculate themselves such that legions of feminists can rule the roost, they will be permitted a role in Laurie’s Brave New World.

Well, how generous!

Share

23 thoughts on “Laurie Penny’s Authorial Fantasy

  1. ‘Men going the way of the portable CD player’

    Funny she should say that- I’m trying to find a decent portable CD player right now. There’s thousands of discs going for buttons and the sound quality is brilliant.

    So… it’s almost like something Laurie (and her fellow denizens of the London bubble) deems obsolete may actually have a use beyond her immediate ken, and still be highly valued (check out the price for the D-555, for instance) by people who know a little more than she does.

    Still, at least she can sneer.

  2. “staring into the lacquered teeth of obsolescence”: Laurie Penny is a robot. Her programmer had a weakness for bad metaphors.

  3. Some jobs are hard to explain. I used to be paid to do various tasks, including standing in front of students and talking, writing, and sketching for 50 minutes at a time. It seemed odd to me – because books – but that’s what my contracts insisted on.

  4. In a year, or two, Penny will be replaced by a Random Guff Generator.

    It is “women’s work” which will fall to automation.

  5. Think of something, anything, that you would like to be cheaper, or better for the same price. That is where jobs will emerge to replace those lost. Also, as people get richer they spend more money on existing services, like having a haircut, which will free up my wife’s time for higher value added services.

    I would like it to be possible to hire a good builder for a decent price. This is not possible in London. Job of the future. Same for any niche trade like carpentry and so on, where on site work is required.

    I would like it to be possible to get a taxi when I want it, where I want it, for a decent price. This is the job of the future…oh, wait, Uber.

    “Most future work will be in niche areas which require workers to produce bespoke technical solutions on site, an area where robots so far cannot deliver. Unfortunately, this is an area where women are being left behind, as the skills sets and interests of unemployed HR workers do not match this new reality”

  6. “the performance of tasks that are, in a very real sense, robotic—predictable, repetitive, and emotionless.”

    Is this Penny’s writing we are talking about here?

  7. Does Penny think this will be a utopia in which sassy, confident women run everything and do all the jobs? Has she thought what a society containing tens of millions of bored, young and not particularly bright men with nothing to do might be like?

  8. “for a certain kind of work. For farm and factory labor.”

    Is Laurie American, or is the word labour only reserved for her favourite form of selfish, dictatorial and essentially anti-working man party?

    More, I have a neighbour who works on a farm. I would love to see the robot that could do what he does, much of which requires on-the-fly decisions in the face of changing weather, not to say juggling a myriad of EU regulations. But then Ms Penny possibly thinks farming, which goes a long way to keeping her and her fellow unthinking lot alive, is like a lawnmover moving between neat rows of prepared soil.

    I mean, she believes in the forthcoming Climate Crisis, so no adjustments needed there then.

    As Rob says here in these comments, a lot of bored young men with nothing to do might create problems. Like, you know, all those New Friends of Europe arriving with no job, no interest, no prospects and no women. But maybe Ms Penny will be protected from these hordes by, oh I dunno, men.

  9. “Secondly, a lot of these pink-collar jobs exist in order to “manage”, administrate, and generally get in the way of those men doing the work. Will we really need sprawling HR, diversity, and compliance departments if robots are doing everything? Who will pay for them?”

    One thing that often happens is that new laws or new tech creates these sorts of roles but eventually some more tech wipes them out.

    For example: change control administrators. In software there used to be people who managed the change process. Created because of software. You wrote a change, they checked it, passed it to all the people and got the approvals and then copied the software for you. They’d do things like tell you that it couldn’t go in until Monday, or if you wanted it in on Friday, you’d have to get extra levels of approval. They’d check you’d filled in the form properly. If you told them things, they frankly did little more than parrot information and parrot it back. They don’t exist any longer. There’s still a change control process, but it’s about expertise with the systems. The other stuff is all managed via software.

    It’s one of the reasons I advise people NOT to get a degree for the sake of it. You used to be able to get one of these overpaid “can talk and write clearly” middle management jobs with any old degree, where you held team meetings, gave people appraisals, collected timesheets, looked smart, wrote powerpoints and bluffed at knowing the stuff (by just asking junior people to write all that hard stuff for you and deferring to them when a question was asked), but they don’t exist any longer. All that bureaucracy that you can do well (that really isn’t the job) has gone, replaced by software. If you don’t know software development management, you will be exposed.

    It’s why I think it’s become so much more male. Women used to do the coding until they could bag a bureaucrat job.

  10. The washing machine, dishwasher, two car family etc has liberated women.
    Yet a similar degree of automation predicted in an unpredictable future, will emasculate men.
    I see what she’s hoping for here.

  11. Rob,

    “Is this Penny’s writing we are talking about here?”

    See, I think journalism follows The Last Psychiatrist’s perspective that women move into fields when men leave. They don’t beat men at the game. The men just leave the field. It’s like companies like HP, Yahoo and IBM. They’ve got women CEOs because men aren’t interested in those bureaucratic relics.

    All the “important” stuff of journalism has left the MSM. If you ran Microsoft, you wouldn’t use the NYT to fill you in on whether to invest in Egypt. You’d read stuff by analysts costing you $500 a paper. By the time anything interesting hits the MSM, it’s been on the blogs, 4chan, wherever for weeks. This probably marks the death of wired if Laurie Penny is writing for them, that the men have gone somewhere else. Probably, just something that pays more because journalism doesn’t.

  12. Don’t know if she is Utopian or a Luddite or both. Not that it matters as both of these arguments have been destroyed over the centuries and still don’t hold water, if she really was in marketing then she would know that you don’t make these kind of ideological statements during a strengthening business cycle. You might be able to sell the snake oil during a recession, but unemployment rates are dropping everywhere that counts, Sydney has full employment and my young lad has already saved $3k only 9 weeks into his second real and blokey type of a job.

  13. Simple low skills jobs are automated. Those jobs done by women or men that are simple and low skill will disappear. The sisters will do what? Look after kids and clean houses presumably but who will earn the money to keep them? Not their men as assortive mating means smart people marry smart people and not so smart people ,array not so smart people.

    As is said above Tindr reduces the chances of hot but not so smart women as they can one more easily replaced for sex by someone else without relationship costs.

    It isn’t looking good for the low Iq end of the population and even the higher IQ stuff is under pressure as well.

  14. “better at making art and music that elevates us above the animals—better, in short, at keeping each other alive.”

    No, actually, men working on a power pole in the snow to keep the electricity running, or the poor bastard drilling for oil on a North Sea platform are what’s keeping you alive, you worthless twat.

    I sometimes feel sorry for people like this. They must be miserable.

  15. It’s easy to pontificate about subjects of which you know nothing. There will never be robot plumbers looking for and fixing leaks under the house, robot electricians in the loft space putting in a new cable, robot garage mechanics fixing that funny knocking noise. On the other hand there are thousands of women doing administrative jobs that could be done by computer right now.

  16. Has she thought what a society containing tens of millions of bored, young and not particularly bright men with nothing to do might be like?

    Clearly she hasn’t. Although I think a part of her might welcome it.

  17. On the other hand there are thousands of women doing administrative jobs that could be done by computer right now.

    Indeed, and the fact they’re not is purely down to government regulations which make such positions a sort of welfare programme.

  18. “Will we really need sprawling HR, diversity, and compliance departments if robots are doing everything? Who will pay for them?”
    We don’t need them now so why should that be a problem?

    BTW if anyone had written something like this about Jews or Blacks there would be an outcry.

  19. “Indeed, and the fact they’re not is purely down to government regulations which make such positions a sort of welfare programme.”

    Like what? I don’t think this is necessarily the case. HR and so on are useless jobs but I don’t think they can be done by computer. Or, at least, I don’t the reason why they aren’t is due to the fact that the jobs are currently being filled largely by women. Clearly, if there were only men in the workplace they might dispense with the entire HR department.

  20. “Clearly, if there were only men in the workplace they might dispense with the entire HR department.”

    When men were the vast majority of the workforce, HR was called payroll. That does tell you about the respective needs of the sexes in the workplace.

  21. Clearly, if there were only men in the workplace they might dispense with the entire HR department.

    As the economy grinds down, this is starting to happen. I know of a number of large companies that are starting to outsource HR, benefits and payroll to cloud-based companies, with an attendant reduction in HR staff.

  22. “men take these jobs and join the call for increased wages—compensating it more fairly. Benefits only multiply.”

    She doesn’t understand economics 101, which doesn’t surprise me. More supply, lower prices. More workers, lower wages.

  23. Ms Penny might want to look back a little bit at what happened to all the secretarial/receptionist/typing pool positions over the last few decades before assuming that the impact of the next round of automation will mostly affect traditional male roles.

    All this fuss over ‘the robots are coming’ makes me wonder what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years as an industrial automation engineer. Replacing human labour with machines was an old, established field when I entered it. Is this really news to people?

    I also find it interesting that Ms Penny thinks that women are being held back from STEM work. My experience is that female engineering graduates gravitate to safety/environmental/QA/coordination (and yes, HR) type roles. Generally with no difference in work hours, so it doesn’t seem to be a work/life balance thing. About ten years ago I worked with a female electrical engineer who did actual technical stuff. Prior to that one other that I can recall doing PLC/SCADA programming. But mostly they prefer process/paperwork jobs over technical jobs. Dunno why.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *