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!