The End of Growth is a Women’s Issue!

Sharon October 10th, 2011

Perhaps the first widely read piece I wrote was entitled “Peak Oil is a Women’s Issue” and focused on the ways that an energy decline might affect women. At the time it was written (the earliest version appeared in 2004) the peak oil movement was largely a group of men, mostly geologists, oil men, a few economists and journalists interested in a growing issue.

My argument (more refined variations of which I’ve continued making for years) was that women need to organize around energy and environmental issues, because they stand to lose a great deal in a society that has fewer resources to go around.

At least one critic accused me of writing a “handmaid’s tale” and raising an alarm about nothing, which I find sort of funny, because we all *know* that in hard times women and children tend to suffer the most. Assuming that won’t be true requires an argument for why this time will be different.

The UN has already described the ways that the first and most profound victims of climate change will be women. Energy depletion, and the end economic growth will be no different, unless we act to make them different. We need a new women’s movement that has a profound understanding of the ways that energy has shaped women’s expectations and experience, and that can respond to a radically changing society.

Thanks to reader Vickey, we can see that thus far, events aren’t different – women are paying the price again.. Consider what’s happening in Topeka as a more extreme version of decisions being made all over the country:

In Topeka, Kansas city officials are considering a controversial move to decriminalize domestic violence in the city after the Shawnee County government offloaded domestic violence enforcement on to city governments. Cities facing budget cuts and lost revenue are turning to many different cost-cutting measures, but this is perhaps the most extreme. Already, the county government has turned away at least 30 domestic violence cases.

We know that most domestic violence isn’t reported, that most battering victims are so ashamed and afraid that they won ‘t call the police, so the 30 + cases that were turned away are just the tip of the iceberg – we know that women will die unless batterers can be stopped.

Legal protections for women and children should be fundamental, but we live in a society that regards them as optional luxuries to be abandoned in hard times. Without a shift in the way we regard women’s issues, we are likely to see more of this horror.

7 Responses to “The End of Growth is a Women’s Issue!”

  1. Richard says:

    re. “we all *know* that in hard times women and children tend to suffer the most.” How do we know this, exactly? We are in hard times now, and our respective countries are prosecuting wars of dubious morality. As of September 2010 the ratio of male to female adult deaths in the US military was 98.4% to 1.6% (source: DOD). The ratio of fatal work injuries by hours worked was 92% to 8% – a statistic which will deteriorate as safety standards fall and more women stay home to mind the children. (source: bls) Of work-related homicide – 88%/12% etc. etc. Isn’t it more accurate to say that we live in a society that is so casual about male injury and death we don’t even consider it relevant?

    The *last* thing Peak Oil needs, surely, as we desperately seek solutions is grievance politics.

  2. Hi Richard,

    Yes, people are experiencing hard times, in some countries, and the fact is that safety standards are just one situation that will suffer under those circumstances. All human life should be valued and a rise in death or injury rates for any sector of the population is important. I don’t know anyone that would argue otherwise. My challenge is that all you have done above is contrast the statistics of men against women rather than contrast the statistics of men and women currently against those in more financially stable times.

    The main thing about your argument that doesn’t ring true for me though is that because the suffering of women and children tends to be more “statistically silent” it doesn’t become less real. This isn’t about “grievance politics” it’s about the harsh realities. Things like financial hardship within the family unit statistically increases likelihood of domestic abuse, that when times get tough males will tend to employ males and that women without the ability to be financially independent, all those mum’s safely “staying home to mind the children” are even less likely to remove themselves and their children from an abusive situation simply because they feel they have no choice.

    Everyone suffers during hard times but just looking to the situations in countries poorer than those of the first world it becomes obvious that the person who earns the money in the family has disproportionate power. That means as growth turns to contraction and more women are selectively excluded from the workforce through hiring practices or are forced to take even less pay, than the current less than totally equitable levels, there is a real chance that there will be disproportionate suffering by this sector of the community. The only thing that has a chance of standing in the way of this is removing the veil of ignorance around the link between energy and women’s rights before things are allowed to slip too far.

    Kind Regards

  3. kathy says:

    In general, I tend to link woman and children and for good reason. The health and well-being of one is utterly dependent upon the health and well-being of the other. While it’s possible to compare the mortality rates of male and female soldiers or workers as a measure of well-being, it is not a particuraly good lens with which to view the world. A more accurate lens would be access to food, education, housing and healthcare as these are universal needs. Typically, woman and children lose in these arenas as well as in the arena of personal safety. Resource depletion has the power to pit “us” against “them” to the detriment of all. We might be well-served to consider caregivers and care needers, parents and children as the consumate “us”. Let us not allow ourselves to be divided by race or gender or religion or class or politics or any other label that detracts from our core.

  4. Sharon says:

    Richard, that’s an interesting selection of statistics – how about “present deaths from climate change” where more than 70% are women and children. How about world deaths annually from hunger, where more than 75% are women and children. 64% of US food insecure are women and children. One in four children needs food stamps and other food programs to get to the end of the month, while only one in 9 men (and one in six women) does.

    We know this because we know it – it is true that military service deaths favor men, and so do dangerous occupations. Those are two of the only statistics that favor men. And it isn’t about identity politics – it is about a fair understanding of how impacts strike. It is interesting to me that people jump to the conclusion that observing that women and children are the most likely victims means setting them against men – all men have mothers, sisters, friends, daughters – and most of them grasp that when the women they love suffer, they suffer too.


  5. I began first with just loving cats, but my love of cats quickly grew to loving cat art. I guess because I am also an artist at heart, I found the combination of cats and art to fit me well.

  6. Amanda says:

    Although I do agree that women and children tend to suffer the most in times of hardship, this time might be somewhat different – at least for some women. On average women are more educated then men now and often earn more money. My understanding is that men have been hit harder as far as unemployment goes this recession. I personally fall into this category. I am both more educated than my partner and earn more money than my partner. We recently relocated because although I had stable employment, he was unable to obtain it where we were (we both have stable employment now).

    All of that being said, what is happening in Kansas is frightening. Since when did any kind of assault become a misdemeanor? and why single out domestic violence and not all assault? Truly a frightening prospect.

  7. Richard says:

    Belinda – thank you. I believe I have selected three statistics which are likely to deteriorate further (for men) as times worsen, and demonstrated that they are already appalling. The main thing that, in turn, doesn’t ring true about your argument is the self referential fact that, on these statistics, you (as a group) are most evidently *not* silent. To put not too fine a point on it, you never shut up about it. In my country (UK), we have a Minister for Women, prime time radio “Women’s Hour”, de-facto feminist colonisation of our universities, pro-feminist workplace policies, pro-feminist family policies, women’s marches, pink ribbon days, etc. – the accumulated effect of which is an incessant monologue about these “silent” statistics.

    I’m glad you do acknowledge the concept of “silent statistics”, however, and point out that it would be a peculiar argument indeed to suggest that the concept is gender-specific i.e. that there are statistics about women’s experiences which can be silent, but there are no statistics about men’s issues which can be silent. Logically, therefore, since men lack the considerable institutional apparatus (and appetite) for constantly advertising all of our grievances, you are more likely to be ignorant of men’s than men are of yours. So, for example, I counsel men who suffer from the suicidal depression arising from prolonged, enforced separation from their children following divorce, in a system that identifies “women and children” as categorically distinguishable from “men” (more of Sharon’s casual prejudice). Our favoured form of suicide is to drive at high speed into a bridge support – it looks like an accident, so does not invalidate insurance policies for our children. Show me that statistic. This is not the place to recite a list: police reporting systems with no mechanism for recording female domestic violence; incarceration gender bias, etc. Sharon has the humility elsewhere in her writings to concede that she over-generalises.

    Sharon – thank you. This is your blog, and I am your guest, and so I respect your opinion while disagreeing strongly with your premise. It is the signature of grievance politics to select “an” issue, label it as “the” issue, and seek the establishment of some legal prescription to contain it which, aggregated, secures by gossamer strands a wholesale shift in the political landscape. It is an enormously effective strategy, witness the spiralling academic failure rate of boys at school, persistently high suicide rates amongst adolescent males, female only vocational training, diverging graduation salaries, wealth distribution, predisposition to crime, gang culture, incarceration rate, drug dependency, life expectancy, etc. “These are two of the *only* statistics that favour men”? – astonishing.

    Of course we grasp you suffer. Sadly, you are so engrossed in your suffering, you fail to see anyone else’s in turn. And just as the impact strikes one way, it strikes another – where men may once have dominated in the formal economy, women dominate in the informal economy and if there was ever a label for the economy to which we head, it is informal.

    I read your post, with its forlorn, alienating statistics culled from old-world processes hopeless skewed by industrial nation political agendas, and my heart sinks. Here we are, sitting on the edge of ruin, trading the tired old “my pain is bigger than yours” stories. I read your blog with enjoyment, and now I can’t. You’ve hopelessly alienated another potential ally, in feminism’s cynically relentless pursuit of political preferment. And you’ve done it at a time when potential allies in the fight against issues having nothing to do with this, that will kill millions of men and women and children without prejudice, are already hopelessly scattered and disunited.

    I’m left feeling sad for the Transition movement.

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