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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Liberation of the Soul

You may have missed this, but in late December, 2010, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chair of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC) released Invest in Women, Invest in America: A Comprehensive Review of Women in the US Economy, a study on women's key role in the US economy and the outmoded framework for social support that places an increased burden on women struggling to manage work and family demands.

The study revealed that more than 50 percent of workers believed they lacked flexible work arrangements, which would enable them to balance work and family.

As of January 2011, the US will be the only nation that is a member Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) without paid parental leave.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act in the US, mothers are only permitted 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Furthermore, thirty-seven percent of women who work in organizations with 15 or more employees are not allowed paid sick leave.

Without national paid sick leave policy to care for themselves or their ill children, many women must report to work sick and/or send their children to school. As a result of the lack of a paid sick policy, the economy suffers due to the decreased productivity of workers, or "presenteeism."

Many working women also struggle to afford child care, which is approximately 49 percent of the yearly income of a two-parent family living at the poverty level ($18,310 per year).

I know. I know. Some of you - mostly women - are shaking your heads and saying, "Tell us something we don't know, Elizabeth."

Alrighty, then. I will.

You might have missed this piece, too, published on New Year's Day by NY Times Op-ed columnist, Nicholas D. Kristoff (who always gets the three or four heterosexual brain cells left in my gray matter to jump up and down excitedly), entitled "Equality: a True Soul Food".

Kristoff writes about the "growing evidence that the toll of our stunning inequality is not just economic but also is a melancholy of the soul. The upshot appears to be high rates of violent crime, high narcotics use, high teenage birthrates and even high rates of heart disease."

His column is based on his reading of the recently released the book, “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger," by British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

The authors argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments — and they cite mountains of data to support their argument.

Kristoff continues:
So why is inequality so harmful? “The Spirit Level” suggests that inequality undermines social trust and community life, corroding societies as a whole. It also suggests that humans, as social beings, become stressed when they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy.

That stress leads to biological changes, such as the release of the hormone cortisol, and to the accumulation of abdominal fat (perhaps an evolutionary adaptation in preparation for starvation ahead?). The result is physical ailments like heart disease, and social ailments like violent crime, mutual distrust, self-destructive behaviors and persistent poverty. Another result is the establishment of alternative systems in which one can win respect and acquire self-esteem, such as gangs.

Granted, humans are not all equal in ability: There will always be some who are more wealthy — and others who constitute the bottom. But inequality does not have to be as harsh, oppressive and polarized as it is in America today. Germany and Japan have attained modern, efficient economies with far less inequality than we have — and far fewer social problems. Likewise, the gap between rich and poor fell during the Clinton administration, according to data cited in “The Spirit Level,” even though that was a period of economic vigor.

“Inequality is divisive, and even small differences seem to make an important difference,” Professors Wilkinson and Pickett note. They suggest that it is not just the poor who benefit from the social cohesion that comes with equality, but the entire society.
I need to point out here that feminists have been arguing this point about equality since the early 19th and 20th Centuries during the first wave of feminism.

We argued it again during the second wave of feminism during the 1960s and 70s.

And, we're arguing it again in the third wave of feminism from the 1990s to the present.

Turns out, the feminist ideal is not only good for women and children. It's not just for families in local neighborhoods. It's not just for America, but for the whole world.

Indeed, inequality is bad for the soul.

That's because feminism is not just about liberation for women. It's certainly not about burning bras and single-parent families and abortion clinics.

Ultimately, feminism is about the liberation of the human spirit.

It's a simple concept, really. It's about how we are all connected in the human family. Just as the human body is an intelligent, integrated system, so is the human family. As well as this earth, "our island home."

Feminism about the simple truth that "No one is free while others are oppressed."

History has shown that slavery hurt the slave owner as well as the slave. Indeed, the legacy of slavery is a deep wound that still exists in the soul of this country. I'm not certain we will ever completely heal, as a nation, from that time in our history. Racism continues to manifest itself in oppressive structures based on assumptions of inequality.

Patriarchy hurts those who oppress as well as those who are oppressed. We have a multitude of evidence to illustrate and prove this point - beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden. It is, I believe, the "original sin". Sexism continues to manifest itself in oppressive structures based on assumptions of inequality.

At the press conference unveiling the report "Invest in Women, Invest in America," Congresswoman Maloney said,
“This report can serve as a roadmap for policymakers who want to chart a new pro-growth course for the economy – one that recognizes the changing demographics of our workforce. I also hope that it will be a resource for elected leaders across the country who are working to assess different economic proposals and trying to understand how women’s role as generators of economic growth is affected by different policies.”
At the end of Kristoff's piece, he writes:
So as we debate national policy in 2011 — from the estate tax to unemployment insurance to early childhood education — let’s push to reduce the stunning levels of inequality in America today. These inequities seem profoundly unhealthy, for us and for our nation’s soul.
As new leadership prepares to take over the House, the first thing they intend to do is to repeal the Health Care Reform Bill. It will, no doubt, pass the House. It will not, however, pass the Senate. And, President Obama has made it very clear that he intends to use his veto power should their movement gain any traction.

However, "The Party of No" will continue to push its agenda, regardless of the predicted outcome. They have a pathetic need to prove some machismo point about who is really in control around here, anyway.

Which is really 'the point' of patriarchy, isn't it?

That wouldn't have anything to do with who is President and who is Secretary of State, would it? No, of course not. Silly me. I'm just a woman, and you know how we are. All emotional and clearly "the weaker sex".

John Steinbeck observed that “a sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”

Jesus knew the treatment plan for a sad soul: First: Tend to the poor, the widow and orphan, the sick, and all those in need. Then: Change the system of domination and oppression that creates and maintains poverty.

We have everything we need to address the problem of inequality - in our homes, our neighborhoods, our nation and the world. We always have.

On the eve of a power shift in our government, we need to ask ourselves - individually and collectively - "Do we have the will?"

I pray that this "germ" of the idea of equality will begin to infect every aspect of our lives.

Imagine what we might be able to accomplish together, working for equality, as an intelligent, integrated system dedicated to the liberation of the human spirit.

Why, it's downright Christian.


walter said...

..a human spirit plus a human spirit plus a human spirit equals liberation of The soul. Walter plus Elizabeth plus Riley equals liberation of The soul and it is empoweringly contagious. I offer incarnational faith in The pre-consubstantial Holy Trinity. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused and truthful. ILove my Little Girl, ILove my Traveling Mercies, ILove my Brother.

Walter Vitale

LVTfan said...

"Jesus knew the treatment plan for a sad soul: First: Tend to the poor, the widow and orphan, the sick, and all those in need. Then: Change the system of domination and oppression that creates and maintains poverty. "

So why do we -- individually and as parishes -- mostly provide charity rather than changes that lead in the direction of justice, particularly economic justice.

Yes, it is easier to provide charity, and doesn't challenge anyone's privileges or force us to confront our own.

In so many places people take "the poor you will always have with you" as prescriptive. In Alabama the "Christian Coalition" apparently works to keep the government out of reducing poverty because they regard charity as the church's job, and can't -- don't want to! -- imagine a world without poor people; like Aleve, the current system works adequately for those folks.

I still find my best answers on economic and social justice in the writings and speeches of Henry George. What came to be known as the "single tax" seems to me to provide a route to a sane and just society. Not sufficient, but necessary.