Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Can Rising Oil Prices Help Women?

As economist Susan Feiner recently noted:

45 years ago American feminist Betty Friedan saw how suburban isolation undermined women’s health and restricted women’s choices. In a now classic essay, “The Problem That Has No Name” Friedan successfully linked the repressive domesticity of the 1950s to suburbanization.

Friedan’s analysis was pooh-poohed as a “women’s” issue.

Coming soon to a station near you: $5.00/gallon gas. VOILLA!

That's right, high gas prices are un-gendering the problem of suburban isolation. As a result, the negative impacts of suburbanization have suddenly become a serious issue for Americans (aka one that impacts men). With gas prices at an all-time high, companies and cities are being forced to re-think old models, and some of their solutions might just make balancing career and family life easier - a goal very dear to the hearts of many professional women.

Improved Public Transportation: One way that cities are having to respond to the rising costs of gas is by putting more money into failing public transportation systems. Long ignored in many cities as being unimportant (because they were only used by 'poor people' without cars), sidewalks, buses, and commuter train lines are now seeing more traffic from people of all socio-economic classes, and money is being allocated for their upkeep. Lights are being installed down formerly dark footpaths, broken sidewalks are being repaired, and additional security personnel can be found patrolling commuter rails. While this will benefit all citizens, women in particular stand to gain a lot from the improvements. With additional lights, many women will feel safer running and traveling after dark. Improved sidewalks will be beneficial for mothers with strollers.

Flexible Hours and Work-from-Home Opportunities: Although they stand to loose little, many companies have been obstinately reluctant to offer flexible work schedules and work-from-home opportunities to parents. Since our society still expects that women will be responsible for most child care, this has been a problem that has disproportionately impacted working mothers. The logic has consistently been that if women really want to be competitive in any field, they should abstain from having families altogether. Yet, as NPR reported today on Morning Edition, more and more companies are offering all employees options like working out of home offices or the choice of working 10-hour days four days a week rather than 8-hour daily five day weeks. For mothers who wish for more flexibility to work around day-care schedules and child rearing necessities like sick-days and doctor appointments, the work from home option has always been coveted - despite the occasional complaint from bosses that it makes women seem 'less serious' about their careers. As one male employee puts it in the Morning Edition piece, as long as the work gets done, who cares if it happens on the traditional schedule? For mothers seeking for more time with their children and one free day when they know appointments can be made, trading a couple of Monday-Thursday hours for a completely free Friday might seem like a bargain.

Of course, these improvements are dearly bought. The price of food is going up and fewer people can afford extravagant vacations. Yet, some changes for the better might still come out of this crisis - changes that rarely come when nearly fifty percent of the population is so content with the status quo.

(h/t Economic Woman, images via here and here)


Casmall said...

Great Post!
I'm glad there's an up side to high gas prices.

Sally said...

This is a great post.

Though, living in Westchester & working in NYC, the state of the economy right now is hurting all of us. Our public transportation system is actually starting to get worse (along with more expensive), and I just don't see any well-thought-out solutions being presented.

I'm ready to move.

Casmall said...

What about it is getting worse? Here in ATL its getting more crowded but is still ok.

Habladora said...

We'll be feeling the strain here in ATL soon enough - the highways are already so congested, but now that people are using the public transportation systems more and more there will be more need for upkeep and expansion. Debates are already springing up about where the money will come from, but I feel like it is a priority for the first time in a long time. Hopefully, where there's a will...

Sally said...

You guys are lucky that it's only more crowded.

Here, it's more crowded, dirtier, and becoming less reliable. Also, all of the improvements that are supposed to be made b/c of the fair hike... it turns out that the MTA is starting to back out on most of them.