Sunday, July 08, 2018

what to do tomorrow? and the next day? Male anguish


The larger effects of sexism appear in curious places.
Take the inexorable eight hour day.
In the nineties, an historian, Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, interviewed workers – mostly retired workers – who had participated in a famous experiment in shorter work time. The Kellogg cereal company in 1930 adopted the six hour day as the standard, raising the wages of the workers to compensate. Hunnicutt’s research resulted in a book: Kellogg’s Six Hour Day. Interesting material there.
The plant was unionized in 1940, and the workers were polled. Most of them voted to keep the six hour day, although some departments voted for the eight hour day. After schedules were scrambled during the war years, Kellogg’s returned to the six hour day.
“In mid-1946, employees reaffirmed their commitment to the short workday, with 87 percent of women and 71 percent of men voting for six hours.” Yet in ten years, the vote had totally shifted. A majority of men voted to bring back the eight hour day; only departments in which women were the majority retained the six hour day.
Why?
Hunnicutt’s interviews suggested that the change came about due to two factors. One was a change in the way management administered the work force, with the decline of the line boss as yeller and coercer and the rise of the “coach” model of management. In conjunction with this was the use of the suggestion, floated by the management and agreed to by the male work force, that there was something feminine, or sissy, about the six hour day. As Roger Whaples summarizes the argument in his review:
 Management began to denigrate and “feminize” shorter hours. National union officials were very willing to trade shorter hours for offers of hourly wage increases. But most importantly many workers,especially male employees, seem to have changed their tastes. They became embarrassed by the short hours that they were working–shorterthan the shifts worked by men at other local jobs. They changed their rhetoric, down-playing the freedom that leisure gave, and asserting that they were “unable to afford” a six-hour shift, that longer hours were needed to “‘keep the wolf from the door,’ ‘feed the family,’ and ‘put bread on the table'” (p.140). …  Ultimately, most men during the 1950s needed little convincing that eight-hours and higher pay were preferable. Six-hour workdays wouldn’t let them keep up with the Joneses and many men did not receive much enjoyment from their marginal leisure hours. “Like management, senior male workers were concerned about the loss of status and control.”
It is interesting that these factors were not in question, or were not as disturbing to men, in the 30s. Why?
I think this minor incident points to larger changes in male, specifically American white male, attitudes in the Cold War period. What has happened now, in America’s Rotten Age, is not the result of one presidential election. These currents were set in motion a long time ago. On the one hand, the U.S. has long had a stronger feminist tradition than its European co-evals, with attitudes going back to the post-Civil War period of Daisy Miller. On the other hand, a reactionary male imago has been the constant cohort of this liberatory tendency. It is a cohort made up of feed-backs, such as the lack of any respect for the humanities, which feeds back into an entertainment industry that has long ago exhausted the limits of shock (either of violent death or of industrialized fucking), which feeds back into a sort of loss in the nature/technology interface, etc.
I’ve been spending my whole life thinking that the reactionary male imago was on its last legs, but it looks like it will long, long outlast my last legs.  


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