by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger

The road to economic recovery is going to be rocky – and apparently built mostly by men.   Linda R. Hirshman, author of Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, brings something pretty scary to our attention in last week’s op-ed piece “Where Are the New Jobs for Women?”  “The bulk of the stimulus program [announced by President-elect Barack Obama] will provide jobs for men,” writes Hirschman, “because building projects generate jobs in construction, where women make up only 9 percent of the work force.”  We can hope that this fact is merely a momentary oversight on the part of the incoming administration. After all, almost half of the American work force is women. Overlooking the necessity of putting women back to work, even as an accidental consequence of the developing stimulus program, is untenable. Clearly, some women choose not to build roads. Those who want to, ought to get trained. For all we know, more women would do construction work if they could get the training, if, for instance, the unions weren’t essentially closed shops.

Just as clearly, jobs to which tend to attract more women (if whatever statistics they are using for all of this is to be believed) must be made available, too. “During the campaign,” Ms. Hirshman continues, “Mr. Obama also promised that the first part of his plan to combat urban poverty would be to replicate a nonprofit organization in New York called the Harlem Children’s Zone in 20 cities across the country.”

The Harlem Children’s Zone provides dawn-to-dusk services for at-risk youth and their families in exchange for intensified commitment by their parents. The majority of employees in schools, libraries and social service organizations are women, so we stand a fighting chance for equity.

Of course, we don’t actually know if these careers are what women have chosen, or if they are the only jobs the women could get.  Anyway, we can only hope that this initiative and – well, how about a billion others? — will get as many women employed as men.

During the Great Depression (and how will we call this one when it’s over? The So-So Depression?) it was mostly men who were put into good jobs. Exceptions being for clerical back-up in the WPA and the women in the arts. During World War II, women were encouraged to fill the jobs they thought unseemly in factories turning out equipment for the military, everything from bombers to briefs.

Once these “Rosie the Riveters” donned their overalls and earned their own keep, they liked how it felt and there was no pushing many of them back into the kitchen, despite explicit government policies telling them to.

I’m guessing that the paradigms for gender-specific jobs might undergo another revolution. And I’m looking forward to it!

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