Feminist Next System Literature Review

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich is perhaps most famous for her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed, in which she takes an assignment from Harper’s to enter the low-wage workforce in order to investigate the experience (as a participant). In 2011 she started working on the “Economic Hardship Reporting Project,” which focuses on journalism about poverty (often by poor people).

Much of her writing exposes the cruelness of work, globally and for low-wage workers in the US. But her canon is also eclectic: she has covered a wide breadth of topics, including women’s health, love and sex, gender roles and, more recently. Most recently she wrote a memoir about her childhood, focusing on spiritual questions.

Her work is geared towards popular audiences and it has sometimes received criticism for being oversimplified (see http://www.nytimes.com/1983/06/05/books/who-started-this.html?pagewanted=all).

Using her many published essays and anecdotes, as well as her more anthropologically focused studies, she might provide interesting answers to some of the Next System questions. However, she does not seem to have an actual “next system” proposal, and often roots her suggestions in simple policy changes. Her work on gender, for instance, is a good example of this approach.

In her 2005 book For Her Own 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women she concentrates mostly on critiquing societal gender norms and expectations for women. But, near the end, she gets at some points that could make the basis for a feminist approach to rethinking work and social norms, although, again, they are solidly rooted in mainstream approaches to this problem:

The Woman Question, in the end, is not only the question of women but the broader question of how we—women and men together—will manage our civilization. This is the question feminism must fully address. It remains possible, if optimistic, to foresee part of the answer in the continued growth of women’s influence—but only if women decide, in their journey to power, that the point is not merely to adapt to the world men made but to change it. Women have the vote; they need only use it to put women into political power equal to men, and to hold elected representatives accountable to principles of gender equality. Women occupy ever more and higher positions in every institution in society. As professional experts themselves now, they can use their authority to change those very institutions, making them more humane, rational, and respectful.

In her 2004 book, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, she argues that “Resource extraction from developing nations is no longer gold or silver, but love.” In the book she outlines an approach to issues of globalization, the neo-colonialism of exporting and importing care work, and the problems of the import-export of care work:

● Advocates for children in transnational families should focus their attention not on calling for a return to the nuclear family but on trying to meet the special needs transnational families possess.” She argues for:

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