Research 2015: The Digital Divide in LDCs of Africa with Focus on Ethiopia

The Digital Divide in LDCs of Africa with Focus on Ethiopia

Elizabeth Cox

Introduction

While Western nations bask in the light of expanding global knowledge society benefits, less developed nations (LDCs) lag behind. Through connectivity via electronic means, citizens of developed nations gain access to information economy markets as well as the means to wield group political power. Even though shared human knowledge should theoretically be ubiquitous and not dependent upon material wealth, knowledge is, in fact, being packaged and distributed as an esoteric commodity available to those who are privileged to ‘connect’ mainly through possession of or access to electronic devices and Internet.

Nowhere is the digital divide more pronounced and economically segregationist than on the continent of Africa where the poorest countries in the world are located. Most of the countries designated by the United Nations as least developed are located in Africa (GPF, 2014). Ethiopia is on the top ten poorest nations list with 67% of the population in in poverty; 30% living on less than $1.25 per day (MPI, 2014). What is the state of ‘knowledge society’ in Africa? How is the inequity of the knowledge society gap reflected, localized, and magnified in the nation of Ethiopia?

Like other nations in Africa, Ethiopia has suffered from corrupt governments and political instability; even as Western scholars and leaders have promoted democracy as the ultimate system for germinating political freedom. The democratic dream has been an elusive but highly promoted goal in Ethiopia and other African nations. As the second most densely populated nation in Africa, Ethiopia is often the focus of international aid efforts and investment strategies, even as the nation harbors an excessively narrow and repressive media environment (Smith, 2014).

While overall economic growth has been spurred by Western aid over the last decade, disenfranchised Ethiopian farmers and other hard-working citizens have experienced incarceration and torture for speaking out about their economic hardships (Smith, 2014).

The Human Rights Watch investigation has exposed a media environment in Ethiopia that is totally controlled by the government. Surveillance of personal communications in the nation is appallingly intrusive; the government has complete access to all records of personal phone use. It is interesting to note that the presence of a U.S. military base in Ethiopia has led some political activists to posit that there is some form of Western support for the repressive media policy that grips Ethiopia (Smith, 2014).

Mimicking the ‘Chinese economic model’, the Ethiopian government acknowledges no connection between economic development and democratic principles. Leadership treats Ethiopian ‘tycoons’ with deference, while the rights of ordinary citizens to pursue their farming or other desired work unfettered are suppressed. Farmers have been displaced from their lands to make way for large lucrative industrial use of lands. Disjunction between economic progress and political freedom mirrors the chasm blocking citizens’ access to global knowledge society (Smith, 2014).

Public communication is the center of the democratic system and process. Media studies scholar Nicolas Garnham posits that in order to vote effectively, citizens must have “equal access to sources of information” as well as equal opportunity to participate in debates around political issues. Further, Garnham argues that changes in media structure or policy (whether related to economic cause or to public discourse) are political issues that are equal in importance to the democratic principle of proportional representation (Garnham, 2004).

First World efforts to intervene

As previously mentioned, Western-originated aid projects aimed at improving quality of life for Africans have proliferated in the last few years. This increase is due in part to the publication of articles by renowned Western economists spotlighting hardships experienced by citizens of Africa’s LDC nations. Western governments have also focused on the plight of Africans by creating policy initiatives directed toward promoting development in Africa (Easterly, 2009).

Two general approaches have been utilized by Western interventionists in the effort to aid development: 1) the ‘transformational’ approach and 2) the ‘marginal’ approach (Easterly, 2009). The transformational approach favors actions that promulgate accelerated overall social and economic change in order to bring Africa out of poverty. Transformational approach has been generally less successful in terms of quantitative positive results and has been characterized by frustration linked to poor results. Frustration, in turn, has led to tendencies to ramp-up or increase efforts based on the assumption that amplification of failed techniques will then yield better results. On top of these faulty techniques to aid Africa, there exists a dynamic which economist William Easterly has termed ‘the cycle of ideas’, whereby failed ideas are set aside or forgotten only to be resurrected and tried again later. The cycle is perpetuated, as Western organizations evidence a sort of learning disability when it comes to systematic analysis of what works and what does not work to help African nations develop (Easterly, 2009).

Northern Hemisphere UN member nations including England, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. have pledged billions to help bring Africa out of poverty during the first decade of the 21st century. On the list of aid priorities agreed upon in the 2000 UN Summit ‘Millennium Development Goals’ to be achieved by 2015 were the following objectives for Africa:

  • Reduce poverty by one half
  • Achieve universal primary school enrollment
  • Reduce infant mortality
  • Increase gender equality
  • Create more availability of clean water

These goals were even more ambitious considering the context of civil wars and fragile governments prevalent in the region. Forgiveness of loan debts has also been part of the agenda promoted to help bring African nations out of poverty (Easterly, 2009).

The ‘marginal’ approach to aid has yielded some success in enhancing quality of life for individual Africans. While much of the Western effort to aid Africa has been fraught with pressure to ‘push’ for rapid change, efforts toward more incremental gradual changes have had greater positive results. Small programs aimed at helping specific groups in a community in specific ways have been the most successful programs. Top-down management style and centralized development planning are characteristic of transformational approach. Marginal approach programs are not centralized and rely on grassroots individual agency and implementation. African traditions and social norms must be taken into consideration when outside sources of aid attempt to rapidly inject change into social systems that have evolved over the millennium. (Easterly, 2009).

Economic theories pushing ‘balanced’ all-at-once growth progress in Africa versus those touting ‘unbalanced’ incremental growth have been debated by Western scholars for decades. Proponents of general equilibrium put forth that help from prosperous Northern Hemisphere nations may be a necessary intervention to spur escape from the poverty trap. All & all, the debate implies that the Western scholarly perspective on Africa’s struggle is most astute; and that a Western-outsider solution will provide the magic panacea. Structural adjustment practices have added fuel to the debate as part of the transformational approach to social and economic advancement (Easterly, 2009).

The ‘invisible hand’ philosophy of mainstream market economists postulates that economic problems will self-correct in a free market environment. Lack of access to markets of the global information economy precludes the free market solution to Africa’s digital disconnect (Easterly, 2009). In sociologist Manuel Castell’s view, informational capitalism is a new form of capitalism that was born of the 1970’s economic crises rooted in dependence on production of material goods and crystalized by monopoly oil production’s stranglehold on Western culture. Development of new information technologies provided a way out of the dilemma (Frank Webster, 2004). Widespread open citizen access to information society bridges which in turn connect and underpin information economy markets may very well provide a route for Africans searching for the path out of poverty and injustice.

In this charged atmosphere of conflicting political and economic theories, stirred by the greed of ‘boom’ economics, smelted with human rights violations, and tempered by African cultural traditions and mores, the sword of the ‘knowledge society’ phenomenon is poised to strike on behalf of the most vulnerable of our global neighbors – those citizens who have been impoverished and exploited for most of modern times on the continent of Africa.

The nature of digital divide

What factors are to be taken into consideration when formulating a macro definition of ‘digital divide’? The scope of the term digital divide encompasses both technological and human factors. Digital divide refers to both lack of Internet access and how effectively available access is utilized and information is gleaned by consumers. Manuel Castells’ definition of digital divide includes “inequality of access to the Internet”; he sees access as “a requisite for overcoming inequality in a society which dominant functions and social groups are increasingly organized around the Internet”(Castells, 2002). Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has put forth that the freedom to communicate freely and transnationally must be acknowledged as a basic human right of global citizens and as important as food, shelter, and jobs (ITU, 1999). Closing the global digital gap will require changes to the structure of societies as well as adoption of innovative technology (Fuchs & Horak, 2008).

Social media scholar Christian Fuchs describes the nucleus of societal structure as consisting of three subsystems: 1) the economic system – concerned with property and material values 2) the political system – where power is distributed and decisions are collectively made; 3) the cultural system – where skills, meaning, and competencies are developed (Fuchs & Horak, 2008). These subsystem categories echo sociologist/philosopher Pierre Bourdieu’s view of society as structured around designations of economic, political, and cultural capital (Fuchs & Horak, 2008). Societies having higher levels of material wealth accompanied by more access to education are more likely to have the access to information technology that is critical to success in the emerging global information society and connected markets.

Closing the digital divide requires material access to hardware, software applications, and networks; at the same time, usage skills and competencies to operate hardware and software must be acquired via social learning channels or school systems. Government institutions and agencies must support citizens’ universal rights of access to information online: the knowledge distribution system. Benefits of open access must be of value to individuals and to society as a whole (Fuchs & Horak, 2008). The dilemma: even as wealth is key to access to modern technology, adoption of modern technologies by citizens of Ethiopia is key to alleviation of poverty.

Considering that social learning is the prevalent way of sharing and distributing knowledge of technology in less developed countries, the importance of social networking channels cannot be overstated (Liverpool-Tasie & Winter-Nelson, 2012). Even though ICT (information and communication technology) services are relatively inexpensive in Ethiopia, high tax rates on devices have made the price of ICT devices unaffordable for low income citizens. (Ethiopia’s device tax rates are higher than those of neighbor countries.) Wireless equipment is pivotal to technological advancement. According to data gathered by a major wireless phone service provider, access to emerging markets in the region is reliant on wireless devices more so than on computers (ICTET, 2010). 2009 statistics placed the number of wireless subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa at 39% of population; but the Ethiopian percentage lagged at a dismal 5% of population. Add to this bleak picture the prediction by marketers that wireless devices, not PCs, will provide the main points of access to Internet for consumers in new emerging markets (ICTET, 2010).

Channels of social learning and networking are a conduit for political upheaval and rebellion where citizens are repressed or over-surveilled. Oppressive governments typically seek to stifle citizen communication via social media platforms in order to deter groups from forming alliances to work for political reform.

                                         Political aspects of the digital divide problem

What are government and NGO organizations doing to enhance progress toward global knowledge society integration for Ethiopia and Africa as a whole? Has intervention by Western organizations yielded positive outcomes?  At the Okinawa Summit of 2000, G8 nations promoted a new impetus to ‘bridge the digital divide’ in Africa – sidestepping focus on issues of critical importance to Africa including general poverty and burdensome debt. The driving premise for this emphasis on bridging the divide is the theory/prediction that ‘knowledge economy’ will hold the brightest future promise for post-industrial societies (Alden, 2003).             Critics of the G8 initiative question why the digital divide is weighted as a top development issue. Supporters of the initiative see technological advancement in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere in general as the platform to ‘leapfrog forward’ into post-industrial knowledge society status (Alden, 2003).

Existing communication infrastructure in Africa is outdated, dilapidated, and mainly composed of wire cable used for land line services. African governmental telecom monopolies encumber efforts aimed at improvement of infrastructure. In spite of the political and structural quagmire, technophiles see the antiquated infrastructure as a boon to acceptance and creation of new information networks and tout WIFI via satellite connection as a way to virtually leap over problems inherent in old land line systems. Western political consensus generally supports this perspective (Alden, 2003).

Success of East Asian economies as a result of strong export-led economic growth has undermined some of the Northern political resolve to tackle Southern poverty by means of economic aid. The ‘trade not aid’ approach solution has gained popularity. An Aspen Institute report analyzing the effects of information access as a remedy to poverty recommended a combination of technological advancement and traditional economic aid methods as the best formula (Alden, 2003).

The Western technology boom of the late 1990’s helped solidify belief in the efficacy of a development agenda rooted in eliminating digital divide in Africa. But even as cellphone use in the African continent is growing rapidly, WFI access lags far behind. WIFI is a crucial element in order for the ‘leapfrog theory’ to be born out boosting Africa into 21st century multimedia competency (Alden, 2003).

Ambitious Western (i.e. World Bank) efforts to materialize online distance learning systems and eliminate the necessity for local teachers and school buildings have foundered, due in great part to lack of electricity. Insecure electrical services fraught with surges and failures damage hardware components. Computer maintenance is expensive. Slow download speeds are counterproductive in a virtual classroom setting (Alden, 2003).

Added to maintenance problems, the high degree of illiteracy in Ethiopia makes utilization of the Internet resources extremely challenging (Alden, 2003). This cultural deficit in terms of technology skills required to reap benefits of connectivity is an elephant-in-the-room that First World politicians often overlook when formulating grandiose ‘leapfrog’ schemes to fix Africa’s information society deficit.

What is happening locally where government funded telecenters have been set up in rural areas of Ethiopia and other African countries (Koma, 2014)? Are people using these facilities to utilize Internet opportunities? Researchers have found most users underutilize Internet access while taking advantage of telephone access, copiers, and fax machines (Alden, 2003).

The G8 Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society (MOFA, 2000) developed at the 2000 Okinawa Summit prescribed neo-classical methods to spur economic growth through technology in Africa – an approach blind to the specific conditions of less developed nations of the South (Alden, 2003). Highly indebted poor countries (HIPCs) have been considered by the World Bank, IMF, and G8 for debt reduction and/or forgiveness (IMF, 2015), but the relief is connected to structural adjustment requirements.

African countries cannot participate effectively in e-commerce proffered by the WTO, as the continent’s access technology does not measure up to technological standards essential to equitable trade. The Web itself is largely governed and in the hands of Northern developed nations. Internet markets are geared to Northern business modes conducted to a great extent in English language (Alden, 2003). ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) serves interests of the global North, while the South is underrepresented in protocol decisions, although ICANN has announced a ‘new approach to Africa’ in 2012 with the goal of increasing presence there (White, 2012). Failure of Northern organizations to recognize and give voice to the unique economic barriers present in Africa reflects the political divide between North and South that must be bridged in order for the digital gap to be remedied.

In the early 2000’s Ethiopia’s government had already made IT a priority. E-government systems were in place and being expanded to connect the capital to outlying government offices. The country was spending one tenth of Ethiopia’s GDP per year on IT. Optical fiber was installed where possible to replace old land wiring. The goal was to connect schools and government offices via Internet and strengthen communication between government branches. Improvements to telecommunications were accomplished as a joint venture between Western contractor Cisco Systems, South African Business Connexion, and the publicly owned government-controlled Ethiopian Telecom Corporation (Cross, 2005).

The outcome of this IT push ten years later is a heavily surveilled cellphone system in Ethiopia monitored by government agencies in order to spot possible political activists and dissenting citizens. This scenario highlights the risks of empowering repressive Third World governments with superior IT, while citizens remain technologically disenfranchised.

The plight of Ethiopian women in terms of equal access represents an under layer of the tiered system of digital deprivation. Housework responsibilities, cultural traditions, social norms, and general economic marginalization serve to confine and suppress women’s acquisition of technology skills (Taddese, 2010). Feminist literature abounds with studies expounding the exploitation of women in the South, as they are denied basic rights and exploited for labor purposes. Fear that education of women through knowledge society channels may cause a shift in dogmatic cultural norms may be a factor in the slow adoption of new technologies in male dominant societies. Access to knowledge society skills and resources via the Web will help Ethiopian women overcome the gender divide over time.

Possible solutions to the digital divide dilemma

Some scholars hold the view that the digital divide will continue to broaden and fester globally in LDCs such as Ethiopia. Fuchs proffers a more positive alternative future through six possible strategies based on various premises:

1) Wait and see if technology access becomes cheaper over time, as electricity, telephone,

television, and automobiles did after their initial introduction.

2) Get less developed countries entered into global markets and competing so as to  ‘leapfrog’  typical historical stages of progress toward development.

This is possible in part because wireless technology is free of copper wire cable infrastructure requirements.

3) Injections of foreign wealth to percolate increased prosperity for LDCs thereby                                                 opening avenues of equal access.

4) Transport old computer hardware plus open source software from Western                                             developed nations to LDCs. This is weak solution, as it carries the risk of creating electronic waste sites of slower out-of-date processors lacking expansion or upgrade options. This strategy also carries the risk of another form of technology       divide between LDCs and Western counties that access the global Internet and markets using fast state-of-the art technology.

5) Do less developed nations have critical need for advanced technology at all? –  According to this premise, there are more critical problems in undeveloped nations such as health, illiteracy, lack of clean water, and lack of electricity.

6) An integrated approach incorporating redistribution of wealth on a global scale, adequate public access to computers and Internet, and implementation of health  and education systems including digital literacy training (Fuchs & Horak, 2008).

                                      Innovations to help resolve the energy and hardware shortages

Recent technological innovations may offer solutions to the shortage of computer hardware and shortage of electricity to charge and run hardware in Ethiopia and other less developed countries.  Lack of electricity is a major problem deterring Ethiopia’s technological advancement. According to 2014 World Bank statistics, the percentage of Ethiopia’s population with access to electricity is a dire 23% (Worldbank.org, 2014). A 1000 megawatt geothermal plant is in the planning stages to be built in Ethiopia in the near future. Upon completion, it will be the largest geothermal operation in Africa and will provide enough power to serve approximately 2,000,000 residences in Ethiopia. The project is to be financed by private sector corporations in agreement with the Ethiopian government. President Obama has promoted a “Power Africa” initiative which is aimed at combining U.S. technology expertise with private industry interests and regulatory changes to increase energy availability to sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to these new possible sources of energy, Ethiopia has large reserves of natural gas that have not been tapped (Sauers, 2014).

One promising innovation for alleviating Ethiopia’s electricity deficit is a new product line introduced in 2015 by Tesla Motors: residential and business batteries. The residential version is labeled Powerwall Home Battery. Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk envisions the system as viable way to eventually bring electric power to those outside the grid in less developed regions (Woodyard, 2015).

Facebook has announced early in 2015 testing of a prototype solar-powered drone which can potentially provide Internet access to remote areas where Internet has not been available. The craft will have a wingspan close to that of a 737 jet plane and will run off solar panels mounted on the wings staying aloft for up to three months at time (Hurst, 2015). This project holds promise for helping Ethiopian citizens bypass bureaucracy and infrastructure failures to get Internet in rural off-the-grid areas in the foreseeable future – provided the government does not attempt to constrict and control this type of access as it has in the case of other communication channels.

A startup company in California has begun funding its new breakthrough tech innovation through Kickstarter crowd-funding online. The device called ‘Chip’ is a small computer with a 1-gigahertz processor, 512 megabytes of RAM, and 4 gigs of storage designed to retail for $9. The deck-of-cards size computer will have capability to run Chrome browser for Internet use; it will run the LibreOffice application to create documents and spreadsheets; it also supports game creation and play. Approximately 4.4 billion people globally have no access to Internet (Cava, 2015) Devices such as this cheap handheld processor may be the missing link that marginalized people of Africa and the global South have been waiting for. The first manufactured Chips will be shipped in fall 2015 to investors initially.

In 2013 Microsoft began testing a system using unused ‘white spaces’ in the TV broadcast spectrum to deliver broadband access to rural African areas. The system requires access to WIFI connected to white space stations (Kermeliotis, 2013). Since shortage of WIFI is a major block to technological advancement in rural Africa, a large scale version of the Microsoft system may be dependent on other technological breakthroughs yet to be initialized. Government stronghold on all areas of electronic communication in Ethiopia and other countries creates more hurdles in the way of implementation.

Conclusion: The information revolution

            What is the solution to global knowledge inequality? A combination of many approaches will be necessary to effectively open paths for Ethiopians and citizens of other less developed countries to further assert their rights as informed global citizens. In order to establish universal access to knowledge capital flowing in the global knowledge stream and to effectively establish truly (theoretically self-correcting) free markets, a higher consciousness must take hold in the global human psyche. World leaders and citizens of the global Internet must acknowledge the primitive barbaric nature of a world divided into information society ‘haves and have-nots’.

Perhaps the establishment of an equal-participation global information society will require much time and patience on the part of activists and advocates. History has shown that some repressive systems of segregation were only dissolved as power brokers ‘aged out’ of the political systems. Decades after the Emancipation Proclamation was put in place, African Americans were still waiting and working for reforms to take place in America to realize equality.

In the long run, actions to block the revolution of global equal access are futile and will disappear from future civilized societies as fear-mongering political leaders will age out of the global social systems. For those of us who seek more rapid change commensurate with the capabilities of the high speed electronic era, the possibilities of ‘leapfrog’ breakthroughs through never before dreamt of technologies may be the star to follow. Our collective imagination is the only limitation.

References

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Castells, M. (2002). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (p. 248). New York: Oxford University Press.

Cava, M. della. (2015). $9 computer killing it on Kickstarter. USA Today. New York. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/05/11/9-computer-killing-it-on-kickstarter/27129135/

Cross, M. (2005). Ethiopia’s digital dream | Technology | The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2005/aug/04/onlinesupplement

Easterly, W. (2009). Can the West Save Africa? Journal of Economic Literature, 47(2), 373–447. doi:10.1257/jel.47.2.373

Frank Webster. (2004). The Network Society. In The Information Society Reader (pp. 133–137). London: Routledge.

Fuchs, C., & Horak, E. (2008). Africa and the digital divide. Telematics and Informatics, 25(2), 99–116. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2006.06.004

Garnham, N. (2004). The Media and the Public Sphere. In The Information Sociiety REader (pp. 357–365). London: Routledge.

GPF. (2014). Poverty and Development in Africa. Retrieved from https://www.globalpolicy.org

Hurst, L. (2015). Facebook Tests Solar-Powered Internet Drones, Wider Than a Jumbo Jet. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://europe.newsweek.com/facebooks-jumbo-jet-sized-solar-powered-internet-drone-its-way-317345

ICTET. (2010). Wireless ICT Task Force: Helping Fuel ICT Growth in Ethiopia. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.ictet.org/downloads/Duty Waiver.pdf

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ITU. (1999). Telecom99- World leaders ponder the future. Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://www.itu.int/itunews/issue/1999/09/telec99.html

Kermeliotis, T. (2013). Microsoft beams Internet into Africa — using TV “white spaces” – CNN.com. Retrieved May 12, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/23/tech/innovation/microsoft-beams-internet-into-africa/

Koma, T. (2014). Becoming Part of the Global Village: Telecenters in Rural South Africa | Pro Journo. Pro Journo. Retrieved from http://projourno.org/2014/12/becoming-part-of-the-global-village-telecenters-in-rural-south-africa/

Liverpool-Tasie, L. S., & Winter-Nelson, A. (2012). Social Learning and Farm Technology in Ethiopia: Impacts by Technology, Network Type, and Pverty Status. Journal of Development Studies, 48(10). Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.fhsu.edu:2048/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=241155d1-d609-4c81-9904-b971258b9955%40sessionmgr4002&vid=1&hid=4210

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Essay 2014: What is Transnational Feminism?

What is Transnational Feminism?

Elizabeth Cox

                                                                                 The Puzzle

Transnational feminism is an ideological puzzle made up of uncounted pieces, all having similar background color, but each having unique lines, textures, and rhythms. The larger puzzle components are aligned by the application of feminist theory; others are matched by economic factors; still others are connected by political lines. Global feminists search for a platform where all may come together to assemble and present the totality of the puzzle: a picture which will speak the million words that tell our story.

Northern Hemisphere versus Southern Hemisphere perspective, First World affluence disconnected from Third World poverty, local compared to global environments – all are critical elements in the discourse of feminine praxis. In their collection Women’s Activism and Globalization Naples and Desai assembled essays focused on the everyday lives of women negatively impacted by globalization. These essays also speak of the many ways women fight structural adjustment, sweat shop conditions, and political marginalization through community and transnational activism.

In Global Woman scholars Ehrenreich and Hoschschild have shared stories told by women who are migrant workers coming to the North to seek a better life, while leaving their own families and children to be cared for by others. Affluent educated Western women finding the male professions finally more open to them must rely on nannies and maids from poorer regions to do their domestic and care work (Ehrenreich & Hochschild, 2003).

In her film Life and Debt Stephanie Black enlisted victims of neo-imperialism in Jamaica to speak for themselves about the alienation of citizens from domestic production and agriculture and the destruction of their culture caused by structural adjustment economic policies (Black, 2001). In Mortgaging Women’s Lives Sparr describes cultural desecration caused by structural adjustment policies in detail. These policies driven by neoliberalism directly benefit Western multi- national corporations, while subjugating women’s labor and proffering the  exploitive use of maquiladoras and sweat shops (Sparr, 1994). From all walks and via all media paths women come forward to speak and strive to be heard and seen.

                                           Theoretical Perspectives

In her iconic 1988 essay Under Western Eyes Chandra Mohanty posited that Western feminist perspectives dominated the theory and discourse surrounding feminist praxis (Mohanty, 1988). The arena of debate around terminology and viewpoint was opened as the feminist third-wave movement also formed. The third-wave criticized many ideas and actions of 1960’s and 70’s second-wave feminism which were seen as rooted in Western male dominance and neo-imperialism. Third-wave feminism heralded new theoretical and epistemological approaches to feminist ideology.

Dissonance between members or factions of a group can be productive and may yield greater knowledge and progress. The third-wave worked to make feminism more inclusive. The movement fostered four major theoretical innovations: 1) intersectionality, addressing the perspectives of ethnicity and women of color; 2) poststructuralist perspectives; 3) postcolonial view or ‘global feminism’; 4) and approaches sprouting from a new generation of feminists. The third-wave discourse spurred some scholars to re-embrace Marxist feminist perspective previously discounted as inadequate in feminist analysis (Mann & Huffman, 2005).

On the other hand, lack of group cohesion may be detrimental to achievement of group goals. A high degree of cohesiveness within a social group strongly enhances the group’s ability to maintain its standards and internal norms. The more cohesive the group, the greater the likelihood that the group will produce prescribed behavior in its members, both new and established, and the greater the likelihood that the group will achieve shared goals (Schachter, 1951). In the feminist vernacular, there exists no equivalent terminology of cohesion to match the indoctrinatory strength of ‘male bonding’ as a powerful generic ideological tool used in the patriarchal scheme. The term “Sisterhood of women” has been disparaged by critics as too generalized and nonspecific to be useful as a banner of solidarity for global feminist groups.

The unifying work of transnational feminist networks has advanced feminist political and economic goals. These networks unite feminists across national boundaries who share common concerns: violence against women, reproductive rights, feminist economic goals, and women’s human rights in all environments. At the same time, weakness in transnational feminist organizing and lack of adequate funding stifles revolutionary progress that might otherwise occur (Moghadam, 2005).

Marginalization of women is age-old. In ancient times, women were considered to be property in many regions of the world. Men were valued more highly than women in biblical scriptural accounts (Rollston, 2012). Globalization has given new leverage and destructive power to oppressive practices which were localized in the past. Women who have traditionally worked in local agricultures throughout the world have been disempowered and politically silenced as large corporate interests have engulfed farms and other local means of production.  IMF, WTO, and World Bank policies are most harmful to women as a gender.

Sociological theories offer insight into the relationship between women and male-dominated globalization. Exchange theory examines how women participate in the unbalanced exchange that occurs when women are paid less for the same labor.  Standpoint theory explains how individuals see reality and truth from the perspectives of their particular position or roles. Dorothy Smith formulated much of her standpoint theory as she observed the dichotomy of her roles as ‘wife-mother-housekeeper’ contrasted with her role of university scholar and graduate student. Role strain theory explains the fatigue women feel as they work away from home for low wages while also being cast to perform domestic labor and caregiving at home for free. Intersectionality theory offers insight and tools to bridge philosophical gaps between global feminists.

                                                                               Conclusion

Unity and solidarity are crucial organizational components in order for transnational feminism to achieve the goal of equality and for all. The ancient Greek tactic for successful opposition to a more powerful opposing force was use of the phalanx formation. As a theoretical metaphor, this tactic is useful. The Greek soldiers formed a unified, coordinated group which marched in unison. The effect was to magnify and reinforce effectiveness of a smaller number of troops. There is safety in numbers; but there is also enhanced power to create change. The task for leadership, in terms of contemporary social change leadership theory, is to create change for the better – even though change naturally evokes fear in those who experience it (Crawford C.B , Brungardt, Curtis L., and Maughan, 2005). Feminists must overcome fear of change in order to move forward and claim our rightful positions locally and globally.

What is transnational feminism? It is freedom for women enslaved in Mali; it is hope for the Maquiladora workers in Mexico; it is justice for our battered mothers and healing for our violated sisters; and it is a better future for our daughters.

2014 Essay – Globalization: Systemic Exploitation of Women

Elizabeth Cox

Kennesaw State University

Globalization as a Gendered Practice

Globalization is a movement fueled by transnational capitalist interests which transcends and, to a great extent, neutralizes local national efforts to secure equal rights for women. Globalization reinforces an unwritten global constitution which perpetuates the power of neo-imperialist profiteering via cheap labor. This macro system of subjugation of women validates the grim thesis that women are the slaves of the human race.

Before the development of capitalism as a political and economic system, feudal societies oppressed women and subordinated them to male dominance through various methods of intimidation and violence. Capitalism has simply reconfigured the apparatus of dominance to fit the goal of maintaining a low wage labor base for employers. An auxiliary goal of this mechanism is to maintain a low paid or unpaid labor force to perform housework (Rubin, 2009).

The World Bank and IMF, while having good intentions at the time of their creation, have become instruments of perpetual indebtedness pressuring individual less developed countries into structural adjustment. Externally imposed political and economic adjustments open the door for First World corporate enterprises to establish and profit from sweatshop operations ‘manned’ for the most part by women (Sparr, 1994).

Private Oversight of Labor Practices

Lack of a global regulatory function to protect workers in LDC factories has given rise to private certification firms. Currently, a proliferation of newly established “transnational private regulation” boards serve to regulate labor practices of corporations in Third World countries. The scope of private regulation includes responsibility for insuring human rights in the workplace, environmental safety, and other accountability (Bartley, 2007).

Private regulatory agencies are operating in place of missing local laws and regulations in LDC locales. Private regulation practices further entrench the neo-imperialist infiltration of less developed nations. The market-based regulatory approach mirrors the growing political power of transnational neo-liberal globalization. (Bartley, 2007).

The World Bank has given approval and support to this type of “soft law”. This action enhances the possibility of ‘institutionalization’ of private regulatory practices. These regulatory agencies which were sparse a little more than a decade ago are now generating reams of written policy material, educational certifications, consultant designations, and other doctrine – to the point of resembling a global government in the process of formation (Bartley, 2007). The evolution of private self-interested regulation on a global scale presents the dire prospect of yet another force which may morph into a body that consciously or unconsciously perpetuates sweatshop exploitation of women.

Private labor regulation has sprung in part from corporate public relations efforts to safeguard their reputations and convince consumers that responsible practices are enforced (Bartley, 2007). In recent years major Western brands have been exposed in the media as willing participants in sweatshop production of consumer goods. Citizen watchdog groups have formed with the goal of increasing public awareness of the under belly of offshore manufacturing practices which are hidden from consumers. Where women are the main constituents of sweat shops and other factories in Free Trade Zones, they are most vulnerable to corruption of labor standards. In the reliance on transnational private regulation to protect workers, it may be a case of ‘the fox protecting the hen house’.

Marxist Theory and Global Exploitation of Women

Karl Marx’s theories explain oppression of women in terms of capitalist systems and processes. Most of the women of the world must work and are subject to labor markets and bureaucracy that is stratified to fit the capitalist profit goals. The capitalist corporate grip on world markets has been growing rapidly since the demise of the soviet socialist bloc in the late twentieth century (Geminez, 2005).

Marx posited that the universal state of inequality between men and women is enmeshed in the link between capitalist ideology and exploitation of the ‘propertyless’ population. Both women and men are caught in the web of the social formation where they are born and develop into adults. Marx’s analytical methodology is useful in understanding the complexity of gender inequality. His analysis focused on the context of oppression, in terms of conditions of production and reproduction that support the gender gap (Geminez, 2005).

The goal of the capitalist system is accumulation of wealth. Societal adherence
to this goal interferes with the innate human drive to satisfy basic (non-gender specific) needs. In a capitalist society, because the welfare of the family depends on economic necessities, poor men and women may be thrown into competition for scarce resources. When economic times are hard, this dynamic is exacerbated resulting in sex-segregated labor pools and an increase in gender-specific economic handicaps for women. The global preponderance of women in poverty conditions has been termed “feminization of poverty” (Geminez, 2005).

Theoretically, global gender inequality may be seen as an inevitable component of capitalist social structure based on ‘ghettoization’ of propertyless people. Women are allocated domestic work, the labor of reproduction and childcare, as well as labor outside the home at sub-standard rates of remuneration (Geminez, 2005). As globalization of the capitalist economy increases, women workers will become more economically insecure and vulnerable to lower and lower wages.

First World Feminist Perspective

Feminists of the First World enjoy confirmation of their successful efforts to advance the cause of gender equality in educational, economic, and legislative terms; but at the same time, they are feeding and supporting the global jaws of usury and marginalization of women. By employing nannies and maids who migrate from less-developed Southern Hemisphere nations, First World feminists contribute to the care deficit in less developed countries. As First World care work is delegated to migrant women, the families these women leave behind in LDCs experience the negative effects of their absence (Ehrenreich & Hochschild, 2003).

The practice of importing care workers is part of the sociological footing of First World women’s liberation structure – an ideological high-rise from which Western feminists view the distant landscape of global feminism. This elite perspective insulates feminists of developed countries from the struggles experienced by their Third World sisters.

It is no accident that feminists of affluent nations are allowed a measured degree of success in their role as equal partners to men in their societies. They have become ‘Uncle Toms’ in terms of women’s global struggle for equality, acting as people who participate in the oppression of their own gender group. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s statement, “that home and mother must not figure as sanctuaries from the world but as imperative models for its reconstitution” holds true in the sense of global feminist issues, just as it did in the face of historic Black slavery. Exploitation of women is also reinforced by institutionalized religion, just as Black slavery was justified through distortion of religious doctrine by those who benefitted from the practice of slavery (New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1986).

 Conclusion: Possible Solutions to the Global Feminist Dilemma

Part of the solution to disorganization within the global feminist movement may lie in the creation of a written constitution – a unifying document ratified by women globally via online signatures which defines and outlines the inalienable universal rights of women. The advent of the Internet and the social media phenomenon make the goal of creating a universal women’s constitution and plan of action logistically attainable. The interlocking economic, political, religious, and psychological systems which function to oppose efforts to establish equality for women must be identified and quantified. Specific methods and measures for sanction and economic boycott against violators should be spelled out.

There are many channels for activism available via technology: Citizen journalism offers a wide spectrum of possible avenues to inform and educate women about marginalization based on gender. An organized network of citizen journalist bloggers assigned to report on the plight of women in specific world regions could function in the way the historic Radio Free Europe worked to disseminate information and news pertinent to the cause of freedom.  International feminist oversight teams should be formed to act as monitors assigned to assess action or lack of action by transnational private regulatory agencies. In this way, the ‘fox’ would be watched by hens with teeth.

An effort to educate First World feminists about the long term negative effects of the Third World care deficit created by importation of caregivers could be a step toward exploring ways to create mutually beneficial lifestyle solutions. When First World women wake up from their false sense of freedom and embrace the cause of universal women’s rights, the economic ghetto walls that entrap women globally will begin to crumble.

References

Bartley, T. (2007). Institutional Emergence in an Era of Globalization: The Rise of Transnational Private Regulation of Labor and Environmental Conditions. American Journal of Sociology, 113(2), 297–351. doi:10.1086/518871

Ehrenreich, B., & Hochschild, A. R. (2003). Global Woman: Nannies. Maids, and Sex workers in the New Economy – Introduction (pp. 1–13). New York: Metropolitan.

Geminez, M. (2005). Capitalism and the Oppression of Women: Marx Revisited. Science and Society, 11–32.

New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (1986) (Vol. 28, p. 200). Cambridge University Press.

Rubin, G. (2009). The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex. In Feminist Anthropology: A Reader (p. 544). John Wiley & Sons.

Sparr, P. (1994). Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment (p. 214). Palgrave Macmillan.

Research Paper 2014: A Theoretical Explanation of Women’s Economic Insecurity in the U.S.

A Theoretical Explanation of Women’s Economic Insecurity in the U.S.

Elizabeth Cox

Kennesaw State University

The United States is a nation of prosperity from a macro perspective, generating a GDP which exceeds that of over two hundred other nations on earth and second only to the European Union (Nationmaster 2014). Commonly called the ‘land of opportunity’, the U.S. presents a global public image of an egalitarian economic system blind to race, gender, and ethnic subcategories of its citizenry in the pursuit of material security. Statistical data indicate otherwise.

U.S. women are earning less for their work than men performing the same or similar production. It is estimated that in 2013 women were paid 78 percent of what men were paid for the same or similar work. Even though the male/female gender earnings ratio is slowly improving, the gap is still significant and has improved very little in the last decade (Hill 2014) . Even as U.S. women are currently earning college degrees and graduate degrees in greater numbers than men, they are not holding positions of leadership and expert power representative of their proportion of the population and overall educational achievements (NCES 2012). The statistics describing poverty among U.S. women reveal a bleak oppressed quality of life. This data is, to a great extent, divorced from the consciousness of our nation’s affluent women and men. The dark story of women in poverty is relegated to the annals of sociological research, random media articles, and government statistical reports. “Les Miserables” are ghettoized both geographically and politically.

Here is a snapshot of the statistical data describing women’s economic insecurity in the United States:  13.5 % of white women, 27.5% of black women, and 27.4% of Hispanic women in the U.S.  lived below the poverty line in 2009 (Gray 2012). According to the Shriver Report, of the more than 100 million people living near or in poverty, about 70% are women and children. Almost two-thirds of the U.S. minimum-wage workers are women (Shriver 2014).      A Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data has determined that mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners in 40% of all U.S. households with minor children – up from 11% in 1960 (Wang, Parker, and Taylor 2013).

In this paper I endeavor to explain the economic insecurity of U.S. women through the application of three sociological theoretical perspectives: identity theory, exchange theory, and standpoint theory. Much contemporary sociological theory is rooted in the core theories of a few white men who theorized, for the most part, from a male perspective. Nevertheless, it is valuable to view sociological patterns which negatively affect women through the lens of contemporary theories that attempt to explain behavior that is sexist and detrimental to women’s well-belling on the whole.

Identity theory is rooted in the view that there is a reciprocal relationship between society and the individuals that make up the societal whole. Each of the components acts as creator and, in turn, is created by the relationship. Stryker viewed this interactional relationship as a bridge between self and societal structure. He posited that various roles which an individual occupies are internalized and assimilated to form the individual self in all its complexity. Stryker simplistically theorized the anatomy of self utilizing three component concepts: identity, identity salience, and commitment (Appelrouth and Edles 2008).

Identity theory illuminates the relationship between women as a gender group and the patriarchal societal structure which characterizes U.S. culture. Our male-dominated economic and political framework casts those of female gender in a subordinate economic role. The salient or primary role of women remains embedded and enmeshed in the classical myth of female fulfillment through childbearing, domestic cohesion, and performance of subordinate labor.

Collective identity, such as the collective identity assigned to U.S. women as a group in this paper, is defined by Polletta and Jasper as: “an individual’s cognitive, moral, and emotional connection with a broader community, category, practice, or institution”. The scholars further define the collective identity as separate from individual identity; although it may be incorporated into an individual’s identity. A sense of shared relationship associated with collective identity may be imaginary or experienced as reality (Polletta and Jasper 2001).

Political progress revolving around issues of women’s rights in recent decades has yielded more autonomy and wider educational and career choices. Second-wave feminism which emerged in the 1960’s and 70’s affected the nature of roles assimilated and internalized by women and spurred societal change. Nevertheless, the income gap between men and women and the proliferation of U.S. women in poverty persists unfettered.

U.S. culture perpetuates the salient role of women as objects of man’s dominance. This is evidenced, in part, by the prevalence in contemporary Western media of images propagating female desirability based on stereotypes of large-breasted, submissive, often adolescent-type female bodies. Publications catering to and directed toward women support this false self-consciousness as actively as those directed toward male audiences. This dynamic supports the postulated reciprocal relationship between individual women and women as a gender group in terms of identity theory.

The ‘hierarchy of desirability’ stratified in common media images depicting objectified women reflects and fertilizes biased economic relations between male-dominated institutions and women. The classical portrayal of women as reproducers, domesticators, and subjugated labor is in conflict with recently adopted cultural norms of female empowerment supported by contemporary feminist ideology.

Stryker and Macke’s theoretical examination of the effects of status inconsistency and role conflict sheds light on the current state of confusion in the feminist psyche of developed Westerns societies. While enjoying many newly acquired trappings of gender equality, women are still materially insecure and suffer bias on several levels. Women may negotiate role conflict between work at home and work outside the home by limiting commitment to one of these roles or by neglecting the requirements of one or the other (Stryker and Macke 1978). This conflict further aggravates women’s conflicted self-appraisal and undermines capacity to reach full economic, educational, and emotional potential.

Exchange theory postulates that social interactions and behavior are conducted via the rational calculation of costs and rewards in an economic-type evaluation of relationships. We decide whether to participate in a relationship or to avoid or end participation based on whether or not the rewards outweigh the costs. Unconscious drives and traditions are not motives in the process of social interaction (Appelrouth and Edles 2008).

In the context of First World affluence and technological superiority, the U.S. does not suffer a lack of resources. In this ‘land of plenty’ economically insecure women work hard to obtain basic essential needs and undergo what Skinner referred to as operant conditioning, as they struggle to make ends meet (Skinner 1948). The more women are needy as a group, the more they will work for less. By supplying limited reward for their labor outside the home and no remuneration for domestic labor in the home, subordinate behavior is reinforced and perpetuated.

If women were to receive fair and equitable reward for their labor, they would no longer value the exchange relationship that is biased and inequitable. U.S. women’s financial insecurity reflects a dynamic Homans described where, although reward is unsatisfactory to those in need, inadequacy of the reward has not reached a critical point where they will give up, cease participation, and seek a new direction for exchange. Homans defined social exchange interaction in terms of  the economic formula: Profit= Reward – Cost (Homans 1958).

The unbalanced exchange represents a practical equilibrium. Homans posited that practical equilibrium is the appearance of balance. He observed that real life groups, “often appear to be in practical equilibrium.” He further clarified that this apparent equilibrium may not be actual homeostasis; but we may observe an exchange that mimics equilibrium. If inequity is resolved, no longer supporting the social exchange between patriarchal agency and subordinate female labor, both parties to the prior practical equilibrium will experience disorientation and seek new exchange circumstances. Innate fear of chaotic change helps bind participants in an inequitable exchange. The change process itself is a barrier to transformation (Crawford, Brungardt, and Maughhan 2005).

Schachter observed that a high degree of cohesiveness within a social group strongly enhances the group’s ability to maintain its standards and internal norms (Schachter 1951). The more cohesive the group, the greater the likelihood that the group will produce prescribed behavior in its members, both new and established. ‘Male bonding’ is a cohesive activity highly promoted and valued in U.S. culture. Young men are indoctrinated into the group psychology of male bonding from an early age. Popular male-dominated sports activities and spectatorship reinforce the socially accepted premise that males must internalize standards of ‘maleness’. Psychological and social sanctions are exercised against those males who do not adhere to group standards.

In contrast, women have not been encouraged to internalize the discourse of bonding. Instead, women are manipulated by social norms that encourage competition within their gender group. Young women are socialized to compete for male attention and ascribed male status by proxy. Even within the scholarly feminist discourse, universal terms inferring sisterhood and oneness are discouraged, as some scholars reject a one-size-fits all feminist approach. Renowned U.S. scholar Chandra Mohanty criticizes “the construction of the (implicitly consensual) priority of issues around which apparently all women are expected to organize”(Mohanty 1988). A discourse criticizing the homogeneity of ‘male bonding’ is absent from the dialogue of males who shore up the power structure of U.S. patriarchy. The contrast between male gender group cohesiveness and splintered female gender group cohesiveness cements the foundation of unbalanced exchange in economic, political, and social transactions.

Blau explored the dynamics of power through application of exchange theory. He put forth that “Exchange processes give rise to differentiation in power.” Further, Blau explained that if one person or group controls goods or services that are desired or needed by another, the controller then achieves power by requiring compliance in exchange for satisfying needs (Blau 1964). Traditionally, U.S. banking institutions, major corporations, and educational institutions were predominately controlled by men. Only in recent decades have women made inroads into positions of power in these institutions. After achieving the hard-won right to vote in 1920 via the 19th Amendment, women still remained economically disenfranchised compared to men for the most of the 20th century. This pattern evokes the ‘Catch 22’ dilemma: in order to achieve economic success, individuals or groups much generally first possess economic knowledge, resources, and/or social connections. With few economic assets to bring to the exchange table, women have often instinctively resorted to trading physical affection or domestic labor in the barter for material security. If higher education is the key to economic security for women, that key is only offered to a select few who have had the benefit of strong educational foundation, college funding, and intellectual muscle required to reach for that brass ring.

Economic marginalization is most crippling and concentrated among the ghettoized population of poor women in the U.S.  The combination of poverty and high rates of domestic violence takes an enormously toll in terms of fatigue which represents a cost factor in the social exchange equation. Minimum wage jobs fail to support costs of safe housing and rising food prices, especially for single mothers who must also find affordable child care.

Exchange theorists see inequities of power as the catalyst percolating societal change (Blau 1964). Women experience submission to the power of others as an unsatisfactory and debilitating state. The present unrest spurring demand for feminist change both in the U.S. and globally stems from women’s intuitive sense of getting a ‘raw deal’ in the quality of life market.

Feminist perspectives offer the most focused area of theoretical analysis of the multifaceted marginalization of women, especially in light of major contributions to the theoretical realm made by women scholars in contrast to classical male-dominated sociological theories. It is interesting to note that discrimination against female gender dates back to biblical times, when men were valued more highly than women. In ancient times women were commonly considered to be property (Rollston 2012) . The struggle for equality has spanned the centuries achieving little progress until modern times. First wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th century focused on women’s suffrage and successfully promoted women’s right to vote. Second wave feminism beginning in the 1960’s supported scholarly feminist discourse and worked for social and legal equality. Activists worked to change the course of age-old sexist history by closing the economic, social and psychological gaps between men and women. U.S. feminist activists such as Friedan, Steinem, and Greer helped promulgate feminist praxis. Women’s studies courses began to sprout on U.S. campuses during this phase. Third-wave feminism began in the 1990’s and continues until present day.  This phase of the movement has fostered discussion and criticism of the failings of the second phase to encompass all strata and diversity of feminism, while endeavoring to address transnational feminist issues in light of globalization of markets and structural adjustment policies. The third-wave finds the cause of women’s social equity much advanced but much mired in academic debate and prevalent economic marginalization.

Standpoint theory postulates that one’s perspective and knowledge of the world is contingent upon one’s social subject position. As a developer of standpoint theory, feminist scholar Dorothy Smith experienced social dichotomy in her own life when she labored as a wife and mother, while at the same time pursuing her doctoral degree at a university. Her theoretical orientation is multi-dimensional, incorporating neo-Marxism, phenomenological concepts, and poststructuralist theory into her work. Her standpoint theory perspective cites three main principles:1) No individual has absolute objective knowledge of the world; 2) No two individuals have the same view or standpoint; 3) One should not consider one’s standpoint to be complete or objective but should be aware of its limitations (Appelrouth and Edles 2008).

Smith’s standpoint theory grew from her experience as a sociology graduate student while married and caring for her children. She recognized that sociology’s first theorists were mostly men viewing and analyzing social interactions from a male standpoint which ignored the female perspective. She examined the differences in points of reference and conceptual framing used by men in contrast to those used by women. As Smith observed that privileged white men dominated social norms and standards, she realized the correlation between this unbalanced social dynamic and Marxist theory. Marx described how economic and political social inequities create oppression and alienation. Marxist conflict theory views social structure as a relationship between dominant classes and oppressed classes. Although Marx neglected to expound on women’s struggle for equality, his theories have value in explaining women’s oppression and economic insecurity in the context of the capitalist system (Appelrouth and Edles 2008).

Smith’s views have echoed Marx’s as she posited that women who must constantly adapt to a dominant male world view in order to be accepted suffer from alienation from their true selves. She has pointed to a “male subtext” behind the curtain of the seemingly neutral texts of the ruling apparatus. This subtext permeates census records, employer files, medical, and other institutional records. Her institutional ethnological approach focuses on how institutional directives interface with everyday life experiences (Smith 2005).

The everyday activities of women are tainted by relations of ruling as capitalism has spread and gained momentum as an economic way of life. Women have been increasingly excluded from economic discourse as men became able to direct economic and social evolution from a distance via printed text, technological advances, and exclusive meetings and conferences. Where before women were ruled by people they knew directly, they subsequently became ruled by distant others in government, corporate, and scientific positions, mainly dominated by men. As local enterprises have been absorbed by large corporate interests, women’s voices in community economies have been systematically silenced in America as well as abroad. Capitalism has utilized the relations of ruling to block substantive economic progress for women in small businesses and farming enterprises; and at the same time, capitalism has driven women’s wages further into the red (Smith 2005).

U.S. Women have effectively advanced the cause of public education and worked diligently to establish a public education system which is designed to be egalitarian and to offer educational opportunity to all economic strata. Nevertheless, women have remained in the shadows of university hierarchy and hegemonic capitalist enterprise. They have remained marginalized in terms of ruling relations and, as Smith observed “playing the subordinate roles, lacking agency, producing their work for men’s appropriation (Smith 2005).

Although Hill Collins has rejected the materialist Marxist perspective in her standpoint approach to analysis of oppression of Black women, she has put forth that groups share a common consciousness in terms of their relations to institutionalized power and group-based experience. She has utilized standpoint of the group as a focus in analyzing relations to preexisting hierarchal power structures in society (Appelrouth and Edles 2008).

Black women in America are particularly economically burdened by the intersectionality of discrimination based on gender, race, and poverty. The gender pay gap affects all women but is more oppressive in combination with other factors of marginalization levied against Black women. The gender pay gap in the U.S. has been studied from many perspectives. When analyzed from a measured statistical approach, the gap has been seen as composed of two factors:

1) the result of differences in men’s and women’s experience and skills and 2) “other” unexplained reasons- which may be due to discrimination based on gender. Discrimination has also been analyzed from a legal approach by looking at court cases against discriminatory employment practices which were common a few years ago but have declined in number because of effective litigation. Based on the court case numbers, scholars see discrimination as reduced but still very much in place (Blau and Kahn 2000). Even though advanced education improves income for all, Hispanic and Black women are often paid less than white counterparts with the same educational credentials. This gap points to racial and ethnic discrimination as a factor in addition to gender discrimination (Hill 2014).

Feminist standpoint theory has been criticized as incompatible with scientific method and objectivity. In response, social scientists who see the value of standpoint theory argue that introduction of factors of gender related to economic and political experience of oppression does not taint or bias knowledge. The incorporation of standpoint experience into sociological discourse my actually result in better quality of knowledge (Crasnow 2008). Standpoint theory has also been criticized for excluding other types of inequity that intertwine with women’s oppression. However, the standpoint theory concept has served a valid purpose in consolidating political opposition against masculinist oppression of women. The theory has given women a common banner to carry in the ideological march toward equality.

In summary: Economic insecurity of U.S. women is systemic and inherent in patriarchal cultural practices widely accepted as social norm. Those who benefit from unbalanced exchange relationships between dominant male and subordinate female groups carefully hold and protect power through group cohesion. Women participate in biased power relations by assuming female identity roles promoted in male-dominated media and fiction. Behavior and fashion which reinforce objectified ideals of female beauty serve to prime women for competition with other women in the pursuit of proxy male power. Role conflict causes stress and fatigue for many U.S. women, as they attempt to fulfill domestic labor demands of the wife-mother-housekeeper role, while maintaining a valued desirable beauty image and performing work outside the home for unequal pay. The unsatisfactory exchange relationship has been exasperated by capitalistic economic globalization and resulting local disenfranchisement of women.

Identity theory, exchange theory, and feminist standpoint theory serve to help explain economic insecurity of women within the sociological framework. There is much discourse surrounding the causes and remedies of marginalization based on gender. Pursuit of ideological altruism and scientific truth has fueled decades of scholarly theoretical debate resulting in advancement as well as impediment to progress in improving women’s quality of life. Setting aside the conflicts surrounding epistemology in feminist scholarship, the theories applied in this paper have intrinsic value as they are contained in the well of liquid theoretical perspectives where sociological researchers and students come to take in ideological sustenance and refresh their energies – so they may continue the journey toward women’s enlightenment and group-actualization.

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