The Rise of the Selfish Woman

diane 11When the next generation of Marxist social historians (think Hobsbawm and Milliband pere) sit down to reminisce romantically about Western society in the early 21st Century (likely just before a scimitar slices their naive but utterly undeserving throats), it seems possible they will comment upon the remarkable rise of the singularly selfish woman.

For millennia, almost all women had giving, unselfish roles thrust upon them.  And they took these up with alacrity, despite great personal tolls.  Child rearing (unmitigated by modern contraception) from an early age, and home making (when a home had to be made and kept by hard labour), consumed the vast majority of women’s time.  Many died young (mostly of the complications of childbirth or infectious disease), so post-menopausal grandmothers were both rare and highly revered.  It is only with the emergence of sanitation and modern obstetrics in the 20th Century that the average woman has come to live longer than the average man.

In the meantime, women have become “liberated” — allowed to work outside the home, to own property, to vote, to pursue secondary and then higher education, and to choose with whom and how often they have children.  In non-Western societies, of course, some or all of these achievements may still be pipe dreams. The result, quite understandably, is that Western women have become more selfish — selfish in the way that men have always been.

Adam Smith pointed out the great advantage of free-enterprise capitalism, that it enabled the selfish desires of individuals (to acquire property and wealth) to be channeled (via labour, collaboration and investment) into the betterment of living conditions for all.  (Note that the “trickle down” theory of capitalist benefit to the lower classes, so often ridiculed by the Left, was not part of Smith’s tenets.  Instead, he realised that free trade, division of labour and especially competition enabled new markets and modes of employment to open up, and prices of goods to come down, so that the working classes could afford better lives.)

However, Smith may not have realised, in the male-dominated public society of his day, what implications the rise of the selfish woman might have for the economic model he championed. Nevertheless, that capitalist economic model helped bring us the rapid rise in living standards and life expectancy that most of the world — with exceptions in Africa and Asia — enjoys today. And, despite Hobsbawm and Milliband’s longings, communist alternatives have usually failed to survive the passing of individual iconic leaders, with the exception of China, Vietnam and North Korea.

So, when and why did women become more selfish? And how is this now impacting our society — and its future development — in major ways?

Consider first the very clear example of what happened to the nursing profession.  O tempora, o mores!  The world has had the benefit of caring nurses for eons, often as part of religious orders, or informally at local level.  (Driving through a village in central Java once, I noted a particularly large and well-decorated house, and was told that was where the local midwife lived, as she was the prized professional no village family could do without.)

Modern Western nursing developed as a skilled profession only in the last 150 years, thanks in part to Florence Nightingale’s awful experiences nursing in the Crimea.  That skilled profession changed the world.  (Up until the 1920s, it is said it was safer when ill NOT to be in a hospital than to be admitted to one.) Within fifty years, nursing was seen as a successful, highly suitable career for young women from a wide range of backgrounds. The profession emphasized — in contrast to the world of business — non-capitalist and decidedly-Christian virtues: Service, unselfish devotion to the needs of others, and disregard for monetary reward.

Older readers will recall just how common it was for so many young women to leave school in their teens to “go nursing”. (Watch Call the Midwife for a rather biased reminiscence of how this had evolved in 1950s London.)  Then the young nurses lived in strictly-supervised nurses’ homes, with full board provided, and worked round the clock in the hospital next door, for low wages with little prospect of promotion.  If you ask many an older nurse, they had a lot of fun and satisfaction in living and working this way, not to mention their ability to delay choice of a mate, allowing them a little more choice for themselves.  The general idea was that most nurses would marry soon, and leave nursing, to make a home and rear children, and be provided for materially by husbands (often delighted they had found a loving, unselfish and skilled partner.

By the 1970s, in many Western countries, there was first outrage at and then legislative action to improve the very low wages that nurses earned (although the housing and catering benefits added something).  At the same time, fledgling degree courses in nursing opened up, and graduate nurses were encouraged to stay in nursing after marriage and to follow their interests via sub-specialisation — involving further study, less out-of-hours work, more autonomy, and better wages.  (The Greiner government in NSW removed some of these benefits for specialised nurses in the late 80s – much to the chagrin of those who took these roles or worked alongside them.

Since then, to become a registered nurse one must finish high school and undertake several years of tertiary studies in nursing.  Arguably, those years at university are just the time when, physically and emotionally, young women are most capable of dealing with the arduous and draining, 24/7 roller coaster ride that busy acute nursing can be.  (I say “young women”  because – despite various attempts by social engineers to change this – over 90% of nurses are and seem likely to remain women.  There are some skilled and devoted male nurses.  But perhaps it is most men’s innate selfishness that stops most from ever contemplating a nursing career.

Today, in many Western countries there is a worsening shortage of nurses, which doesn’t bode well for any of us, as we age and become more likely to need nursing care.  Almost half of recent nurses employed by the UK’s National Health Service are new immigrants, already trained in nursing overseas, and often in countries where notions of female devotion to unselfish service remain popular, albeit decreasing.  Many Western, university-trained nurses drop out or switch to a related (but less 24/7 or emotionally draining) field in health sciences. Some of the best doctors I have met are ex-nurses, who understand all sides of healthcare priorities.  But the worrying result is that our ageing society, with many more of us living with some sort of disability that requires skilled nursing help, is running out of its most vital resource – devoted young nurses.

In short, because women have (correctly, according to our society) become more selfish, we may see a decline in our society’s ability to care for basic, unchanging, often unpleasant and sometimes heart-wrenching needs of the sick and aged, even with all the technological advances that restore function and help keep them alive longer.  And yet, what we have now is no doubt a more “equal” society between the sexes.

What has happened to nursing is just the tip of the iceberg however.  The pendulum of gender-based achievement has swung a long way, and seems unlikely ever to swing back (short of the men with the scimitars taking over). As young Western women’s options and aspirations have changed, so has the brave new (and more selfish) society they are creating.  Today’s average woman does better at high school, is more likely to go to and to graduate from uni, is more able to gain stable employment, is more likely to gain early promotion, and in some areas (e.g. medicine) is coming to dominate professions that 150 years ago were off limits to the “fairer” sex.

The flip side of this fast female advancement is that more men drop out of high school, fail to gain tertiary qualifications, have poor or unstable employment records – and are much more likely to be involved in risky behaviours (speeding, alcohol and drug abuse, gangs, criminal activities and suicide).  Of course, those failures are not primarily women’s fault (although there is an argument that today’s mothers can/do devote less time to bringing up their boys to succeed, and thus more boys end up in low and risky avenues of life.)  Yet, today’s women pay a price if they are unable to find a partner who can equal or complement them, or even stay the course.

Is this all really a problem?  And, if so, what can society do about it (short of the scimitar)?

Well, the rise of the selfish-if-successful woman has implications for how we fundamentally treat each other.  No longer is the capitalist, win-lose, business model that men created balanced to some degree by a caring, nurturing, pick-up-the-loser model that women mostly created.   Oh, sure, politicians of all persuasions will say they are providing better aged pensions, better hospitals, better unemployment benefits, better social housing.  But the sad truth may be – as women increasingly adopt a selfish male disregard for the less-well-off – that governments can’t keep up with the goals they have foolishly and deceptively set (Consider the USA’s 20 trillion dollar debt, for example, largely on the back of their social welfare budgets).  At the same time, we decrease our charitable giving and works, and we don’t take up careers that look after the needs of the aged, ill or homeless.

In short, the rise of the selfish woman may be sowing the seeds of destruction of our so-called compassionate society.  And yet, it is far too late (and probably not a reasonable or equitable proposition) to try to put the I-Dream-Of genie back in the bottle.  The inability of Western society to persuade men to take up nursing roles – as these roles became less sought after by women – suggests that there is no ready way to “tweak” gender roles to re-address and hence re-balance the situation.   (Sure, there are plenty more stay-at-home-dads these days.  But statistics show that working women in these households continue to carry a much heavier share of child rearing and household chores. And there is evidence that the full-time-working-woman/house-husband relationship is less sustainable longterm, and more likely to end in separation.)

However, there may be some ways forward that neither destroy the arguably great advances of women’s liberation, nor result in more and more women just being as selfish as the menfolk they come to resent and avoid.  First, perhaps we need to re-think where our teenagers are deployed – for their own and society’s sake.  The idea that the vast majority of 15 to 18 year old male or females should be in classrooms 30 hours a week is a only recent one – and (if you ask most teenagers) probably not a favoured idea by those in the know.  (It has suited governments from the 1970s onwards that youth unemployment has been kept falsely low by requiring more and more participation in education for longer and longer.) Instead, it may be that – after four years of high school – a majority of young people would gain benefit (and provide enormous service to society) if released from school.

Once again, we could have many young women joining nursing (and other caring careers) — and many young men employed in construction, transport and resources industries — as we did back in the baby-boom years of the 1960s.  Some would argue that “these jobs just don’t exist anymore”.  But, in many cases, we have taken away the workforce (think, nursing) when the jobs and needs DO exist, even if they have been redefined and diverted.

In the late teens (as any McDonalds employee knows) one is much more likely to take on employment to keep busy, gain skills, and make some extra pocket money — knowing that the family home and resources are (usually) there to sustain us.  So, jobs for teenagers can be (as they were once) at relatively low wages — with the knowledge that all of these employees will move on, and quickly, to other things.  Some will go back to finish high school diplomas, and move on to tertiary education.  Others will start formal apprenticeships — in nursing, in childcare, in the construction industry, in transport and in the resources industries.  Over time, allowing teenagers to participate in the workforce again, which the Left will decry and wail about, will make our industries more successful and enhance their international competitiveness, and will restore our ability to provide basic services (such as nursing and childcare) where we are running out of staff. more successful. If we don’t go down this route, we risk that three or four years of undergraduate study becomes an entry ticket to being a weekend barista.

The second way forward is to counteract some of the persuasive but unsubstantiated fantasies that have emerged from third-wave feminism.  No, there is nothing wrong in our society with anyone doing a job that requires unabashed service to others, and is rewarded more with satisfaction than oodles of cash.  In fact, our society has always depended on most workers taking this approach.  Yes, men should be enabled and encouraged to assist with all the formerly “female” tasks (except actually bearing children and breastfeeding) — but, no, their roles in these areas will never be equal to those of the more genetically-adapted and usually better-suited women.  Yes, there are no roles in society that are off-limits to women (although some would argue about front-line military combat). But, no, we will as a society not suffer if women — by their own preference — take on caring roles.

The unmitigated rise of the selfish woman may otherwise help hasten the fall of Western society — as we cease to provide the care that our weakest and oldest need. To be replaced by what? Possibly the medieval ways in parts of the Middle East, or the stifling stagnation of pure communism, both of which societies Hobsbawm and Milliband  would certainly have been seen dead in.

10 thoughts on “The Rise of the Selfish Woman

  • Matt Brazier says:

    On a somewhat different tangent of the same subject, there is the following observation. Much is made in campaigns for changing the male-female proportions in highly desirable positions that are dominated by men. Note the proportion of job advertisements, whether for desirable roles or not, that proudly state that ‘women are encouraged to apply’. (i.e. preferential treatment is on offer based on chromosomes.) The problem is of course that we can have equal outcomes or equal opportunity but not both. The campaigners and recruiters are oblivious to their blatant hypocrisy. Whenever someone bangs on about getting more women into executive positions, or perhaps government ministry positions or candidate preselection, it is very difficult to escape from the conclusion that such campaigns are, at their core, driven by envy, greed and selfish ambition. Yes, ultimately driven by selfish women.
    As for women at the front line of military combat. Well, yes. But would you rather have the top ten male contestants from Australian Ninja for example shooting it out on the battlefield defending the country or the top ten female contestants? Every male was born from a woman. And there are a few other facts of life that no amount of social engineering will change.

    • ianl says:

      > ” … preferential treatment is on offer based on chromosomes …”

      Surely this is now based on voluntary gender identification. So choose which gender seems likely to be given the job – just change your choice if it turns out to be wrong.

  • Jody says:

    There’s something a little self-serving about this article; the fact that it concentrates on the ‘caring’ professions and anticipated aged care, for example. Women have a right to be as selfish as men. Indeed, very many of them have (probably inadvertently) given up the opportunity of husband and family so that they can pursue a ‘career’. It’s a high price to pay and most of them don’t realize until they get to be 40 something. All well and good but next time people shout about the fact that there’s no longer full employment they need to consider how women have impacted the workforce and that, in fact, many more jobs are available than once were. The days of ‘full employment’ will only return when two members of the one family demand the right to work. As Jordan Peterson says, “the rates of pay for workers are directly related to the sheer availability of people in the workforce”. Lower the participation rate and the wages will rise!!

    • Jody says:

      I meant “the days of full employment will only return when 2 members of the one family NO LONGER demand the right to work”.

      • Warty says:

        Yes, I was left scratching my head there. But you are quite right, and the only problem is how on earth do we unwind all this. My feeling is that it will take a major upheaval before we can achieve major social change. Feminist ideology has become so entrenched we can no longer talk about the proper roles of men and women: to do so invites the charge of ‘misogynist’. The momentum of decline escalated with the advent of the UN, followed by the Declaration of Human Rights. I like Roger Scruton’s approach: he puts it in the negative: ‘the right not to be killed’, ‘the right not to be enslaved’.
        Because we have children’s rights discipline in schools (outside Jody’s classroom) has declined significantly since corporal punishment became illegal. Because we have animal rights, food production is endangered (I won’t venture into the greyhound controversy). Because we have universal human rights we have quotas and a female defence minister who appears not to have a clue about her portfolio area. Because we have universal human rights we have diversity and our generals can now be transvestite, and our indoctrinated public will call out in unison: “GOOD FOR THEM”, despite it being catastrophic for the nation as a whole. “Yes sir”, becomes “yes smam”.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    The penultimate paragraph of this article contains the crux of the matter. To put it bluntly, rabid feminism has robbed women of their right to be true to their basic, feminine nature. Women, and even men, are taught, no, browbeaten, into believing that the only difference between the sexes is biological, everything else is nothing more than “social construct”, including the very notion of being a man, a woman, an LGBT whatever. Women who refuse to fall in line with this culturally correct attitude are despised and denigrated by their “enlightened” sisters, who consider it blasphemy to think that the reason for fewer women in boardrooms than men is that fewer women wish to be there.

  • whitelaughter says:

    Where to start?
    Women in the workforce? The idea that *children* should not be in the workforce dates from the 19thC (and frankly has been disastrous – think how much better your life would have been if the hours spent at school learning maths had instead been paid work doing accounts, English lessons had bee paid work proving, PE been a milk run or equivalent).

    Nurse pay went *backwards* when they were unionized (from http://www.nswnma.asn.au/about-us/history/): “The first nurses’ Award was achieved in 1936, but since it actually reduced trainee nurses wages by 5/- a week, it didn’t do much for Association membership!”
    Nursing currently suffers from the absurd superstition that increasing qualifications will increase pay, a foolishness that is crippling the industry. The way to get more nurses is to return to training them on the job.

    *Nobody* pushes the ‘trickle down effect’ – it is merely an insult used to impress the ignorant. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickle-down_economics

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    Chilling winters not felt for 200 – 400 years will shift the mindset to a more homely loving existence, the march has already begun given the political turmoil.

  • Homer Sapien says:

    When men aren’t men anymore it creates a vacuum. Vacuums usually get filled very quickly.

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