The Age of Female Dominance, Brought to You by Robots
February 21, 2017 1:10 PM   Subscribe

There’s a lot of speculation on how robots taking over people’s jobs could impact the economy. After all, if nearly half of American jobs are automated in the next 20 years, what will people do? And while automation does include losses of jobs, it could also change what we value when it comes to skill sets. For example, care-related work, like nursing and education, will likely remain human. Jerry Kaplan, a futurist and professor at Stanford University, thinks that automation could place a premium on the type of work that women tend to be good at, like person-to-person interaction, reading human emotion, collaboration, and creativity.
posted by Glibpaxman (39 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Even if these skills come to be "valued," they will almost certainly be still underpaid because of the immense social pressure on women in all walks of life to perform this kind of labor for free.
posted by jfwlucy at 1:19 PM on February 21, 2017 [56 favorites]


Wouldn't this just result in the jobs changing from primarily female dominated ones to male dominated ones?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:21 PM on February 21, 2017 [45 favorites]


I will go and review this, but before I do it is worth pointing out that some of the current female-dominated professions were once male-dominated; for example, teaching was a male dominated profession into the 19th century. I wouldn't be surprised if professions requiring these skills start becoming male-dominated in response to automation.
posted by nubs at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2017 [25 favorites]


Well, if history is any guide, the work that women do, and women themselves, will be increasingly denigrated as they become more necessary, more dedicated. Perhaps the increasing acceptability of misogyny in the public sphere is a harbinger of this kind of thing.

For example, as more women enter higher education, higher education has itself been increasingly a subject of mockery and hostility in the public sphere. A greater attention to emotion in those contexts has become a national subject of jeering -- "safe spaces," "triggering," ideas taken wildly out of context to suggest that education itself is for the weak, the womanish.

The only way out that I can see is to raise boys to like girls as people, to treat them as equals, and to accept the "feminine" skill set as one that everyone should have.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:25 PM on February 21, 2017 [99 favorites]


Wouldn't this just result in the jobs changing from primarily female dominated ones to male dominated ones?

Yeah, that's what I was thinking, complete with post-hoc explanations as to why these jobs require traits that men tend to have more than women.
posted by damayanti at 1:25 PM on February 21, 2017 [19 favorites]


You become acutely aware of how everyone is expected to do this labor for free if you have a disability that hinders your ability to read social cues and relate to people under extraordinary life stress. I'm sure there's an intersectional case to be made for the cognitively impaired and other disabled folks, too. Women are definitely socialized to do that kind of work reflexively, but unless you're wealthy and straight and always of healthy mind and body, you feel it, too, especially in the workplace. I've even known cancer patients who complained about all the work they feel expected to do to act brave and be courageous and fight the battle. That's not exactly the same thing, but it's stark in our culture. Europeans think we're crazy for expecting every body to be so servile and ingratiating all the time. It's definitely a gendered issue, but I think it's even worse now in the U.S.. I may be an idiot though, so do with that observation as you will or don't. Don't mean to start a derail, just note an observation of my own in passing.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on February 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


The first thing I thought when I saw this was "Shouldn't we value women as people before considering what they do as workers?" but then rationalized and hoped that elevated status as workers would lead to elevated status as humans. On further reflection, probably too optimistic for humanity.
posted by Glibpaxman at 1:34 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


AI classes at Stanford remain about 70-80% men, to my knowledge

Robotics classes have even more lopsided gender ratio because lots of folks tend to have a graphics and gaming background (the math helps).

The SAIL folks do a lot of outreach work, there's a program to get girls interested in AI things, head of lab is Fei-Fei Li who's a woman but the student demand is like that.
posted by hleehowon at 1:45 PM on February 21, 2017


Interesting theory. On the other hand ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Nice that we can rely on The Atlantic for an occasional dose of wishful thinking to offset the shittiness of the White Men in Charge of us.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


God creates man
Man destroys God
Man creates robots
Robots destroy man
Woman inherits the Earth
posted by olinerd at 2:08 PM on February 21, 2017 [15 favorites]


could place a premium on the type of work that women tend to be good at, like

As god is my witness I thought that sentence would continue: ....like critical thinking, research and analysis, complex systems management, but I stopped there not because I couldn't think of anything else women tend to be good at, but because I am totally lying, I knew that sentence would go the way it did.

For example, care-related work, like nursing and education, will likely remain human


as long as I get a robot doctor, I guess that's ok
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:14 PM on February 21, 2017 [30 favorites]


We almost had a woman president, and the entire country lost its damn mind.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:14 PM on February 21, 2017 [27 favorites]


Yeah, if it involves women, we haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaates it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


but then rationalized and hoped that elevated status as workers would lead to elevated status as humans. On further reflection, probably too optimistic for humanity.

Kaplan is an interesting voice in this given his background, I think he's been saying this for a couple years now and is of the view that automation while generally good also brings with it problems of exploitation and inequality.

One of the examples he constructs is the comparison of millions of trucking jobs eliminated while nursing jobs remain stable, which he elaborates on under some presumed set of social conditions. And from there he asks what happens and even has an idea what could be done from a capitalist/entrepreneurial point of view. Which if you think about it is interesting in terms of situating his views in the broader discussion. Another example he mentions is who owns the robots, etc.

I do think one of his sub-arguments or assumptions going in is that he thinks affective labor and creativity are not automatable relative to existing technological trends (he explains this as broadly characterizing automation as we do it is mainly only "perceptual" and/or "manipulative" physical or cognitive labor). That's one of the ingredients to his thesis.

Towards that end I think when they say "education" there the authors aren't being sensitive to how two-faced and loaded (formal education? Emotional education? Higher/academia? Training/Indoctrination?) the concept really is, by Kaplan's own explanation of automatable labor, etc.
posted by polymodus at 2:32 PM on February 21, 2017


Donna Haraway was not available for comment.
posted by pxe2000 at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


the type of work that women tend to be good at, like person-to-person interaction, reading human emotion, collaboration, and creativity

I reject the premise that women are inherently better at this type of work.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2017 [20 favorites]


If you mean "genetically" by inherently then I agree. But certainly women are trained from infancy to be emotionally attuned to and supportive of others' emotions to a far greater extent than men are.
posted by jfwlucy at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2017 [13 favorites]


If the wages in these professions remain depressed enough, men will just keep going on disability rather than take the jobs.
posted by praemunire at 2:43 PM on February 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


We are inherently better at anything and everything men, or average people -- but I repeat myself -- do not like to do, such as bandaging bedsores, changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, smiling at men who want to be smiled at, and listening to things we would rather not listen to. I admit I can't quite see why a really fancy robot couldn't do several or even all of those functions. good thing designing robots isn't one of those things women are so well-suited for, nobody likes an extra paradigm shift.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:44 PM on February 21, 2017 [35 favorites]


If half of America's jobs are automated in the next 20 years, the most popular profession is going to be armed robber.
posted by Beholder at 3:23 PM on February 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


There is not a finite number of jobs. In 1914, 90% of Americans worked in agriculture, for example.

There's the idea that AI and natural language processing is going to disrupt the legal profession.

Lawyers as a group are very conservative and resistant to technology, and a lot of work revolves around physically searching through boxes of documents. So it seems reasonable to expect that one of these days there is going to be an innovation that the legal community can accept that is going to disrupt the jobs of a lot of lawyers.

The thing is, all the lawyers I know are pretty intelligent people. I find it really hard to believe they are going to have a hard time transitioning to new opportunities, or people who would have once been lawyers (and, let's face, it, there is a certain kind of person who becomes a lawyer) is going to be out of work.

Over the past decade, automation and out-of-the-box technologies have actually made it possible for a low-skilled person like me (I'm a former government worker, a former teacher, and now work as a writer -- there is virtually nothing I do that someone else can do more cheaply) to earn a living that supports a family.

The game changer is education. Education helps you get better jobs, helps improve your quality of life, and helps improve how long you live. The jobs are there but you need more than a high school diploma.
posted by My Dad at 3:47 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


My Dad: Your comment makes me think that you haven't kept up on the state of the lawyering field. Technology has already disrupted it. There are currently too many law students for too few law jobs. Part of the reason this implosion has happened is because digital discovery can do the work that used to be done by lots of lawyers and paralegals. The incomes of lawyers are becoming more and more bimodal, with solo practitioners making much less and partners making much more than they used to. It hits the new graduates the hardest; some end up as paralegals or getting jobs that aren't even in the law field. What's worse, law tuition costs more now than it did previously (even accounting for inflation), not less. The current rule of thumb is that if you aren't accepted into one of the top tier law schools, you should NOT go to law school, because you face a high risk of having crushing student loans without commensurate levels of pay.
posted by foxfirefey at 4:29 PM on February 21, 2017 [11 favorites]


(Issue resolved, sorry).
The Atlantic link wouldn't play for me in Chrome or Firefox. Is the link still working for others?
posted by banal retentive at 4:45 PM on February 21, 2017


I will go and review this, but before I do it is worth pointing out that some of the current female-dominated professions were once male-dominated; for example, teaching was a male dominated profession into the 19th century. I wouldn't be surprised if professions requiring these skills start becoming male-dominated in response to automation.

I haven't had a chance to read the article yet, so apologies if this is touched on there, but if you've ever wondered why librarianship tends to be a feminized career...

It's because the asshole Melvil Dewey (of the Decimal system), in addition to being a chronic sexual harasser, realized that you could pay women less for the work.
posted by codacorolla at 5:55 PM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Ever since I encountered my first futurist I have wondered at the ability of some people to have a career made entirely out un-testable handwavey BS. Now that that is out of the way I would like to say that the question of enough "jobs" to go around has become a bit of a preoccupation for me. My own handwavey BS is that this time it is different and it isn't the comforting case that the jobs making buggy whips will give way to making windshield wipers but that we are the horses and the future is nothing but glue. This of course presupposes that "we" don't invent a new form of economy so that the billions of us can sort out our relationships to each other in a way that doesn't involve a surfeit of violence and misery. Here's praying.
posted by Pembquist at 6:56 PM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Not to mention that eventually the ubiquity and strength of robots will render male physical dominance irrelevant.
posted by sensate at 7:11 PM on February 21, 2017


Speaking as a person with Asperger's (and a woman, no less!) this future sounds hellish.
posted by whistle pig at 7:54 PM on February 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


How/why are these female-dominated? Is it because there is some inherent or biological superiority of women at them? I would imagine no, consequently, men could be just as good at them as women. Is there something that I am missing?
posted by koavf at 8:36 PM on February 21, 2017


Brain and brain, what is brain!
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:22 PM on February 21, 2017


Software engineering was once women's work, too, and then the 50's happened. Now a woman can hardly step away from her IDE without hearing from twenty something men and venture capital leaders that women just aren't mentally cut out[1] for tech work the way men are. Hell, our Dear Leader's most trusted tech advisor, Peter Thiel, thinks us being allowed to vote is bad for democracy.

I have full faith that when the pendulum completes this swing, there will be no shortage of men ready to push women out of entire professions, erase our history in popular memory, write blathering essays about how we just don't have the mental capacity to be nurses or however they've decided to make money, assert that we should shut up and incubate babies and stop demanding so many reproductive rights, and by the way we're horrible wenches for not giving them sex on demand.

[1] I never thought I would need to cite Brietbart non-sarcastically, but that was before it became a primary news source driving US social policy and before its owner became a member of the US National Security Council. Yes, I'm a but nervous about this pendulum and would like to get off now.
posted by SakuraK at 10:24 PM on February 21, 2017 [13 favorites]


When are the robots going to come actually clean my house instead of just pulling out the cords of my electronics and running into walls and scaring the dogs and not finding their recharging stations. That's all I want to know in the robots + traditional "women's work" front. Come take THOSE jobs, robots, I've got dog hair everywhere and non-automatable science to do with my woman-hands.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:11 PM on February 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


Not to mention that eventually the ubiquity and strength of robots will render male physical dominance irrelevant.

Sadly no
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:37 AM on February 22, 2017


While entire career fields can pivot from masculine to feminine and back in under a decade, I'm wondering if contemporary American masculinity (generally speaking) is too fragile after 25 years of anti-LGBTQ culture war to do that again.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:36 AM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


Once nursing, teaching, etc. becomes male dominated, I'm sure we will see plenty of think pieces about why men are more naturally inclined to be good at person-to-person interaction, reading human emotion, collaboration, and creativity.

These professions are not currently female-dominated because of our innate abilities, it's because they are considered shitty jobs. That's why the first computers/programmers were women, because that was the grunt work. In reality, not all of them are actually crappy jobs. I know very many happy nurses and teachers. But it's the perception. Once that perception fades away, the men will come back to take the jobs.
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:29 AM on February 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm currently reading Hidden Figures, which provides a lot detail about the computer/programmer situation at NACA/NASA, on scales from individual families to America as a whole. Outside of academic tenure, mathematicians were a lower-ranked professional class. Engineers, in contrast, were the project leads who set the experimental agendas and supervised a support staff including mathematicians, mechanics, machinists, and model builders. Engineers also got the publishing credit.

At least some part of why women were able to break into mathematics/programming in the 40s and 50s was that it was clerical labor in a hierarchy with men at the top. (Other factors included a deep labor shortage and massive investment in military research during WWII.) A few women started breaking into the the engineer/supervisor ranks in the 1950s, and many of the general computers were promoted to specific engineering groups. (The white East Computing pool was dissolved first.) But in most groups, that hierarchy still remained.

I'm wondering if the masculinization of IT really got traction with the myth of the programmer/designer/entrepreneur who could quit the clerical labor and do a startup or go into consulting. That's not an economic reality for most IT. But I'm just to 1957 in Hidden Figures, so that's not been addressed yet.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:15 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


In fact, there are tons of male-dominated jobs that center on "person-to-person interaction, reading human emotion, collaboration, and creativity." I suspect those jobs become more masculine the higher up you go in the management hierarchy.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:29 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sadly no
Counterpoint
posted by fullerine at 9:25 AM on February 22, 2017


I guess I'll start saving up for both interpersonal communication classes AND cybernetic augmentations.
posted by FJT at 10:40 AM on February 22, 2017


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