What things can do things?

The critique of categories brings us to another idea, that of collective agency. Obviously a non-thing can’t be an agent – there’s no them there, you might say. But even though men are a thing, and women are a thing, does either act as a collective entity?

“Men”, we were told by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was an important person and a judge, who wore a solemn black robe to remind us of the fact, and who every day had the fate of ordinary, unimportant men and women in her hands, and who was much admired by many – this important Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously told us that men “should take their foot off our necks.” Do we men have a collective foot? Do women have a collective neck for our collective male foot to be on?

Of course the averages speak for themselves, so there are feet on necks. But whose feet? There’s the notorious pay gap. Just how big this gap is depends strongly on how you measure it; but nobody doubts that it’s real. If median husband and median wife both work in a meat-packing plant, for example, the former on average pulls down a cool $30,576 per year, the latter $23,3761. When both can find work, of course.

But clearly the men meat-packers aren’t exactly rolling in dough. They’re not quite as impoverished as the women, to be sure. But do the men meat-packers have their collective foot on the collective neck of the women? Or is it the boss, exploiting some difference of situation, possibly even some contrived and arbitrary one, for his own advantage?

Leave a Reply