Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Matriarchy, patriarchy and the masters of the universe

By Chrystia Freeland
May 31, 2013

The past week has underscored one more way in which the lives of the super-rich are diverging from the lives of everyone else: The middle class is becoming a matriarchy, while the plutocracy remains firmly patriarchal.

The sexist mores of the super-rich were exposed by one of that tribe’s most prominent philanthropists, the hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. At an April symposium at the University of Virginia, Jones said that women didn’t trade as successfully as men because becoming a mother is a “killer” to professional focus. “You will never see as many great women investors or traders as men – period, end of story,” he said.

“As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it,” Jones said, describing the grim career impact of motherhood on two women who had worked with him in the late 1970s.

“Every single investment idea,” he said, “every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience which a man will never share about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby.”

When they were revealed by the Washington Post last Thursday, Jones’s remarks swiftly became notorious, partly because of the vivid language he used to make his case. And Jones duly apologized.

But his comments are the hedge fund version of the journalist Michael Kinsley’s definition of a gaffe – which Kinsley said occurred “when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

In Jones’s case, the forbidden truth is not some mysterious mental property of oxytocin, the hormone produced by nursing mothers. It is instead the striking fact that at the summits of high finance, where many of the greatest fortunes in this new Gilded Age are being amassed, there are no women, and it is commonplace to believe, as Jones does, that there will never be any.

Contrast that positively Victorian setup with the latest news from Middle America: This week, the Pew Research Center reported that four in 10 families with children under the age of 18 are now headed by women who are the sole or primary breadwinners. Motherhood may be a “killer” when it comes to becoming a Master of the Universe, but among middle-class mothers, even after that touch of baby’s lips to bosom, a big and growing number find themselves able – and often required – to bring home the family bacon.

It is remarkable how profound the shift has been: In 1960 just 11 percent of all households with children under 18 included mothers who were either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

One of the changes, of course, is the feminist revolution, and all of us, particularly breadwinning mothers like me, should celebrate the liberation of half of the human race and our increasing social and political permission to fully participate in the economy.

But, particularly when you bear in mind how very different the world looks at the high altitudes occupied by Jones and his peers, it is also worth noting that Betty Friedan is not the only reason so many women are contributing so much more to their household budgets. Another, less uplifting, driver is the hollowing out of the middle class.

As middle-class wages have stagnated, mothers have gone to work in increasing numbers to maintain their families’ standard of living. The Pew survey found that two-career households exacted a personal toll – 74 percent of adults said the increasing number of mothers working outside the home had made it harder to raise children, and half said it had put a strain on marriages. But a strong majority – two-thirds – said that working mothers had made it easier for their families to live comfortably.

The 2008 recession intensified these trends. In 2007, just 20 percent of mothers said their ideal was to work full-time. By 2012, that figure had swollen by more than half, to 32 percent. Moreover, in 2007, 29 percent of mothers said they would prefer not to work at all. By 2012, just 20 percent said that was their ideal.

These deep changes in how the middle class lives are one reason the backlash against Jones’s remarks was so fast and furious: The world he described is as inconceivable to most of us as Soviet Communism is to my school-age children. It is tempting to delight in that difference: Plutocratic chauvinism growing red-faced when exposed to the gender egalitarianism of the 99 percent.

But the gender divide between the plutocrats and everyone else is more a cause for worry than for celebration. As income inequality increases, the social and political sway of those at the very, very top grows, too. They are nearly all men, and men whose lived experience tells them that women, for whatever reason, just don’t have what it takes.

Comments
15 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Paul Tudor Jones is an egomaniacal a$$hole.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive
 

I wonder what has to happen before enough Americans wake up and demand serious change to the way our society does business. It’s clear to me that the profiteers who have hijacked our government are in that destructive, irreversible mindset of chronic greed. They won’t change on their own. They can’t. It’s an addiction, and there needs to be an intervention.

There’s a lot wrong with what Paul Tudor Jones said. Yes, it was sexist for a few reason. But what bothers me most about it is something that has become commonplace in our culture, and that is the assumption–sometimes implied, sometimes stated explicitly–that money is and should be the top priority of all people.

Jones’s angle wasn’t that trading gets in the way of caring for a newborn. It was that caring for a newborn gets in the way of trading. Our culture sizes people up based on how wealthy they are. They can be unscrupulous jerks, worse than what most people personally know, but if they’re wealthy, it garners instant respect.

Take Mitt Romney (please.) He made some comments that I can’t imagine anyone I know making. For example, claiming that the only advantage he was born into was being an American. Seriously? I found the fact that he was campaigning to be President of the United States and will make such an insulting remark about half our nation’s population being moochers repugnant. And then he wondered why he didn’t win the election? Oh yeah, he figured that one out. It was because Obama offered voters a bunch of free stuff. Romney is not a man with the moral fiber needed to be a good President. And, yes, I realize he wouldn’t have been the first had he won.

I hope I live long enough to see the day when the American people decide they’ve had enough and do whatever it takes to return our government to the people. There is a small cadre of plutocrats who are using this country like pimps using a prostitute. They are willing to sacrifice our country and its citizens in their insatiable pursuit of riches. And there’s no end in sight. And in the process, they’ve bought off OUR government. They certainly can afford it.

Here’s an article about a report stating that the richest 1% own 39% of the world’s wealth. It goes on to report that this trend is set to continue and that the rate of growth being enjoyed by the world’s wealthiest has surpassed the rate wealth is growing overall. That means that more and more people are falling behind so that the world’s richest can get richer: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-1-now- controls-39-153013317.html

I believe that capitalism is the best economic system, but the way it’s being practiced now is leaving us with results no better than any other system and if we don’t reset the rules so that everyone benefits in the world’s economy, then eventually capitalism will be threatened.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive
 

You piece together two unrelated stories (an anecdote and a study that can be read in half a dozen ways) and try to navel-gaze your way to some overarching social meaning. The result is unconvincing.

Posted by amateurediteur | Report as abusive
 

Some women are mothers. Some mothers head households. Therefore, more women should be CEOs. Impeccable syllogism.

Posted by amateurediteur | Report as abusive
 

The article quoted hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones: “Every single investment idea,” he said, “every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down…”

I take issue with his use of the word “investment.” Women make great investors, but most Wall Streeters are not investors, they are speculators or skimmers. Wall Street makes most of its money by skimming commissions and (often hidden) fees off investors or simply speculating with OPM (Other People’s Money). Maybe mothers are better at recognizing that other people are something more than simply being easy marks.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive
 

‘Masters of the Universe’ in the Tom Wolfe “Bonfires of the Vanities” context was a pejorative referring to the hubris of Wall Street high fliers.
Today it is a simple fact of life. The interlocking axis of military, corporate and financial interests control the media and the government through ownership, funding, revolving doors, co-option and intimidation.
Democracy is dead.
Long live the ‘Masters of the Universe’.

Posted by Juillet14 | Report as abusive
 

Magical Myth exposed for all to see the foibles of the One Percenters, the Masters of the Plutocracy. Their common disdain for the Pee-Ons was obvious. (“I like firing people! Don’t you?”) The interesting aspect was how successful the Plutocracy was at manipulating the Idiocracy, encouraging the Pee-Ons to vote against their own self-interest by using a variety of deceptive and distracting issues.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive
 

As is common, the comments on Chrystia Freeland’s articles do not appear…

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive
 

@Christina,

I already know you will delay posting my comment until long after anyone would still be interested in reading or commenting on it, since that’s what has happened to my responses to your previous two columns. But you need to hear this.

There is a rather significant difference between the ability of middle-class mothers to “…bring home the family bacon…” and the ability to rise to the top of “…the summits of high finance, where many of the greatest fortunes in this new Gilded Age are being amassed”. Separate goals. Separate challenges. Different rewards.

You infer this difference is due entirely to gender discrimination. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Jones’ point is quite different and quite valid. You either do not perceive it or refuse to honestly consider it.

He believes there to be differences in “results” between personal priorities of a female associate who is a MOTHER, first and foremost, employed as a professional and another associate, male or female, who gives absolute and unceasing priority to their personal climb up the greasy pole of success…whatever it takes.

He chooses to point to that difference as the reason why there are no women “at the top”. His logic makes much more sense to me than yours, and does NOT preclude the inevitability that a woman with the experience, ability and perseverance will someday reach that lofty perch.

For what it’s worth, men who go out of their way to put family before business typically don’t make it to the top either. Religion, family, success…there can be only ONE “top priority”.

Whether or not the “price” of one’s choice is appropriate is for another discussion and another day. (Disclosure: happily married 49+ years to the same wonderful woman (who worked), childless by choice, now 72, quite content, NO regrets whatsoever.)

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

What if oxytocin actually is a relevant factor? It can reasonably be argued that its effects and forming a bond with one’s newborn would make a person more empathetic.
For a middle class mother, whose work actually provides a benefit to society, increased empathy is unlikely to affect her career aspirations. She can also see herself being a good role model to the child and improving the world the child will inherit through her work.
For an up and coming plutocrat however, whose work focuses on personal gain at the expense of others, increased empathy really is anathema to her career aspirations.

Posted by roboticowl | Report as abusive
 

I thought this had been settled –

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs asserted women earning more than their husbands was an indication of the dissolution of American society. Fox News political analyst Juan Williams agreed, describing it as a sign of the disintegration of marriage that would have negative consequences for generations to come.

Fox News contributor Erick Erickson went one step further, saying nature itself commanded that women be subservient to men.

“I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science,” Erickson explained. “But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology, when you look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.”

Posted by XRayD | Report as abusive
 

Have what it takes to do what? If what it takes is to game the political system so that there is a plutocracy ruling over a bunch of serfs, we are doomed. As several commenters on a right wing blog noted, it is because men haven’t taken the resposibility for fatherhood seriously. They haven’t taken responsibilty because good paying jobs have been outsourced and insourced to cheaper foreign labor and the vampire capitalists have destroyed manufacturing. The other problem is that a significant number of men are or have been incarcerated during their employable years, thus limited their ability to support a family.

Posted by yooper | Report as abusive
 

I don’t think the writer’s stats say what she wants them to say. 4 in 10 households have a woman as the primary bread winner. Doesn’t that really just indicate the increase in the divorce rate?

Posted by Watever | Report as abusive
 

My husband said one day “If men had the babies, we’d sit around wearing crowns for nine months.” It isn’t children that keep women from the big money in business, it’s men.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive
 

To become one of the ‘masters of the universe’ one must have a predatory virtually 24/7 focus on beating your opponents and creating and profiting from manipulated advantage. Being distracted by any non monetary issues like family puts one at a serious disadvantage when one’s competitors are no so distracted.
Men in this mode make lousy fathers and it is inconceiveable that all women could somehow be excellent mothers and capitalists at the same time while being limited to a 24 hour day!
I have never seen or heard of any man or women who can successfully be their best at both activities while multi tasking. The one minute manager mode is the epitome of the attempt to multi task at these two disparate activities and it will eventually fail at one or the other or in the majority of cases – both.
That is why the most successful at doing this are partners who specialize in one or the other.
The masters of the universe know this fact, which you seem to reject, and therefore they require that any person male or female either do business or parenting but not both simultaneously. The fact is that ‘multi tasking’ in any event should never be a constant effort; it should only be attempted for short duration if one has absolutely no other alternative, not as a modus operandi when 100% success is required and expected.

Posted by Barni1 | Report as abusive
 

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