Noah wrote about the “man camps” of North Dakota for the Good Men Project, but I decided I would talk about it as well, because it’s interesting.
The quote that struck me the most within the NYT article was the following, from an oil fields worker:
Even after the recruiter told him the job was in the oil fields of North Dakota, where subzero temperatures in the double digits are common in the winter, Mr. Ervin didn’t waver.
“At this point in my life, I didn’t care,” he said. “It was either sink or swim, and I thought I’d try the swim part.“
These men are motherfucking heroes.
There is kind of a sad nobility in their work: many of them are family men, in their thirties and forties, with wives and children back home that they never see. Providers, in the most tragic sense. Men are supposed to provide, not just culturally, but institutionally: blue-collar jobs are very gendered. Male-dominated blue-collar jobs tend to be paid more than female-dominated blue-collar jobs; however, they also tend to be less safe and have other unfortunate working conditions issues– such as being states away from your family. Far too often, working-class men are trapped in a choice between keeping the lights on and sacrificing their health, their time with their children, or even their lives.
The men get weeks off in which they may see their families: however, working those weeks can earn them more money, which all too often their families need. So the men quite often do not see their families for months so they can pay their debts, keep their homes from foreclosure, send their children to Disney World.
It’s important when we talk about workaholism or the importance of spending time with one’s family not to erase the existence of class privilege. A middle manager could theoretically choose to cut down on his hours and be there to watch his children grow up; for a lot of working-class men, that option is not available. Looking at the low pay available for most female-dominated blue-collar occupations, many families will decide that they can’t afford for the father not to work as many hours as he fucking can… or even to stay in the same state.
Of course, I don’t mean to valorize working-class breadwinners– a lot of them are not exactly good people, for definitions of not exactly good people that range from “actually don’t care about their families that much” to “fucking abusive.” Pedestalizing the poor is common among well-meaning upper-middle-class progressives, and I do not intend to fall into that trap. As Sady Doyle says in The Percentages, talking about The Working Class tends to erase the actual working class people, who are quite often not the nobly struggling people with real American values, but kind of assholes. Because people are kind of assholes!
Nevertheless, the breadwinner who loves his family is an essentially tragic figure. He wants to take care of his family: because he loves his children, he wants to give them everything that he can. But in order to give them everything he has to work hours that mean he may never even see them. Loving his children means a life of missed soccer games and not helping with homework and children who essentially grow up strangers.
Thanks to feminism, women have a lot more opportunity to work outside the home, and in a lot of working-class households, now both men and women are breadwinners who never get to see their children! Yay! This is the wrong kind of motherfucking equality, people.
And when the huge sacrifices are called for… when you have to travel states away and live in a tiny room… a lot of times, it is men who’ll make it. Partially because the jobs that call for those huge sacrifices tend to look for men anyway (many of them require, for instance, large amounts of upper-body strength), and partially because everyone expects that men will be the providers (which leads to an institutional preference for men for those jobs).
I’m not sure what the solution is. (Yes, radicals in the back, we could overthrow capitalism.) As a garden-variety democratic socialist, I’d probably recommend a stronger social safety net, a higher minimum wage, shorter hours, strong unions, et cetera et cetera look at the Socialist Party of the USA website if you want to know my political opinions. But given the rightward tilt of United States politics, it looks like the only thing we can be able to do right now is to honor these men as the heroes they are.