This is Ruby. Ruby is a mommy vlogger with over a million subscribers, is the sister of Bonnie and Ellie, and like her sisters is also a generational member of the LDS religious cult (Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons). Ruby has a family including 6 young children and a husband. Ruby and her husband have spent their entire relationship getting Mr. Ruby educated with a Master’s and a Ph.D and Mr. Ruby has used his education to get a teaching job which he has held for the last several years. Mr. Ruby just found out he got tenure which means he can never be fired* from his job. According to Ruby’s understanding of the situation, this means that they will always have money and therefore that they will always have security. That they will always have necessary and discretionary income. That they will always have a home. Ruby is so, so, so very happy about that.
Judging by her life and lifestyle as a married middle class woman with children, Ruby has clearly bought into one myth, the myth of the middle class mother and wife who thinks that having a successful husband is a guarantee of current and future security. She assumes that he will never leave, or decide to spend his money recklessly or on other people or in ways of which Ruby herself does not approve. It is possible that their shared religion and community as LDS may function as a social glue that holds this couple together and keeps Mr. Ruby’s money in the shared account (and his dick in his pants) so it’s possible that Ruby is a bit smarter than most women who do the same thing but who don’t have anything holding their marriage together besides “attraction” or “love” or shared interests or shared parenting or other such fleeting things. And to be fair, Ruby might be right about Mr. Ruby and Mr. Ruby might be the greatest guy or even the greatest person in the entire world and their plan to be secure for the rest of their life based on his job might be reasonable under certain circumstances.
But how realistic is it really, when the future security they have both worked so hard for is completely dependent on Mr. Ruby’s physical and mental ability to work, especially now where we are experiencing the collapse of our ecosystem and where so many people are becoming seriously chronically ill? What if Mr. Ruby already has a latent condition of which he is not yet aware including the increasing likelihood that any of us has a confounding autoimmune disease that will be resistant to treatment, both incurable and progressive, and where the conventional treatments are known to make autoimmune patients worse and even more disabled than they were before?
*Tenure can be revoked y’all. And not just because of disability either.
In “Fear of Falling” Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about the so-called professional middle class, those who have relied on education and “brain work” to achieve social status and material survival but who have no capital or property to create passive income, generational inheritance or something to “fall back on” if the educated worker becomes unable or unwilling to continue working in their field. This includes academics, engineers, journalists, managers, scientists, doctors, lawyers and others who have only their own educations, credentials and brains to rely on to survive. I have not read this book but from what I can tell from the linked review and from looking around online, what she says rings true in my own experience as an educated professional who “lost it all” once I was no longer physically or otherwise able to work full-time in my professional field. Educated professionals like Mr. Ruby here (and myself) in fact have nothing to fall back on if something goes wrong, they have no way to earn passive income which is not tied to their ability to work, no capital or property to pass on to their children and no guarantee that their heirs will ever achieve middle class themselves unless they also decide to become educated and thus fall into the same professional middle class trap.
In reality, Ruby should be crying, but not the happy tears we see here considering that she and her family are taking an enormous risk and their financial futures and material survival are not guaranteed at all and are in fact hanging perilously by a thread, in this case, the physical and mental ability of one person to consistently and competently work, but where human bodies are rather destined to eventually fail. The common professional middle class anxiety of potentially losing everything in a literal heartbeat (or accident or chronic illness) doesn’t seem to have hit Ruby or Mr. Ruby yet but it likely will as they both age and continue to “adult” and realize that things don’t always turn out the way you think and hope they will, and that even the best laid plans can go sideways leaving you in circumstances you couldn’t predict and didn’t expect.
In my experience as an attorney practicing benefits and anti-poverty law where nearly all my clients were disabled, and now as a chronically ill and disabled person myself, the physical, mental and other effects of a serious disease are not anything a healthy person could ever imagine in a million, billion years. Being sick is unlike any other experience you have ever had as a healthy person — saying that out loud it seems completely rational but asking people to imagine it, and to have compassion and understanding for chronically ill people is clearly asking too much. No healthy person could possibly fully anticipate the effects of a serious illness on their lives and they consistently fail to adequately plan for it, where “planning” for a disabling disease often entails financial and other planning for the rest of your life but where most working people have little or nothing left over and cannot save for even a few months of unexpected expense let alone one’s remaining lifetime’s worth.
And not only that, the so-called social safety net that anyone might assume exists to catch you if you fall or if you or your breadwinner fall ill is almost entirely a myth, where there are in fact no benefits available to people in many situations and the benefits that do exist are elusive and insubstantial at best. Even if a seriously chronically ill person can and does jump through all the bureaucratic hoops required to qualify for public or private benefits (like state disability benefits or long-term disability insurance respectively) this process can take years and the benefits themselves provide much, much less than the perpetual financial security Ruby imagines she and her family have finally achieved.
In my own case, where I had grown up with and cared for a seriously ill sibling who was never able to support himself, and where I myself had been having increasing symptoms of what I now know was Crohn’s disease for at least 20 years before I was finally diagnosed, I was always aware that my plan to provide for myself as an attorney could be thwarted, but I thought that the chances of that happening were relatively low, and besides, I had no choice. I had no capital, no property, no family legacy and no way to reliably support myself over time other than my “brain” and I made all of my life and career choices based on that reality of my life. I suspect many professional middle class people did the same thing.
But now that we know that the incidence and prevalence of serious chronic illness is only increasing over time, the likelihood that the professional middle class will succeed in supporting themselves and their dependents forever can only be decreasing. This disturbing trend has serious implications for especially women, including single women, female headed households and lesbian couples where particularly females are becoming disproportionately and increasingly ill from autoimmune diseases like the one I suffer from, Crohn’s disease.
All of this seems especially cruel where the last couple of generations of girls have heard and believed that it was not only possible but preferable to make it on their own without a male partner or husband, but those girls have now grown into women whose financial futures are as uncertain as their health where some 75% of the 50 million Americans currently diagnosed with autoimmune diseases are female. And because autoimmune diseases in particular are resistant to conventional treatment, it will be largely women and not men who are unable to find relief of their pain and symptoms and who are therefore most at risk of “losing it all” when they are then forced to pursue alternative healing methods that are prohibitively costly and unsustainable over time. And to the extent that disability benefits are reliant upon the enthusiastic participation of conventional (not alternative) doctors, and the benefit amount itself is reliant on women’s past earnings which continue to lag behind men’s, chronically ill women will disproportionately be ineligible for benefits and collect much less than disabled male workers when disabled women are able to collect at all.
And of course, the problem of the misogynistic male supremacist medical industry remains where girls’ and women’s self-reports of pain, symptoms and disability are not believed and where they are disproportionately both abused and neglected by patriarchal medicine when they present for treatment. This means that women who fall ill are starting from an even lower place than men are when they cannot even get their own doctors to take their pain and symptoms seriously but where the doctors’ enthusiastic support throughout the disability benefits process is more or less required, and where the doctors’ subjective, biased opinions and beliefs about women’s suffering can mean the difference between qualifying for benefits the first time, or having the process delayed or stalled indefinitely, or where women are adjudged to not be medically eligible for disability benefits at all.
In Ruby’s case, I cannot even say that she has made a mistake having (obviously) eschewed women’s liberation entirely and marrying a man on whom she and her 6 children rely for support, where she is actually more likely than he is to become seriously chronically ill with a confounding autoimmune disease that is resistant to conventional treatment. And as a seasoned feminist myself, it pains me to admit that Ruby’s generational membership in a patriarchal religious cult may not have been a bad idea either where she may be more likely than an unaffiliated woman to have community support and resources available to her if either her or her husband become ill and are no longer able to work. Honestly, it seems as if the problem of autoimmune disease in particular has turned the aims of liberal feminism on its head, where liberal feminists have activated for women’s “equality” and unreliance on men but where women are now becoming increasingly and disproportionately vulnerable to disease and disability and decreasingly likely to have the support of patriarchal institutions such as state welfare, marriage and religion to support them when they fall.
I do not know where this leaves us except in a state of stalled or failed liberation with frankly no hope that our lot will improve over time if we continue to fall ill and disabled disproportionately to men. The autoimmunity problem in itself is enough of a reason for women to abandon liberal feminism and equality activating and to start demanding not “equal” but special treatment for girls and women who because they are female are extremely and increasingly vulnerable in light of females’ disproportionately failing health. This leaves us with little choice but to look to the work of radical (not liberal) feminists and their substantial and much maligned contributions for guidance and to seriously consider their suggestions that women and men are not the same biologically; that patriarchal policy, practice and institutions have exaggerated preexisting biological difference to benefit men; and that therefore, girls and women are exceptionally vulnerable and deserve favorable sex-specific treatment in all areas where it is needed.
In the case of women’s health and financial security, in light of the emerging autoimmune crisis, girls and women need increased access to alternative healthcare, including access to medical cannabis; lowered scrutiny and heightened regard throughout the benefits process; and above all, assured and secured access to the necessities of life including healthful food and safe shelter untethered to the state of their health or to their ability to work. If there were ever a time that equality activating benefited girls and women, considering the emergent autoimmunity problem that disproportionately affects females because of their biological sex, that time would seem to be over.