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How Capitalism Makes Money Out Of Women’s “Cooking, Smiling, Fucking”

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By Antara Mukherjee:

In the easiest way, gender means the social state of being male or female and has a set of rules of behaviour and expectations attached to it by the society. It has inherently always been to the disadvantage of the feminine gender. A lot of sociologists have understood and continue to understand the sociology of gender through social structures, economic systems and religion. And one thing has always come to light that the male gender has always sat on the top of the ladder sometimes even without its own choice. In this essay I want to bring forth my understanding of gender through a reading by Silvia Federici: “Wages against Housework”.

Picture Credits: Bruce Sallan
Picture Credits: Bruce Sallan

She explains gender and the misfortune of the feminine through the classic example of Capitalism. Capitalism is the biggest social and economic structure that has made our lives what it is today. Through hidden propaganda and through open laying of the laws of the system, it has managed to fashion a lifestyle that is fraught with flaws. One of these flaws being the reduction of women to heir producing and housekeeping second class citizens.

She begins by making it very clear that Capitalism isn’t an outsider to our homes. We have encouraged it and let it bloom in our kitchens and living rooms. The way she understands gender is by the way labor has been divided amongst men and women. When we talk about the labor of capitalism and the birth of the nuclear family, we are in all its original sense referring to a family where the woman stays home and takes care of the hearth whereas the man has to go to the factory and earn money. In her words, “It is important to recognize that when we speak of housework we are not speaking of a job as other jobs, but we are speaking of the most pervasive manipulation, the most subtle and mystified violence that Capitalism has ever perpetrated against any section of the working class.”

This manipulation, she terms as “Labour of Love”. Women have since ages immemorial been taught and conditioned to be obedient, submissive and docile. They have been taught that their biggest achievements would be a clean house, a well fed husband and children. With that said, these duties of women are woven into the fabric of her existence, limiting her to the four walls of her “home”. However, the same work when done by men in today’s hotel culture gets valued and appreciated. Yet women are told that they should show their love through taking care of the home and being a deluxe maid, be secondary in her existence to her man. Thus, by converting housework into an act of unconditional love and selflessness justifies that this labour is not paid for. Further, her work is limited to the private sphere, it goes unnoticed as labour and is invisible to the larger social structure as work.

What further complicates the situation is that a woman, or in this case women, do not have the “right” to ask for wages. Their work as a wife, a sister and a mother is supposed to be a role, a role they were born into and apparently is their fate. Hence payment for something “they are born with a responsibility of” seems ridiculous. Their social role is defined and hasn’t been changed since time immemorial. What Silvia explains is that it is harder for a woman to ask for housework wages because that challenges a whole social system, it revolutionizes the right of a woman and that is something that the world isn’t ready for. But she also points out that as women, we don’t just maintain our houses and our men (labour), we run the capitalist economy in a very unnoticeable way because our role is so removed from any consideration.

The capitalist economy runs because of its labour. The labour comprises of men who work in factories. The outcome and profit of the factory relies on the condition of these men, their health, their need to earn money. A woman feeds and takes care of her husband so that he is physically able to function. So, it is in a way correct to say that a lot of social structures rely on the silence and conditioned diligence of the woman. We lubricate the little machines that join hands with the larger machine of capitalism, metaphorically and literally.

“To say that we want wages for housework is to expose the fact that housework is already money for capital, that capital has made and makes money out of our cooking, smiling, fucking. At the same time, it shows that we have cooked, smiled, fucked throughout the years not because it was easier for us than for anybody else, but because we did not have any other choice.”

The “Labour of Love” is a harsh play on a woman’s motherly emotions, her burden to bear and her womanly-ness. However, as subjective as certain things are, it is important to mention that even if women who love the role of being a homemaker should be recognized as active participant instead of having to face the wrath of “progress”. That understanding will come forth when we start treating housework as any other work, a work in its own right.

The main dilemma that Silvia Federici brings forth is that it is really hard to get housework recognized as work and hence the value of a woman.

Her essay shifts between the private and the public, the societal and the individual and thus her understanding is fraught with doubts. As a woman, to demand her value, is a complicated task. In modern times more and more women are claiming that they would never want to be housewives and be tied down. Silvia, on the other hand, claims that isn’t the right way to revolutionize the society either. Housework is something that neither a woman nor a man can escape, so it shouldn’t be treated as something that is slave like or servant like, instead women should fight for its recognition and demand to be given appreciation for it. A professional woman is never just that, especially if she is married. So a small step towards better solutions is to accept that it is something that will be a part of our lives, but the need of the hour is to get attention for it and be recognized as workers and partners in the walk towards a better society. And be called as equal citizens.

One of the biggest problem in such a case is the fact that the state intentionally stays out of the business of the private sphere. Equality is a human right, but in the case of this situation, it is something that doesn’t exist periodically.

It is then clear that gender roles and what each gender can do and claim is very strictly scrutinized by our society. We see gender roles everyday, unfair and unequally they thrive since they are invisible or conditioned to be ignored. Understanding gender through different perspectives will give us the usual result, one gender more oppressed than the other. And it is usually the feminine one even though men are as gender oppressed. As we witness and become parts of struggles that demand equality, we will face more obstacles and maybe those will help us understand gender and just how far it runs in our society’s functioning.

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  1. Monistaf

    Thank you for yet another rant!! There is plenty of work men do that does not get recognized either. In most typical households, the man is the protector, plumber, electrician, mechanic, roofer, gardner, ATM machine, travel agent, financial planner, accountant, book keeper, tax preparer, real estate agent and many more!! All this in addition to being the primary bread winner. So, there are “roles” on both sides, the only difference being that women have learnt to constantly complaint about it and be heard. Women do not have the right to ask for wages?? Who says that? Apart from typically being the person in a household that spends the most, she almost always walks away with a fat check when there is a divorce apparently as a recognition for her contributions (cooking, cleaning and fucking) while she was married. There are plenty of women out there who will cook, smile and fuck for money. May be it is time for all the men to simply buy those services as needed. It is probably cheaper than being married, they get more variety and they would not have to deal with the constant nagging, bickering and complaining of every day life.

    1. Antara Mukherjee

      At first your comment did spark an interest but you ended it in such a note that I have to say this article did ignite the defense that most males rely on. Firstly, I recognise the fact that this is an article based on the feminine gender, but I don’t ignore the masculine gender. It just happened that I found this reading interesting and wrote about it. Personally I think men are equally opressed in the name of masculinity and forced to be a publlic figure than a private one. For example every advert about baby care centers around mother and child relationship which seemingly negates the importance of a father figure. I do acknowledge that. Secondly, alimony is something that women, especially Indian women who are mostly homemakers need after separation since they have never had any other economic availability. There are a lot of divorce cases where women do not take alimony because they either earn more or earn enough to take care of their children. Also, alimony is meant to be given for a child’s education that may be under the other party’s care. Women do pay alimony in many cases as well. And lastly, it is very offensive for you to say that men can buy their needs instead of having to marry a woman. If that is your defense to this article then I don’t really see why this article shouldn’t be a rant.

    2. Monistaf

      @Antara I did not mean to be offensive nor was I trying to be defensive. There cannot and should not be a value attached to everything people (men or women) do. Any equitable, healthy relationship is based on give and take and a lot is done by both parties simply because they are mutually beneficial. For one gender to scream for recognition for their self imposed roles and condition does not make any sense when the opposite gender does their fair share. The reason you do it is because you feel like doing it, and it pleases someone you love, not because you want to be recognized. Constantly craving attention and recognition for everything you do, would, at least in my opinion, seriously subtract from the true value of a relationship.

    3. Antara Mukherjee

      Alright. I understand what you are trying to say. But I have a few questions. When men go to work. Or women who do professional work, do they or do they not get paid? Do they not get promoted? Doesn’t that have value? Same way women do not self impose labor on themselves. It’s an act of misogynistic masochism that has been conditioned into women. Some break free and some don’t. There is a value to everything. A value of the man if he is healthy and can do work and that of a man who is rendered disabled. Every person has a value in our regime except women who are only involved with housework. We do not recognise their value in helping men, daughters and sons grow into healthy beings and give something to the work force. We do not talk about the fact that current streams of patriarchy and certain extreme feminists do not consider house work as anything to be recognised. It’s a fault that I recognise both in men and women. And I do understand your point about the fact that women get away with a lot more and that is because we perceive them to be someone who needs help. Most cases yes, why? Because they have been taught that they need to depend. And the love point, women who do it out of choice don’t have respect either. Progress hasn’t kept up with the fact that some women would like to rely on traditional roles and not “modernise” . So even to protect that sentiment and love it has to be recognised as work. Not necessarily paid for in currency. I hope it clears up the issue a little bit. Thank you for leaving your comment though!

    4. TempleTwins

      Same way women do not self impose labor on themselves. It’s an act of misogynistic masochism that has been conditioned into women.

      You infantilized the choices of women and removed any agencies in the choices that they made. In fact women in 18th century fought for their rights to be stay at home mothers since they felt working in factories are hard jobs which is better suited for men, then after a decade they fought for their right to be in the workforce blaming men for keeping them confined to the household. The same with women in military, combat roles too, a certain section of womens group opposed womens right to vote as they feared that it would make it mandatory for them to enlist like men do, the govt pandered to them and allowed them to have the right to vote without the obligation of signing up for selective service, after few decades women are blaming men for not being in the military or the combat roles.

      In order for women to be free, they should take the responsibility of their own choices in life instead of blaming the boogeyman patriarchy for everything.

      Also, alimony is meant to be given for a child’s education that may be under the other party’s care.

      You are wrong about this, alimony is for an adult and child support is for the child and we have no way of knowing how that money is spent though. Women can claim alimony even if they don’t have any children. Husbands shouldn’t be punished if the parents of his ex wife never felt the need to educate her or make her financially independent.

      Women do pay alimony in many cases as well.
      An exception doesn’t make the rule. Women benefit a lot in alimony, as men are forced to be bread winners in our society.

      And the article demands for the work of the wives be recognized as work, legally ad socially instead of a ritualistic duty.
      It is already recognized legally as men has to pay half of what they earned to women during their divorce. Over that they made new amendments in IRBM where women can claim not just the marital property but also the ancestral property of her husband, the kind of property which she never helped to acquire. I think women are incentivised to a point it enslaves men financially for the housework that they do.

      When I quit my job, I don’t get severance. When I’m fired, I don’t get severance indefinitely. So why should women get money even after separation? The excuse that most of the people in society gives is that she was used to a certain standard of living while she was married and men has to maintain that standard(legalized prostitution I said)? While they were married men were accustomed to the physical intimacy and clean houses too but are we going to ask ex wives to maintain the standard of his livelihood? I consider prostitution to be exploitative as it cashes on mens need for physical intimacy but at least when the deed is done, the transaction is done and over with, but with marriage you are in debts for decades.

    5. Kartik

      You do realize that she isn’t talking about the roles, she is highlighting the condition of women.
      Why is it taken so that when one person talks about one issue, people call them out for not talking about other issues?

    6. Monistaf

      Got that @Kartik. She is highlighting the condition of women and not surprisingly, blaming it on men. Both genders do work and chores that are mutually beneficial but under appreciated and not recognized or acknowledged in any particular way. What is it that makes what women do so special, that it needs to be recognized?

    7. George

      However, patriarchy has been recognised for centuries, we don’t need more remembrance of what men do or how they are marginalised when the basis for patriarchy was marginalisation of a whole gender group. Also, capitalism itself is a system that was/is inaugurated in a patriarchal society. Women should help change the tide, as men, we should support this move. Think #heforshe.

  2. Babar

    Women fight for their right to work, leaving children with babysitters and maids, who molest children, and beat them if they cry. Of course, a maid is not going to provide motherly love, something a child craves.

    Nanny sedates baby, ‘rents’ him out to beggars

    1. Antara Mukherjee

      Crimes are crimes, they are subjective. If a babysitter molests children that is a fault on the part of the agency that provides her and the fact that she commits crime. There are plenty women who juggle both parts of their lives with and without baby sitters who may or may not be molesters and criminals. Are you saying that women should then just be isolated into the home and have no other role in the society? If that is the case why doesn’t the man stay home and take care of the child and be the fatherly figure which is as important as the mothers and less in only minute matters? So that the woman can work. There are such families, will that be a lifestyle you would take up as a man? Would that be a problem?

    2. Babar

      A bond between the mother and child is much stronger than it is between a father and child. A woman can attend to a child’s need better than the father, biologically and psychologically.

      Babysitters from Hell

    3. Cees Tompot

      The bonds between child and parent does not depend on the sexe of that parent. If fathers would escape their responsibilities a bit less, they would notice themselves. In the west we have believed these scientiffic truths for a long time. Now we found that there is nothing scientiffic about them. Just a matter of emancipation of both sexes.

    4. Cees Tompot

      Babar, are you paid as a stand up comedian or is this a free service to society? Maybe you should reveil your identity so that we can honour you properly. It can’t be your modesty that keeps you in the dark. Then what?

    5. Akshita Prasad

      So, well. Can’t men stay home and loom after kids? Why are women always exoected to do this?

    1. Antara Mukherjee

      I checked the link and would love for you to see my reply to an above mentioned comment.

  3. TempleTwins

    I’ve often said that marriage is a legalized prostitution, now we are encouraging a thought process of giving money to the sex, housework that women do, keep relationships at a transactional basis. If you keep a housemaid for housework such as cooking and cleaning you have to pay for her anyways, so housework is payable and lets assume the husband pays her depends on the market-value of housework in that place but a husband in such a nuclear family provides a place for his wife, and she has to pay the rent which can be deducted from her salary again dependent on the market-value of the house, she also eats in his house which he bought on his expenses, perhaps we have to charge her for the food she eats as well.

    This also means that you shouldn’t buy her cloths, jewelry or if you are taking her out to a restaurant, she must split the bill and pay it off her income, ie the wage you provide to her for housework. When it comes to sex, if sex is something enjoyed by both, why should a man pay for it? so no transactions should exist there. If we make all the calculations I guess housewives would be in debts to their husband forever, until she can move her ass and find a real job.

    1. Antara Mukherjee

      ” So a small step towards better solutions is to accept that it is something that will be a part of our lives, but the need of the hour is to get attention for it and be recognized as workers and partners in the walk towards a better society. And be called as equal citizens.”

      I hope you re-read the article and recognise the fact that I nor the author this article is based on asks for literal wages for housework. It asks for respect, recognition and protection from being isolated as a homemaker. And the article demands for the work of the wives be recognised as work, legally ad socially instead of a ritualistic duty.

    2. Monistaf

      @Antara – “It asks for respect, recognition and protection from being isolated as a homemaker”. The first place you should fight for such recognition is with feminists of the 1.0 generation. Here is a direct quote from one of them “Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession… The choice to serve and be protected and plan towards being a family- maker is a choice that shouldn’t be. The heart of radical feminism is to change that.” (Vivian Gornick, feminist author, University of Illinois). The lack of perceived respect for being a housewife has been propelled aggressively by feminism1.0. May be it is time to upgrade to Feminism 2.0. You can watch Tammy Bruce, who was on the board of directors at NOW (National Organization for Women), explain it in under 6 minutes.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR9FHKKbMZo

    3. Antara Mukherjee

      I will check this out. Thank you for this information. And yes I do believe certain strands of feminism do not support equality and make it tougher for us to take a stand. And hopefully Feminism 2.0 will build and break free from extremism.

  4. Sourajit Mukherjee

    Work in our society has always been associated with hard labour,toiling in the field,or sweating it out in coal mines,until recently where people work in AC rooms,sitting on chairs,so it has been men as they were fit physically,its as simple as that.So much you could have a point for the less respect given for household works,which is not the case in most of the normal(read educated) families,also definitely thats not what the article is about,this came across to me as insulting to all who do household works for the love of the family irrespective of men/women.

    1. Sanjana Ahuja

      I believe that taking care of one’s home and family, irrespective of sex, is a monumental and potentially full-time task that deserves great respect. It is very hard to convert chores at home and emotional drainage into monetary terms and hence, it’s close to impossible to translate the work of a home-maker into wages.

  5. meher

    @ Antara: I really appreciate your piece of work. And I also have similar opinion. From simone de beauvoir to Anais nin this world is evolving through many phases of feminist movement in the last hundred years. One thing is very true that women are being oppressed from time immemorial. Except during the early phases of the human civilization (primitive stage when women discovered agriculture), they are mostly out of the track from dark ages of slave system, feudal system and last but not the least bourgeoisie capitalist system. There for, if you want to trace it, you will have go back to the origin of the family and private property (you know that women were regarded as private property in those days).
    Now, can we doubt the institution named “family” for all these and condemn it?
    If yes, 1. Why?, 2. How?
    If no, What is the solution?
    If anyone interested in sharing their views, we can continue…………

    1. meher

      I am writing this because i have seen some young people with progressive thinking condemn and trying to avoid the institution of family. What are the pros and cons of this?

    2. Antara Mukherjee

      Thank you for reading my work. Yes I agree with you. It’s quite problematic, the concept of a family. Most people believe it to be natural because that has been conditioned into them. Just because a woman gives birth doesn’t mean she has to be the only one responsible for a family. If men were conditioned into taking over the children after they are born then that would have been our history. It just happens that a lot of cultural conditioning has held as back from even thinking that women can do it all. But at the same time men are conditioned into believing that they have no responsibility in house work. And that is the truth even if there are cases of the opposite. Men have been forced to become and external figure, marrying for heirs and earning to maintain a lineage. The concept of a family is very narrow in this sense and something that needs to be deconstructed so that other variations, may be better ones can set example. The idea of woman being only a homemaker takes away a history of women who have done so much, faced so much on the non-house front. Warriors, soldiers, queens and even wrestlers. This conditionings are nothing but another way to create a history that shows woman as a submissive being.

    3. Antara Mukherjee

      Also, please excuse my grammatical errors, I was to hyper about replying to your comment and overlooked my typing errors.

    4. meher

      @ Antara: thanks for the early response.
      At first, I do not want to be judgmental on the topic as it is quite a sensitive one and being a man I must not be. As we do not have contradiction on the point that women are being oppressed, we can proceed!
      From historical point of view, we can not condemn only capitalism for being harsh to women. As I observe, it is the family that is “root of all evil” ; for once we enter into it, we will be a part of it from where there is no way to escape, especially for women. Rest we all know and discuss every now and then.
      This is the beauty of nature that human consists of both male and female. Female procreates ie. gives birth after a successful conception period which follows a successful intercourse. By no way, a male can take that responsibility. This is the very cause of our existence and for this very reason we can not ignore it (otherwise humanity will be wiped out!). For this function, a female is equipped with some unique features like menstruation etc.
      These features make a women naturally weaker than men (?the weaker sex) at least physically. Some may argue that by exercise a woman can also gain physical strength but it is abnormal it hampers with her reproductive function( albeit usually temporary).
      Then comes our satiety! A well formed amygdala and cingulate gyrus gives us all satisfaction (!also sexual) and we crave for it (animals do it by instinct).
      And then comes our conscience of which we all are so well versed!
      With this basic knowledge in mind, it won’t take much of our time that men and women are not born equally. To survive, there are certain differences between the sexes. By the way though men are endorsed with strength “macho” effect, it is women who can survive harsh physical emotional conditions, while men succumb very early. For those who are not aware, I would like to point out that infant and under five mortality rates are higher in males in developed countries.

    5. meher

      At the very outset, my talk would seem to be irrelevant and going nowhere. But the reality is nature is cruel, creates in-equals, let the fittest survive (otherwise there would be congenital and acquired diseases).
      It is very human that talks about equality and wants to implement it; that is also recent concept in the time line of civilization, giving everyone a chance to prove him/herself.
      So, after a long time we learning about equality; capitalism is still blocking its way. By its very nature capitalism creates in equality; any 10+2 student understands that. and we are unable to break this wall till now. Although theoretically and at times practically we have seen light, but we are still in darkness.

    6. meher

      The structures of our society are very fragile; if you follow it is everything, if you do not there is nothing. Breaking is not the big thing; question is: what to do next? “When order is injustice, disorder is the beginning of justice”. When it will be broken, there will be chaos. At that very moment, those who can analyse the whole situation will have to harness the power and guide it through proper predetermined path of next phase of evolution. Otherwise nature will take its course and by its very characteristic, in equality will remain.
      So, you can not abolish the family and platforms of social conditioning and just hope and wait for next best option to come out by itself. Till now feminist movement is doing this much only, what do you say on this topic?

  6. pankaj

    Increasingly modern middle class women have the best of both worlds. For them, having or not having a career is actually a real choice. On the other hand the so called ‘privileged’ men have no such choice. Society as well as their wives expect them to work hard even if they hate their jobs in order to support the family. The wife on the other hand has the option of quitting her job if she wants to. Further, the ‘privileged’ guy after a divorce is forced to work in that job that he may not like in order to support his ex with alimony. The whole narrative of the oppressed wife is idiotc

  7. Shubham

    A very well-written piece. It is time that we try to understand and dismantle the various socio-economic structures that shape, what we falsely believe to be absolute realities.

  8. Suman not a feminist but a hard rocker

    David Fincher would be very upset if he reads this post.The problem with feminism is they speak problems and narrate it.They don’t solve the problem.And the problem with 20 year old feminists they think they have all the maturity to comment on things that require more mental maturity.What is the solution for the problems? Give the solution,don’t just write.Write about how economic policies should change enough to let women earn in a capitalistic world

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Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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