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”.
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.