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“Patriarchy’s Vision Is To Free Men From Household Activities To Work Outside”

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“Women need to shift from thinking I’m not ready to do that to thinking I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.” – Sheryl Sandberg.

Whenever we look at working women nearby, we often forget to question their work in a larger social and economic structure of paid and unpaid care, domestic work. How does their work describe them in the household and at the workplace?

The devaluation of women’s work is visible in productive and unproductive work. Hence, to evaluate the work sphere, it has been divided into two broad categories:

  1. The economic realm covers sellers, buyers, producers and the market.
  2. The household realm covers all the unpaid work as it is necessary for the functioning of the economic arena.
homemaker kitchen
Representative Image.

But household activities never count in the purview of the economic sphere of work. Undoubtedly it has been taken into consideration in the national economy.

In a capitalist society, women are cheap labourers and are used as a tool to generate profit for men. Traditionally, women bore the burden of household responsibilities with subsistence farming without getting any monetary value for their work.

As we all know, non-productive work is significant for a nation’s economy. What if it is incorporated into the economy to enhance global production?

For long, unproductive work has been considered non-work and devalued by creating a demarcation in production with market and work value. The original definition of work only includes certain activities according to the labour market. It is also a capitalist invention and tactic to make some work invisible.

Many economic feminists provide a critique of the mainstream scholarship of work. Mainstream feminism has ignored the sphere of social reproduction or “unpaid work” that includes both subsistence production and unpaid care work. It is also critiquing their ignorance of family relations and intersections of power with inequalities.

There is no doubt to assert that the productive body covers paid and unpaid labour, but the unpaid labour also includes the labour of love. The unproductive work emphasises the reproductive body (maternal body). It reflects how reproductive roles and functions extended their stems to unpaid labour.

How Does Work Affect Women’s Status In Society?

The labour market determines the value of work, further inspected by gender ideologies and governed by the market dynamics of who does the unpaid work. In social relations, partners are valued by their gender, not by their work.

Women are significantly engrossed in domestic chores and care-work that you can see when a woman returns home after work. She has to perform all tasks as her duty whether her husband comes early or not. Society gives privilege to those men, working outside and ignoring the domestic responsibilities by accepting the norms and facts bestowed to them as women are god gifted with burden since birth.

Many studies reveal the effects of far-reaching health issues such as stress, lower mortality rate, sickness, etc., due to the increasing work intensity done by women. Gender Ideologies, the socialisation process, labour market constraints, societal pressures, separate notions of paid vs. unpaid work are various causes of the double burden of work.

Image provided by the author.

Economic feminists are facing challenges to make women’s unpaid or care work visible.

Women’s Role in Economic Development by Ester Boserup of Women In Development (WID) framework advocates for women’s involvement in agricultural production and rejects the narrow view of women’s roles as mothers and wives. The WID approach represented women as productive members of society instead of only beneficiaries.

The present feminist movement poses significant questions on the role of reproduction as a far-reaching determinant of work with the sexual division of labour by exploring the power relations between men and women. The commodity production is insufficient to explain the traditional focus of reproduction concerning the household sphere that women’s work roots lie in patriarchal relations.

Image provided by the author.

We need to re-examine the two areas: production and reproduction, reflecting the nature of gender discrimination at work, women’s wages and their participation in the developmental process. These questions and insightful remarks open portals of discussions on Marxist and Socialist feminist debates (work, women, wages, reproduction, exploitation and the labour market).

Marxist feminists such as Margaret Benston, Peggy Morton, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, Sylvia Walby and Clara Zetkin stressed the productive, reproductive and household labour of caring for work and unpaid labour.

They highlight the socialisation of work, unlike Margaret Benston, who defines women as the class of people responsible for the production of simple use values in the activities related to the house and family. Further, she explained women’s exclusion from productive labour is the most important source of female oppression.

Some Marxist feminists have argued for the inclusion of household chores/work in the capitalist wage economy. Marxist feminists believe that we must analyse the links between women’s work status and women’s self-image in order to understand the uniqueness of women’s oppression.

Dalla Costa and James described that women’s work generated inside the home also engendered surplus value. Women’s domestic work is a necessary condition for all other labourers to extract the surplus-value. For that, they argued, men should pay wages to women for household work.

Some Marxists feminists also explained comparative worth in which the sexual division of labour operates in capitalist society.

Throughout, the differences among feminists on the debate of production and reproduction in work have led to the development of critiques and better explanations in feminist discourse.

The Two-System Explanation of Women’s Oppression and the Interactive System Explanation of Women’s Oppression combines a Marxist feminist account of class power with sex power. Juliet Michel and Alison Jaggar explain two-system models. Conversely, Iris Marion Young, Hedi Hartman, Sylvia Walby come under the interactive model.

Image provided by the author.

Alison Jaggar explained women’s alienation about their work and reproduction. She linked alienation of women from the product of reproduction, themselves, children and experience of motherhood (they are alienated from everything and everyone) in the same way wage workers are alienated from the product on which they work.

Interactive models make patriarchy and capitalism equally responsible for oppressing women. Socialist feminists rely on the interdependency of capitalism and patriarchy.

“Capitalism oppresses women as workers, but patriarchy oppresses women as women, an oppression that affects women’s identity as well as activity.” – Rosemarie Tong.

The debate of sexual division of labour by Iris Marion Young highlights the interdependency of capitalism and patriarchy that are equally responsible for oppressing women. Young suggested a single theory of socialist feminism implies giving ideas to explain the gender-biased (patriarchal) capitalism.

She used her thesis for an argument to the critique of Marxist feminists that patriarchy is aware of its workers’ gender and capitalism identifies men as a primary workforce and women as secondary. Hence, patriarchy’s vision is to free men from household activities and permit them to work outside.

It is evident now that women experience patriarchy in different ways — they do uncompensated domestic work, unequal wages, public-private division, sexual harassment at jobs, etc.

Heidi Hartmann defined patriarchy as a set of social relationships between men that have a material basis. Women are working for pin money to supplement their husband’s puny take-home pay. She said that many proletarian women decided to enter the workforce not to earn “pin money” but to earn enough money to help their male partners and support the family’s true living cost.

Unfortunately, these women generally returned home with male partners who had little or no interest in helping with household chores. Work-related issues disadvantaged women and they are in a no-win situation.

The feminist voices have discussed multiple issues on work of productive or reproductive in contemporary discourses. It has provided a conceptualisation of structural inequalities that persisted between men and women. The debate enriches the arena of socialist feminism to expand the vision of equality and oppression women are facing all around the globe.

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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.

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