Women at the forefront of the subversion of labour markets

September 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

We are in a bind, both socio-economically & culturally; the ideal of full employment continues to be propagated even when, or precisely because, work is increasingly difficult to come by. It has been nearly a decade since the start of the Financial Crisis & while many economies claim they have bounced back, unemployment rates remain very high in many parts — with youth representing the most hard-struck demographic. We forget to consider the condition of production in the scheme of things. Is there any need to increase production? & what are the environmentally detrimental effects of overproduction? Are we not damaging the capacity of individual fulfillment for the unemployed by focusing on traditional labour markets as the only possible way of contributing to society and achieving personal satisfaction? Indeed, it isn’t yet 50 years since housework was conceived as work that should be paid in wages. Why should this, or other forms of non-traditional work, be considered lesser than “employment”? Furthermore, in a hurry to create jobs their dignity & safety is not a prioritized consideration as it does not factor into the one statistic that preoccupies public opinion, unemployment rates.

The canon of feminist literature is rich with game-changing texts whose reach is far wider than the question of sex. There is one little work, great in subject, that I cannot believe hasn’t properly been assumed into the canon, however; with this post I want to work towards amending that injustice [however slightly]. Mariarosa Dalla Costa & Selma James’s 1972 pamphlet, Women & the Subversion of the Community, introduced the rights of the unemployed more profoundly than simply raising the agenda of wages for housework. It does this by asserting that the traditional female role under capitalism is to keep the labourers, fulfilling an important social service in their chores: child birthing & rearing, pleasuring men without regard for their own satisfaction, caring for those expelled by the workforce or unable to take part in it [effectively functioning as the first and finest social security (18)], & working double on holidays. (26) In short, they are “slaves of wage slaves”, (29) with their autonomy being undesirable to traditional capitalism as female housework is all-too-valuable in the labour chain without being in risk of going on strike, as this would directly damage the well-being of their family & community. Although technology can improve the conditions of housework, for instance, this isn’t an investment capitalism takes seriously. (21)

In their turn, they saw a different movement as their forerunner of subverting the hegemon: one that has also felt the oppression of the state and community. “A power relation precludes any possibility of affection and intimacy. Yet between men and women power as its right commands sexual affection and intimacy. In this sense, the gay movement is the most massive attempt to disengage sexuality and power”, they assert. (14) Where it falters is that the post-industrial capitalist arrangement was already very homosexual, i.e. prone to segregating women from men between kitchens & offices or factories. A future post, reviewing Jasbir K. Puar’s Terrorist Assemblages, will deal with the homonationalism of state-building & the economy directly. For now, let it suffice to say that these are not always to the benefit of women.

Of the myth of female incapacity, Dalla Costa & James write, “It seems that there have been few women of genius. There could not be since, cut off from the social process, we cannot see on what matters they could exercise their genius. Now there is a matter, the struggle itself”. (35) This is a powerful criticism of Marxisms’ concentration on universal alienation which fails to respect the unequal distribution of that alienation. It can even be used in service to the bourgeois retention of hegemonic power which silences true minorities by laying claim to similar alienation but with the advantage of privileged voice. The left is just as susceptible to this as the right. “As it cuts off all her possibilities of creativity and of the development of her working activity, so it cuts off the expression of her sexual, psychological lid emotional autonomy”. (13)

What’s even more interesting is that the authors vehemently reject the easiest method to empower women, which would be to bring the same capitalist impetus to the notion of wages for housework or to recompose the workforce by injecting large numbers of female workers. These would be actions of reformism. “Slavery to an assembly line is not a liberation from slavery to a kitchen sink. To deny this is also to deny the slavery of the assembly line itself”. (18) Following this logic, the liberation of the one means the liberation of the other — not just women are at stake in feminism.

& what is the goal of the feminism Dalla Costa and James assert? To “avoid on the one hand a double slavery and on the other prevent another degree of capitalistic control and regimentation. This ultimately is the dividing line between reformism and revolutionary politics within the women’s movement”. (35, italics theirs) As a group already excluded from the slave/labour force, the goal for women shouldn’t be to beg for inclusion into it, rather “to find a place as protagonist in the struggle, that is, not a higher productivity of domestic labor but a higher subversiveness in the struggle”. (20, italics theirs)

At stake is a means to social empowerment with a requirement of female de-privatization [i.e. keeping the public sphere open for female action, rejecting the privilege of the male act]. It is a call of action to turn imposed passivity into radical passivity. This would be an act of revolutionary politics. Today we should broaden our attention to other forms of socially-beneficial forms of unrecognised labour too. Especially in light of high unemployment rates which seem to be a fact of modern economies and overproduction one of their symptoms. Encouraging employment on non-traditional grounds would not only bring greater satisfaction to those individuals who, temporarily or permanently, are excluded from the labour force, but it could also fulfill significant social services to the benefit of the community, not just for its subversion.


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