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Carrier Bag 1. Ergo-feminism I : Ruth Shwartz-Cowen

More Work for Mother.

What you discover through reading this book, is how indispensable women’s contribution to social reproduction is, and how it is impossible to give it an appropriate remuneration, for, should one even be undertaken, it will become glaringly obvious how wealth is concentrated not by those whose labour is essential, but by those who preside over and dominate labour.

There is a historical problem for feminists who wish to draw attention to the subordination of women’s labour. Marx, though he was not oblivious to women’s contribution to social production, and indeed acknowledged that women were radically exploited in capitalism, creates some difficulty when he distinguishes labour into “productive” and “unproductive”, whereby women’s work in the home falls into the latter category.

How can that be? It is quite obvious that women’s work in the home is essential to the reproduction of the worker’s capacity to work, and of the raising up of the next generations of productive citizens. Yet in Marx’s narrow economic analysis, the only productive labour is that which is directly exploited by capital for profits. “Productive” for Marx means productive of profits, and this requires that the worker sell their labour to the capitalist for a wage. All non- wage-bound relations in the productive process then fall into the category of natural resources. The capitalist through the wage exploits not only the worker, but also those which reproduce the worker’s capacity to work, including, radically as Stefania Barca explores so provocatively the reproductive contributions of the biosphere.

Women as natural resources at the base of the capitalist production chain sounds de-humanizing, and it is. This understanding of social reproduction consigns women to the same status of slaves, and farm animals. Women, and children, were the first slaves, the homestead the first plantation. The originary pact between men and women involved a trade-off of skills and abilities whereby both might benefit, but especially the man benefitting from the infinite resourcefulness of women, ensuring to the degree possible, the material conditions for the thriving of the man.

This is not, of course, the only model which has ever existed. There have been matriarchal societies where the male has had a much more attenuated and even subordinate role in the social order. But where I am writing this today here in 21st century Berlin Germany, this is certainly not the case. On the other hand, what we do see today is a certain emasculation of the male through technical sufficiency, rendering the conventional male roles largely redundant. This is generating much discomfort for males who progressively have lost their legitimacy at the top of the pecking order and mostly play a “spoiler” role as scientific and technological advance make clearer every day that feminist socialism is the only sustainable and rational course for humankind, where women’s work is eased through affordances such as communal kitchens, child and elder care on a massive scale and male aggressivity will have to find new applications in intellectual pursuits, new sports and entertainments.

The first chapters in More Work for Mother elucidate how premodern households depended on intricately related labor contributions from both the husband and wife. Schwartz Cowan begins by pointing out the proto-bourgeois form of this early homestead. This is not the story of slaves where both sexes labour as animals for a master, but a house-bound (hus-band) form where the individual house-hold is the locus of human reproduction with a certain contingent autonomy from the state or broader social surround. The house-hold, Schwarz Cowen takes pains to point out is itself a social product, and is reproduced socially. It could not exist by itself, without the rest of the society, however distant, which, for example, provides some necessities which cannot be produced in the home-stead such as metal tools, pots, or salt. The patriarchy of the proto-modern household is a version of the patriarchy of the society within which it reproduces itself. The subjugation of women’s work is not categorical here, because, in the proto-modern household, the husband is not working for a wage. Schwartz Cowen shows how the sexual division of labour was not exclusive, and many tasks needed to be performed collaboratively, also with the particiüation of children if there were any. As such there was also no categorical distinction of human and natural roles in the reproduction of human industry. The categorical separation between men and women the consignment of women to the category of natural resource to be exploited for free really begins with the industrial revolution which tied the autonomous life of the household firmly into a complex system of technical affordances for which money, and thus a wage was required for purchase. Conventionally the husband becomes a wage labourer producing profits for capitalists and bringing home necessities which can no longer be made by the busy housewife caught up with other demands. Importantly this forever distinguished house work as women’s work.

The exploitation of the adaptive human faculty - that capacity which Harry Braverman identified is exploited in the factory worker besides the piecework, as a function of the piecework, the psychological tuning and retuning of the labouring person, permitting the body to go through the working motions without error, this internal calming focussing work, which against all recriminations, and stresses functions to negotiate productivity our of the worker, is of course an assumed contribution to the work, just as the mother’s intelligence, knowing how to accomplish all of the myriad tasks delegated to her or left to her while still reliably getting food on the table and the children to school and to bed.

One gets the impression that the technological revolutions are precipitated by men on women through some kind of challenge to extract maximum value from unpaid housewife labour, “oh you think you can manage, wait till you see what new trials we have in store for you!”. The woman, furnished with a car, has even less autonomy and less time, because the car is accompanied with a suburb home which is far away from everything. The mother must now not only drive long distances to shop, or ferry kids to school and wherenot, in addition to the ordinary tasks in the home. No sooner is there a small window of blue sky ahead, does that window get filled with new tasks, also tasks that nobody is trained for and which one must spend time and energy self-educating oneself about. Inevitably women are working more and more ingeniously than ever, but unlike the men who get a salary and are ripped off of free ingenuity, women don’t even get a salary their entire life being is a voluntary contribution to social reproduction and it appears that”rising productivity” consists of getting more out of mother, extracting even more ingenuity social care and raw labour force from each living being, and women, with their strong sense of commitment to social well being are more ready to sacrifice themselves to the “greater good”:

1_ergo_feminism_more_work_mother_ruth_schwarz.txt · Last modified: 2022/04/26 00:25 by baruch