Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America
Evelyn Nakano Glenn
This book is about the ideological and material foundations of the care crisis. It is grounded in the premise that the often untenable strains to which family caregivers are subject and the parlous situation of paid caregivers are closely intertwined and need to be examined together. The main thesis of the book is that the social organization of care has been rooted in diverse forms of coercion that have induced women to assume responsibility for caring for family members and that have tracked poor, racial minority, and immigrant women into positions entailing caring for others. The forms of coercion have varied in degree, directness, and explicitness but nonetheless have served to constrain and direct women’s choices; the net consequence of restricted choice has been to keep caring labor “cheap,” that is, free (in the case of family care labor) or low waged (in the case of paid care labor). Read more…
Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”
“Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”
Evelyn Nakano Glenn
Review of Radical Political Economics Vol 17(3):86-108, 1985. [PDF]
The failure of the feminist movement to address the concerns of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American women is currently engendering widespread discussion in white women’s organizations. Paralleling this discussion is a growing interest among racial ethnic women  in articulating aspects of their experiences that have been ignored in feminist analyses of women’s oppression (e.g. oral histories by Sterling 1979; Elessar, MacKenzie and Tixier y Vigil 1980; Kim 1983; and social and historical studies by Dill 1979; Mirande and Enriquez 1979; Davis 1981; Hooks 1981; Jones 1984). 
As an initial corrective, racial ethnic scholars have begun research on racial ethnic women in relation to employment, the family and the ethnic community, both historically and contemporarily (e.g. Acosta-Belen 1979; Mora and Del Castillo 1980; Melville 1980; Rodgers-Rose 1980; Tsuchida 1982). The most interesting of these studies describe the social world and day-to-day struggles of racial ethnic women, making visible what has up to now been invisible in the social sciences and humanities. These concrete data constitute the first step toward understanding the effects of race and gender oppression in the lives of racial ethnic women. Read more…
“The Housewives’ Wages Debate in the 1920s”
Journal of Australian Studies, No. 78, 2003 [PDF]
The topic of housewives’ wages has received almost no Australian historical consideration. Dorothy Campbell’s fleeting reference is an extremely rare exception.  This article provides a much-needed historical examination of a neglected topic. Such examination shows that progressive and conservative arguments were mounted on both sides of the debate over housewives’ wages in Australia in the 1920s. Both sides of the debate are also found to have sometimes pursued contradictory aims. Furthermore, this article contests sociologist Ann Oakley’s claim that support for housewives’ wages always has conservative ends. 
The closest a housewife’s wage came to being awarded in 1920s Australia was in 1921, when the matter was debated in the Western Australian parliament.  This debate continued throughout the decade in the press, where arguments over financial remuneration for a housewife’s domestic labour focused on the value of woman’s domestic work and woman’s place in marriage. The press both reflected and shaped the debate. It fulfilled the former role by reporting statements by key public figures on the issue. It fulfilled the latter role through publishing the opinion of staff columnists and citizen letter writers on the topic. Read more…
“The Wives’ Movement”
From Chapter Six, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, 1999. [PDF]
“Wives” were an almost unrecognized entity in the first decade and a half after the revolution. An emancipated woman did not define herself by her status vis-à-vis her husband but by her work and activity outside the home. Educated revolutionary women despised housework and tended to consider the upbringing of children as a community rather than family responsibility. For a woman to concern herself primarily with home and family was “bourgeois.”
Although housewives had the vote, they often seemed to be treated as second-class citizens. “Sometimes I thought that we housewives were not even considered human,” one woman complained. Another wrote:
In all my documents it says: housewife. It has been ten years since I graduated from high school and got married, and here I am still putting it down as my meaningful “occupation.” During the elections to the soviets I, a healthy young woman, was sitting together with the old people and retired invalids. I suppose that’s fair. I am “unorganized population.”  Read more…
Lara Vapnek, “Desires for Distance: White Working-Class Women’s Rejection of Domestic Service in the late 19th-century United States”
“Desires for Distance: White Working-Class Women’s Rejection of Domestic Service in the late 19th-century United States”
Lara Vapnek, St. John’s University [PDF]
This paper examines several moments when the intimacy entailed in domestic service became a political issue. The first, and most sustained series of examples comes from post-Civil War Boston, where native-born, white working-class women characterized domestic service as an unacceptable compromise of their independence as American citizens. Female leaders of the post-Civil War labor reform movement such as Jennie Collins and Aurora Phelps developed this rejection into a broader critique of class relations. Their metaphors of “wage slavery” invite us to consider how gender, racial, and ethnic identities were constituted through the performance (or non-performance) of paid domestic labor. The second part of this paper considers how these issues played out during the remainder of the nineteenth century in working-class women’s continued associations of service and slavery, and in growing anxieties about ethnic and racial mixing in middle-class households. Together, the various pieces of this essay suggest how the category of intimate labor might reframe our understanding of the history of paid domestic labor in the United States. Read more…
“‘Slaving like a Nigger’: Irish Jobs and Irish Whiteness”
From Chapter 7, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, 1991. [PDF]
In 1856, Henry C. Brokmeyer, then a wage-earning immigrant German molder in St. Louis, wrote in his diary a question posed about one of his German-American friends: ‘”Why doesn’t he learn . . . a trade; and he wouldn’t have to slave like a nigger? ‘ Brokmeyer, who was to become not only independent of wage work but eventually lieutenant governor of Missouri, had picked up a pattern of usage common in American English since the 1830s.  Not only was nigger work synonymous with hard, drudging labor but to nigger it meant ‘to do hard work’, or ‘to slave’. ‘White niggers’ were white workers in arduous unskilled jobs or in subservient positions. 
But not all European immigrants had the same prospects to ‘learn a trade’, let alone to acquire independence from ‘slaving like a nigger’, by owning a workshop or a farm. English and Scandinavian immigrants were especially likely to achieve such mobility, while the Irish and Germans faced most directly the question of how and whether their labor was different from ‘slaving like a nigger’. But the Irish confronted the question much more starkly. Both before and after the famine, they were far more likely than the Germans to be without skills. The famine Irish infrequently achieved rural land ownership. Within large cities Irish-American males were skilled workers perhaps half as often as German-Americans, and were unskilled at least twice as often. Although frontier cities, perhaps attracting Irish migrants with more resources and choices, showed less difference between Irish and German occupational patterns, the Irish stayed at the bottom of white society.  Read more…
“Colonization and Housewifization”
Chapter Three, Patriarchy and Capital Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, 1986. [PDF]
The Dialectics of ‘Progress and Retrogression’
On the basis of the foregoing analysis, it is possible to formulate a tentative thesis which will guide my further discussion.
The historical development of the division of labour in general, and the sexual division of labour in particular, was/is not an evolutionary and peaceful process, based on the ever-progressing development of productive forces (mainly technology) and specialization, but a violent one by which first certain categories of men, later certain peoples, were able mainly by virtue of arms and warfare to establish an exploitative relationship between themselves and women, and other peoples and classes.
Within such a predatory mode of production, which is intrinsically patriarchal, warfare and conquest become the most ‘productive’ modes of production. The quick accumulation of material wealth – not based on regular subsistence work in one’s own community, but on looting and robbery – facilitates the faster development of technology in those societies which are based on conquest and warfare. This technological development, however, again is not oriented principally towards the satisfaction of subsistence needs of the community as a whole, but towards further warfare, conquest and accumulation. The development of arms and transport technology has been a driving force for technological innovation in all patriarchal societies, but particularly in the modem capitalist European one which has conquered and subjected the whole world since the fifteenth century. The concept of ‘progress’ which emerged in this particular patriarchal civilization is historically unthinkable without the one-sided development of the technology of warfare and conquest. All subsistence technology (for conservation and production of food, clothes and shelter, etc.) henceforth appears to be ‘backward’ in comparison to the ‘wonders’ of the modern technology of warfare and conquest (navigation, the compass, gunpowder, etc.). Read more…
from Chapter Two, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. 1996 edition; first published 1984. [PDF]
In its infancy, slavery was particularly harsh. Physical abuse, dismemberment, and torture were common to an institution that was far from peculiar to its victims. Partly as a result, in the eighteenth century, slave masters did not underestimate the will of their slaves to rebel, even their female slaves. Black women proved especially adept at poisoning their masters, a skill undoubtedly imported from Africa. Incendiarism was another favorite method; it required neither brute physical strength nor direct confrontation. But Black women used every means available to resist slavery—as men did—and if caught were punished as harshly. Read more…
“The Politics of Motherhood”
Chapter Six, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty, Oxford University Press, 1994. [PDF]
During the first half of the turbulent sixties, child-care policy remained disengaged from the volatile battles raging over race and rights. Rather, improving child care remained the obscure mission of two federal bureaus, the Women’s Bureau and the Children’s Bureau. Before the decade was over, child care, too, became embroiled in the struggle for racial equality. Child care provided through the War on Poverty’s Headstart program was designed to provide enriching experiences for poor children, which in practice meant black children. Day care provided to welfare mothers to reduce the welfare rolls also disproportionately benefited African Americans.
In seeking to build a right-of-center coalition, Richard Nixon seized upon child care as a program that might accomplish that goal. In his first message to Congress, he promised to provide all young children a “healthful and stimulating development.”  The problem was that his welfare reform scheme – the Family Assistance Plan – contained a day-care component. As day-care costs became entangled in the controversy over the FAP, Nixon abandoned his commitment to children.
It wasn’t only the FAP that undermined support for a comprehensive child-care plan. Equally significant was public ambivalence about the escalating numbers of working mothers. If the government embarked on policies that encouraged welfare mothers to work, what implications might such policies have for all families? Federal support for child care was defeated both because of its connection to welfare reform, and thus to one of the most controversial and racially charged issues of the decade, and because of its implied validation of the right of all mothers to work. Read more…
“Health and Hospitals”
Chapter 9, The Young Lords: A Reader. Edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer, NYU Press, 2010.
Adequate health care for the poor was one of the chief demands of the Young Lords. Faced with a health-care crisis on various fronts, the Young Lords (together with the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement) started lead poisoning and tuberculosis testing programs, took over Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, and demanded equal treatment of all Third World peoples. Articles in this chapter cover the principles of their health program, describe the theoretical and historical rationales used in advancing their arguments, and document specific health initiatives the Young Lords launched in their communities.
Ten Point Health Program
(From the newspaper Young Lords Organization, January 1970, volume 1, number 5)
We want total self-determination of all health service at East Harlem, (El Barrio) through an incorporated community-staff governing board for Metropolitan Hospital. (Staff is anyone and everyone working in Metropolitan, except administrators.)
We want immediate replacement of all Lindsay and Terenzio administrators by community and staff-appointed people whose practice has demonstrated their commitment to serve our poor community.
We demand an immediate end to construction of the new emergency room until the Metropolitan Hospital Community-Staff’ Governing Board inspects and approves them or authorizes new plans.
We want employment for our people. All jobs filled in El Barrio must be filled by residents first, using on-the-job training and other educational opportunities as bases for service and promotions.
We want free publicly supported health care for treatment and prevention
We want an end to all fees.
We want total decentralization of health — block health officers responsible to the Community-Staff Board should be instituted.
We want “door-to-door” preventative health services emphasizing environmental and sanitation control, nutrition, drug addiction, maternal and child care and senior citizen services.
We want total control by the Metropolitan Hospital Community-Staff Governing Board of budget allocations, medical policy, along the above points, hiring and firing and salaries of employees, construction and health code enforcement.
Any community, union, or workers organization must support all the points of this program and work and fight for them or be shown as what they are-enemies of the poor people of East Harlem
POWER TO THE PEOPLE!
QUE VIVA EL BARRIO! FREE PUERTO RICO NOW!
New York State Chapter
Young Lords Organization Read more…
Dorothy Sue Cobble, “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”
“‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”
Dorothy Sue Cobble
International Labor and Working-Class History No. 56, Fall 1999, pp. 23-44 [PDF]
In 1972, a group of tired stewardesses tried to explain their concerns to the incredulous male transit union officials who led their union. No, the primary issues were not wages and benefits, they insisted, but the particular cut of their uniforms and the sexual insinuations made about their occupation in the new airline advertisements. Their words fell on deaf ears. Despite their commonalities as transportation workers, the gender gap separating the two groups was simply too wide to cross. Indeed, male subway drivers could not understand why the stewardesses would object to their glamorous sex-object image. Deeply held gendered notions of unionism and politics also stood in the way of communication.
For even if the complaints of stewardesses were accepted as “real,” to many male union leaders they seemed petty: matters not deserving of serious attention, let alone concerted activity. The gender gap in labor history may not be quite as wide as that between female flight attendants and male subway drivers. But many of the same processes have blocked productive communication and hindered the intellectual development of the field. Labor history scholarship still rests upon gendered definitions of work, politics, and unionism. Just as significantly, the overall narratives that dominate the field incorporate neither the history of female-dominated occupations and industries nor that of women’s particular forms of collective action. Read more…
Erik S. McDuffie, “Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front”
“Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front“
Erik S. McDuffie
American Communist History, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008 [PDF]
Esther V. Cooper’s brilliant 120-page 1940 M.A. thesis, ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism,” still stands as the most thorough sociological and historical study written on the working conditions and status of black women household workers and their efforts to unionize during the Depression.1 The ”Negro Woman Domestic Worker” was a crucial part of her early intellectual foundation, helping to set the stage for her staunch support for civil rights, social justice, internationalism, and radical democracy with special concern for African-American women that were trade marks of her life’s work. It also stands as a marker for what could have been a significantly different life journey for her.2
The thesis, above all, contains broad significance for understanding black women’s activism and black radicalism during the Popular Front. It reveals an emergent black left feminism, a politics that centers working-class women by combining Communist Party positions on race, gender, and class with black nationalism and black radical women’s lived experiences, embedded in their writings and activism. Black left feminism paid special attention to the intersectional, transnational nature of African-American women’s oppression and viewed them as key agents for transformative change. Committed to the Popular Front agenda of civil rights, trade unionism, anti-fascism, internationalism, and concern for women’s equality, their work anticipating conclusions drawn by ”second wave” black feminism decades later.3 Read more…
“Domestic Workers Organize!”
Eileen Boris and Premilla Nadasen
WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society Vol. 11 Dec. 2008, pp. 413–43. [PDF]
This article traces the history of domestic worker organizing in the U.S. It challenges the long-standing assumption that these—primarily women of color—cleaners, nannies, and elder care providers are unorganizable and assesses the possibilities and limitations of recent organizing efforts. The nature of the occupation—its location in the home, the isolated character of the work, informal arrangements with employers, and exclusions from labor law protection—has fostered community-based, social movement organizing to build coalitions, reform legislation and draw public attention to the plight of domestic workers. Their successes, as well as the obstacles they encounter, hold lessons for other low-wage service sector workers in a new global economy. Domestic workers have integrated an analysis of race, class, culture, and gender—a form of social justice feminism—into their praxis, thus formulating innovative class-based strategies. Yet long-term reform has remained elusive because of their limited power to shape state policy. Read more…
“The Slave Market”
Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke
From The Crisis 42 (Nov. 1935).
The Bronx Slave Market! What is it? Who are its dealers? Who are its victims? What are its causes? How far does its stench spread? What forces are at work to counteract it?
Any corner in the congested sections of New York City’s Bronx is fertile soil for mushroom “slave marts.” The two where the traffic is heaviest and the bidding is highest are located at 167th street and Jerome Avenue and at Simpson and Westchester avenues.
Symbolic of the more humane slave block is the Jerome avenue “market.” There, on benches surrounding a green square, the victims wait, grateful, at least, for some place to sit. In direct contrast is the Simpson avenue “mart,” where they pose wearily against buildings and lampposts, or scuttle about in an attempt to retrieve discarded boxes upon which to rest.
Again, the Simpson avenue block exudes the stench of the slave market at its worst. Not only is human labor bartered and sold for slave wage, but human love also is a marketable commodity. But whether it is labor, or love that is sold, economic necessity compels the sale. As early as 8 a.m. they come; as late as 1 p.m. they remain.
Rain or shine, cold or hot, you will find them there – Negro women, old and young – sometimes bedraggled, sometimes neatly dressed – but with the invariable paper bundle, waiting expectantly for Bronx housewives to buy their strength and energy for an hour, two hours, or even for a day at the munificent rate of fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, or, if luck be with them, thirty cents an hour. If not the wives themselves, maybe their husbands, their sons, or their brothers, under the subterfuge of work, offer worldly-wise girls higher bids for their time.
Who are these women? What brings them here? Why do they stay? In the boom days before the onslaught of the depression in 1929, many of these women who are now forced to bargain for day’s work on street corners, were employed in grand homes in the rich Eighties, or in wealthier homes in Long Island and Westchester, at more than adequate wages. Some are former marginal industrial workers, forced by the slack in industry to seek other means of sustenance. In many instances there had been no necessity for work at all. But whatever their standing prior to the depression, none sought employment where they now seek it. They come to the Bronx, not because of what it promises, but largely in desperation.
Paradoxically, the crash of 1929 brought to the domestic labor market a new employer class. The lower middle-class housewife, who, having dreamed of the luxury of a maid, found opportunity staring her in tee face in the form of Negro women pressed to the wall by poverty, starvation and discrimination.
Where once color was the “gilt edged” security for obtaining domestic and personal service jobs, here, even, Negro women found themselves being displaced by whites. Hours of futile waiting in employment agencies, the fee that must be paid despite the lack of income, fraudulent agencies that sprung up during the depression, all forced the day worker to fend for herself or try the dubious and circuitous road to public relief.
As inadequate as emergency relief has been, it has proved somewhat of a boon to many of these women, for with its advent, actual starvation is no longer their ever-present slave driver and they have been able to demand twenty-five and even thirty cents an hour as against the old fifteen and twenty cent rate. In an effort to supplement the inadequate relief received, many seek this open market.
And what a market! She who is fortunate (?) enough to please Mrs. Simon Legree’s scrutinizing eye is led away to perform hours of multifarious household drudgeries. Under a rigid watch, she is permitted to scrub floors on her bended knees, to hang precariously from window sills, cleaning window after window, or to strain and sweat over steaming tubs of heavy blankets, spreads and furniture covers.
Fortunate, indeed, is she who gets the full hourly rate promised. Often, her day’s slavery is rewarded with a single dollar bill or whatever her unscrupulous employer pleases to pay. More often, the clock is set back for an hour or more. Too often she is sent away without any pay at all.
Theda Skocpol, “A Society without a ‘State’? Political Organization, Social Conflict, and Welfare Provision in the United States”
“A Society without a ‘State’? Political Organization, Social Conflict, and Welfare Provision in the United States”
Journal of Public Policy, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1987), pp. 349-371
This article was originally presented at the Institute on ‘Foreign Perspectives on the U.S. Constitution,’ sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies at the Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, Wisconsin, on 29 September 1987. It draws upon some material presented in the introduction to The Politics of Social Policy in the United States, edited by Margaret Weir, Ann Shola Orloff, and Theda Skocpol (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).
‘State and society’ are terms of reference bound to seem out of place in a discussion of the Constitution and governance of the United States of America. As an insightful observer once put it (Pollard 1925, 31), ‘Americans may be defined as that part of the English-speaking world which instinctively revolted against the doctrine of the sovereignty of the State and has … striven to maintain that attitude from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers to the present day.’ Citizens of the United States view themselves as fortunate not to be subject to any overbearing ‘State.’ And foreign observers rightly have trouble identifying elements of concentrated sovereignty in the American political system – except, perhaps, when the USA acts aggressively on the world stage.
This article will touch upon historical reasons why Americans lack a sense of the state. Primarily, however, I shall argue that we can learn a surprising amount about American society and politics by treating state-society relationships in more analytical terms. It is an ethnocentric illusion to imagine that the United States has been a dynamic society and capitalist economy ‘unencumbered’ by any state. Instead, the specific organizational forms that state activities have taken in America have profoundly affected the social cleavages that have gained political expression, and helped to determine the sorts of public policies that US governments have – and have not – pursued from the nineteenth century to the present day. Drawing upon my own current research, I can illustrate this argument by exploring why US patterns of public social provision differ from those associated with European welfare states. If the US constitution is construed broadly to mean not just a document drawn up in 1787-8 but an entire configuration of governance with associated cultural meanings, then this constitution has much to tell us about why American social policies have come to be as they are. Read more…
“Women’s Autonomy and Remuneration for Care Work in the New Emergencies”
Mariarosa Dalla Costa
This paper has been presented at the international Conference on: “La
autonomia posible” (The Possible Autonomy). Universidad Autonoma de la
Ciudad de Mexico, October 24-25-26, 2006. It has been translated from Italian into
English by Silvia Federici.
Every construction of autonomy has its own history that evolves in a specific context
and must face specific obstacles and battles. Yesterday I mentioned the first stages of
this history through the initiatives of that feminist movement in which I directly
participated—initiatives necessary for women to regain the availability of their body.
I have also recalled how, on a planetary level, this battle is far from being concluded.
Here I would like to consider other aspects of this history, starting again from the
initial moments of that political experience, to assess what is the relation between
women and autonomy today with respect to some emergent problems, and also to
ask, in relation to the latter, what has happened to both the demand that housework
(or care work) be remunerated and to women’s economic autonomy. Read more…
“The Megalosaurus” (excerpt)
Excerpt from Karl Marx: A Life, p. 169-177
His living conditions might have been expressly designed to keep him from lapsing into contentment. The furniture and fittings in the two-room apartment were all broken, tattered or torn, with a half-inch of dust over everything. In the middle of the front living room, overlooking Dean Street, was a big table covered with an oil cloth, on which lay Marx’s manuscripts, books and newspapers, as well as the children’s toys, rags and scraps from his wife’s sewing basket, several cups with broken rims, knives, forks, lamps, an inkpot, tumblers, Dutch clay pipes and a thick veneer of tobacco ash. Even finding somewhere to sit was fraught with peril. ‘Here is a chair with only three legs, on another chair the children have been playing at cooking – this chair happens to have four legs,’ a guest reported. ‘This is the one which is offered to the visitor, but the children’s cooking has not been wiped away; and if you sit down, you risk a pair of trousers.’
One of the few Prussian police spies who gained admission to this smoke-filled cavern was shocked by Marx’s chaotic habits:
He leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk. Though he is often idle for days on end, he will work day and night with tireless endurance when he has a great deal of work to do. He has no fixed times for going to sleep and waking up. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the comings and goings of the whole world.
Marx’s reluctance to go to bed seems eminently reasonable, since his whole menage – including the housekeeper, Helene “Lenchen” Demuth – had to sleep in one small room in the back of the building. How Karl and Jenny ever found the time or privacy for procreation remains a mystery; one assumes that they seized their chances while Lenchen was out taking the children for a walk. With Jenny ill and Karl preoccupied, the task of preserving any semblance of domestic order fell entirely on their servant. ‘Oh, if you knew how much I am longing for you and the little ones,’ Jenny wrote to Karl during her fruitless expedition to Holland in 1850. ‘I know that you and Lenchen will take care of them. Without Lenchen I would not have peace of mind here.’ Read more…
“Women’s Work and Economic Crisis: Some Lessons of the Great Depression”
Ruth Milkman, 1976 [PDF]
Most people in this society view paid work and
family life as two clearly distinct spheres of activity,
as indeed they have become. In general, men are
associated with work and women with the family.
Though there is considerable overlap in practice -
women frequently work outside the home and men
often play an important role within it – American
culture clearly defines men as the “breadwinners”
and women as the people socially responsible for
managing housework and family life. Women’s
production within the family, because it is not paid
labor, is often not recognized as valuable, but the
work done within both spheres is clearly crucial to
the functioning of the economy. Unpaid houseworkers
produce and socialize children and efficiently
provide many important personal and
social services. Paid workers produce profits and
also some useful commodities.
In the course of capitalist development, women
have come to play an increasingly important role
in the sphere of paid labor, and yet participation in
that sphere continues to be ideologically defined as
“male.” This disparity between the cultural definition
of women and the reality of their material
situation stems from a contradiction basic to the
structure of capitalism. On the one hand, there is
the continuing need for the family, particularly
women’s unpaid labor in it, and, on the other hand,
the tendency for an increasing amount of human
activity to be integrated into the sphere of commodity
production in the course of economic growth. Read more…
“Constructing Lesbians and Gay Men as Family’s Outlaws”
Chapter 6, Feminism, The Family and the Politics of the Closet. 2000. [PDF]
Constructing Lesbians and Gay Men as Family’s Outlaws
It remains to make good on two promissory notes from the previous chapter.
As I mentioned at the outset of that chapter, lesbian feminists have
constructed extensive and pointed arguments against lesbian marriage, motherhood,
and family. Because those arguments are so compelling from a feminist
perspective, they need to be addressed at length. Second, the previous
chapter invoked, without defending, the thesis that being unfit for marriage
and family has occupied a central position in the social construction of what
it means to be gay or lesbian. Because putting the family at the center of
lesbian and gay politics looks, on the surface, reactionary rather than revolutionary,
some hefty evidence that the subordinating construction of gay and
lesbian identity centers around their being family outlaws is in order. Read more…
“Putting feminism back on its feet”
Social Text, No. 9/10, The 60′s without Apology (Spring – Summer, 1984), pp. 338-346
Conducted in New York City, summer 1983, by S. Sayres. Questions have been deleted.
Almost fourteen years have passed since I became involved with the women’s
movement. At first it was with a certain distance. I would go to some
meetings but with reservations, since to a “politico” like I was it seemed
difficult to reconcile feminism with a “class perspective.” Or this at least
was the rationale. More likely I was unwilling to accept my identity as a
woman after having for years pinned all my hopes on my ability to pass for
a man. Two experiences were crucial in my becoming a committed feminist.
First my living with Ruth Geller, who has since become a writer and recorded
in her Seed of a Woman the beginning of the movement, and who
in the typical feminist fashion of the time would continually scorn my enslavement
to men. And then my reading Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s The Power
of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1970), a pamphlet that
was to become one of the most controversial feminist documents. At the
last page I knew that I had found my home, my tribe and my own self, as a
woman and a feminist. From that also stemmed my involvement in the
Wages for Housework campaign that women like Dalla Costa and Selma
James were organizing in Italy and Britain, and my decision to start, in 1972,
Wages for Housework groups also in this country. Read more…