Home > child care, labor and capital > Philip J. Kain, “Marx, Housework and Alienation”

Philip J. Kain, “Marx, Housework and Alienation”

“Marx, Housework, and Alienation”
Philip J. Kain
Hypatia vol. 8, no. 1 (Winter 1993)

For different feminist theorists, housework and child rearing are viewed in very
different ways. I argue that Marx gives us the categories that allow us to see why
housework and child care can be both a paradigm of unalienated labor and also involve
the greatest oppression. In developing this argument, a distinction is made between
alienation and oppression and the conditions are discussed under which unalienated
housework can become oppressive or can become alienated.

For modem feminist theorists, housework and child rearing can be seen in
very different and even opposed ways. They can be viewed as the most
rewarding activity or as the greatest oppression. Rosaldo observes that “men
have no single commitment as enduring, time-consuming, and emotionally
compelling-as close to seeming necessary and natural-as the relation of a
woman to her infant child …. Women are felt to be close to their children;
they have access to a kind of certainty, a sense of diffuse belonging, not
available to men” (Rosaldo 1974,24,26). Gordon writes: “Child care, for all
its difficulty, is inherently less alienated and more creative than most other
work; it offers a mother at least a semblance of control over her working
conditions and goals” (Gordon 1979, 125). On the other hand, Ferguson and
Folbre argue: “Repetitive menial work becomes much more meaningful when
it is part of a large task providing love and support. This is the point that the
antifeminist right has pressed home again and again. Children are sometimes
pictured as the reward for housework. As Phyllis Schafley points out, ‘most
women would rather cuddle a baby than a typewriter or factory machine’ ”
(Ferguson and Folbre 1981, 320). Less ironically, Oakley, quoting the Peckham
Rye Women’s Liberation Group, writes: “The appropriate symbol for housework
(and for housework alone) is not the interminable conveyor belt but a
compulsive circle like a pet mouse in its cage spinning round on its exercise
wheel, unable to get off …. “Housework is a worm eating away at one’s ideas.”

Like a fever dream it goes on and on … [‘] The monotony of housework turns
it into a mindless task” (Oakley 1974, 80). However, Joseph points out:
“Circumstance contributed to the autonomous position maintained by the
Black woman in her ‘household domain.’ Being a homemaker in the slave
quarter was a cultural experience that was imposed upon the slaves. In spite of
the wretched accommodations available in the quarter, Black women were
able to be expressive, creative, and in their autonomy, were able to continue
the practice of African customs and habits” (Joseph 1981,95).

These passages suggest that housework and child care can be seen both as
highly satisfying and as the greatest drudgery and oppression-perhaps even
both at the same time. In this essay, I will argue that Marx gives us the
categories that allow us to see why housework and child care can be unalienated
labor (perhaps even its paradigm) while also involving significant oppression
and domination.

For Marx, there is a crucial distinction that must be made between the
concept of alienation and the related (but not identical) concepts of domination
and oppression. Although all forms of alienation involve oppression or
domination, it is not the case that all forms of domination or oppression
involve alienation. One can be dominated and oppressed without being
alienated. But if one is alienated, one is certainly dominated and oppressed.
Thus, to say that the family, housework, and child care can be free of alienation
is not to say that there cannot at the same time be domination or oppression
present. Jaggar is one of the few modem feminists to see that housewives can
be oppressed without being alienated (Jaggar 1983, 218).

Alienation occurs when individuals engage in activity that gives rise to a
product, result, or institution that then escapes the control of the individuals
involved. The results of human activity appear to take on an abstract life and
dynamic of their own. They appear independent and autonomous, begin to
turn upon these individuals, and come to control, dominate, and oppress them.
Moreover, alienated individuals are either unaware of this domination and
oppression or at least do not understand how it arose. It appears to be normal
or even natural (Marx 1975b, 272-77; Marx 1975a, 224-27; Marx 1967, 71-76;
Kain 1982, chaps. 2-4).

For Marx, perhaps the clearest example of alienation is to be found in
commodity exchange. In Capital and in some later writings, Marx refers to
alienation that arises from an exchange economy as “fetishism.” In an
exchange economy, individuals engage in the activity of producing products,
but they do so separately. The producers are not associated; they do not
collectively plan or control their production or distribution. They produce
privately, then put their goods on the market, and abstract and impersonal
market laws set in. These products, regulated by the laws of the market, take
on an abstract life and dynamic of their own that is neither understood nor
controlled by the producers. Thus these products and laws come to dominate,
control, and oppress individuals. They determine how much individuals can
produce, what they will receive in exchange for their products, and how
products are distributed. In a very significant way this control determines the
lives of these individuals. The market exerts its control very obviously during
economic crises, but it is doing it less obviously at all times-for example, when
the cost of medical care, higher education, or day care is pushed beyond the
means’ of certain classes. Moreover, all of this appears normal and even natural.
It may not even seem like oppression or domination-or at least there does
not seem to be an oppressor. No one notices that this alienation or fetishism
is the result of a certain form of human interaction and could be avoided  if
that interaction were changed (Marx 1967, 72-79; Marx 1975a, 224-27).

The concept of alienation or fetishism illuminates a fundamental difference
between feudal and capitalist societies. In feudal society one finds direct,
visible domination of person over person-of the feudal lord over the serf. As
this sort of domination was eliminated with the rise of capitalist society, the
bourgeoisie tended to congratulate itself. That is, in eliminating the direct and
visible domination of the sort found between lord and serf, of person over
person, the bourgeoisie tended to think that it had eliminated oppression and
domination per se-all domination and oppression (at least in the socioeconomic
sphere). The concept of alienation or fetishism was used to burst this
bubble of illusion. In bourgeois society there is still oppression and domination-
it just takes a different form. There is no feudal lord dominating serfs in
the “free” market, but fetishism or alienation is certainly present. The abstract
laws of the market replace the feudal lord. Furthermore, the domination and
oppression of the market, while it cannot be blamed on a person, is nevertheless
worse than feudal domination precisely because it is not visible, not understood,
and thus is more insidious, widespread, and  penetrates social life more

In Marx’s view, there was no alienation or fetishism in the feudal socioeconomic
sphere. Yet there certainly was domination and oppression there – direct
personal domination and oppression. Serfs were forced to give over a
portion of their production, or of their labor time, to the aristocracy and to
tithe to the Church, though there was no abstract, autonomous realm of
exchange. Relations remained personal relations that did not appear as relations
between things (Marx 1967, 77). All domination and oppression are not
alienation or fetishism.

All of this is especially relevant to the family and  to housework. While there
may not be any alienation or fetishism in the family, there certainly can be
direct, visible, and personal domination of women by men.! It is Marx’s view
that no fetishism or alienation arises within the traditional family. After
explaining his concept of fetishism in the first chapter of volume one of Capital,
Marx goes on to give four examples of societies or situations free of fetishism.
The third is the “patriarchal industry of a peasant family, that produces com,
cattle, yam, linen, and clothing for home use.” There is no fetishism here
because there is no exchange of commodities within the family. The members
of the family do not work separately and then exchange their products among
themselves as on a market. No impersonal, abstract, autonomous market laws
set in or come to control them. They work together consciously, collectively,
and cooperatively (Marx 1967, 77-78). Much of this would also be true for the
modem family in capitalist society.

Fraser, however, suggests that it is wrong to claim that money and exchange
have no place in the modem family. Studies of family decision making,
finances, and wife battering, she points out, show that the family is permeated
with money; and, she argues, there is an exploitative exchange of services,
labor, cash, and sex in the family (Fraser 1987,37-38).

The problem here is with the term “exchange.” When a serf turns over a
portion of grain to the feudal lord, or when parents let their child use the car
after cutting the lawn, or even when a husband turns over his paycheck to his
wife, these things can be loosely called exchange, but they are not commodity
exchange in the technical sense. Exchange, for Marx, means buying and selling
on a market. And in a developed exchange economy, the main form of
distribution of goods is carried out through buying and selling on a market. It
is only here that the dynamic of products and market laws can come to
dominate relations between persons. It is only here that fetishism and alienation
can occur. They cannot occur between feudal lord and serf, between
parents and the child to whom they loan the car for cutting the lawn, or
between a husband and his wife to whom he turns over his paycheck. There
may very well be conflict, domination, and oppression in the family that is
directly connected to finances, labor, rendering of services, and sex, but it is
not due to commodity exchange that takes place within the family. Domination
within the family of the sort that Fraser has in mind is very clearly personal
domination by the male. This oppression may in part be due to the effect that
commodity exchange in society has on the family, which I will discuss later;
but in a fundamental sense that must not be overlooked, this oppression in the
family arises out of nonmarket relations. It is personal domination, which is
certainly oppressive, but it is not alienation.2

Let us look at labor within the family-housework and child care-to see
to what extent and in what ways it can be called unalienated. We have
discussed alienation in general; now we must ask what it means, in particular,
for labor to be alienated. In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx
(197 5b) argues that individuals must labor upon the material world; they must
transform it into products that can satisfy their needs. In doing so, workers
objectify themselves in their products. They pour their lives into them. The
product is the objectification, the manifestation, the expression, of the
workers’ powers, capacities, and ideas. Yet if labor is alienated, workers do not
control their products-their products do not belong to them. The more the
workers produce, the poorer they become and the richer this independent,
autonomous realm of products becomes. And thus the workers come to be
dominated by these products that they very definitely need but do not control
(Marx 1975b, 271-74).

Moreover, if labor is alienated, the workers do not even control their own
activity in the process of producing these products. The work is not voluntary,
but coerced. It is not work to directly satisfy the needs or serve the aims of the
workers themselves. The workers’ activity belongs to, is controlled by, and
produces a product for another (Marx 1975b, 274-75). And thus the work in
itself is not satisfying-it is only engaged in as a means to gain a wage.
These two forms of alienation, alienation from the product and alienation
in the process of production, produce alienation from the species. This, for
Marx, is the key form of alienation. To say that workers are alienated from the
species is to say that they are unable to work for the benefit of the species. If
they do not control their own activity, and if they do not control their product,
they will hardly be able to direct these for the benefit of the species. Moreover,
if they do not control their product or their activity, then they will only be
able to benefit individuals in opposition to the rest of the species. Their product
will benefit the owner of the product-the capitalist. And their activity will
gain them a wage, benefit the workers themselves as individuals, but not the
rest of the species. Instead of recognizing that human beings are species beings,
beings whose needs, powers, ideas, and values are formed and shaped in and
by the community, and thus instead of working consciously for the benefit of
the community as the only effective, long-term way to contribute to their own
development, instead of working collectively for a richer sociocultural world
that could be consciously regulated to support and stimulate the development
of each member of the community, their work becomes a mere means to serve
the particular interests of individuals in opposition to other individuals and in
opposition to the community as a whole (Marx 1975b, 275-76).4
If individuals do not work consciously for the benefit of the species, they
will produce an alienated, dehumanized world in which they cannot be at

It is just in his work upon the objective world, therefore, that
man really proves himself to be a species-being. This production
is his active species-life …. The object of labour is, therefore,
the objectification of man’s species-life: for he duplicates himself
not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also
actively, in reality, and therefore sees himself in a world he has
created. In tearing away from man the object of his production,
therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species-life.
(Marx 1975b, 277).

On the other hand, if work is unalienated, human beings will be able to see
themselves in their world, see it as the expression, the objectification, of their
own powers, capacities, purposes, and ideas. In objectifying themselves in such
a world, they will humanize it and create a place in which they can be at home
(Marx 1975b, 301).

It should be clear that in doing housework workers would normally be in
control of the product or result of their work. In washing dishes or clothes, in
cleaning, cooking, sewing, or quilting, the houseworker remains in control of
the product or result; certainly these products do not take on an independent,
autonomous life of their own, certainly not the way products do on a market.
Moreover, houseworkers also remain in control of their own activity in all these
tasks, and that activity can be satisfying.5 Most importantly, housework does
not involve alienation from the species. Child care-and indeed all housework,
which provides an environment for the child-as well as child rearing
and the educating of a child, in working for the benefit of the child, work for
the benefit of the future species. This is a primary reason why housework can
be meaningful and satisfying in a way that alienated factory work can never
be. Both the product and the activity of housework are under the houseworker’s
control and can be consciously and meaningfully directed for the benefit of
the child and, through the child, for the benefit of the future species.
In addition, housework would almost be a paradigm case of objectifying
oneself in the object, in the household, and of being able to see oneself in it,
see it as the outcome of one’s powers, capacities, ideas, and purposes. Housework
produces a humanized environment in which one can literally be at
home. This occurs when one builds a picnic table for the yard, plants a garden,
makes a dress for one’s daughter, cooks food that the family likes, and even
when cleaning or washing.

However, the paradigm case of labor that produces a humanized object6 is
the labor of childbirth and the nurturing, raising, and educating of a child.
Here, in the most complete way possible, “nature appears as [one’s own] work.”
One duplicates oneself not only biologically and “intellectually, but also
actively, in reality … ” and therefore one sees oneself in what one has created
(Marx 1975b, 277). One can contemplate oneself, one’s own doing, in one’s
child. The child’s biological and cultural development is the objectification of
oneself in the child and can be contemplated and appreciated as such.7
N one of this is to suggest that housework is not difficult and even exhausting.
Marx is quite aware that any work can be so characterized:
Adam Smith conceives labour to be a curse …. It does not seem
remotely to occur to him that the individual … needs a normal
portion of labour …. But equally A. Smith has no inkling that
the overcoming of these obstacles is in itself a manifestation of
freedom … that the external aims are [thereby] stripped of
their character as merely external natural necessity, and become
posited as aims which only the individual himself posits, that
they are therefore posited as self-realization, objectification of
the subject, and thus real freedom, whose action is precisely
work. … Really free work, e.g. the composition of music, is also
the most damnably difficult, demanding the most intensive
effort. (Marx 1975e, 529-30)

Difficult as they may be, cleaning and washing can still be satisfying. Sewing,
quilting, cooking, decorating, and building can be not only satisfying but also
creative and can develop one’s powers and capacities. Child care can also be
emotionally rewarding. The point is that difficulty, repetition, and even
drudgery by themselves do not produce alienation; they do not even produce
oppression. Something else is required to produce alienation or oppression.
The most unalienated work, the most satisfying work, can involve certain
aspects that are simply dull, repetitious drudgery. Even artistic work, the
production of films, or scholarship can all involve long stretches of dull,
difficult, repetitious drudgery and still be highly creative and satisfying. Moreover,
overcoming such difficult obstacles can be an exercise in liberty if the
work as a whole is meaningful and significant. For drudgery to become
oppressive, the work must lack meaning and significance, either because it is
not done voluntarily but is coerced, or because it does not benefit others, the
species. And indeed, this leads us to the key to understanding how housework
and child care, which can be almost paradigms of unalienated labor, can also
be the greatest oppression and slavery.

It may seem odd to claim that housework can be both an unalienated ideal
and also the greatest slavery and oppression, but it is not really so strange. After
all, Marx makes the very same point about labor in general. Labor is the highest
human activity. It transforms, develops, and realizes the external world as well
as the powers, capacities, and needs of the human species. And if labor is
alienated it creates the greatest slavery and oppression. In fact, one has to say,
both about labor in general and household labor in particular, that they can
be the greatest slavery and oppression precisely because they are the highest
activity. If labor in general and household labor (especially child care) in
particular were not the highest activities, then their distortion and degradation
could not be the most serious form of oppression. Marx says that the semiartistic
work of the medieval craftsworker, because it was so absorbing and engaging,
was even more slavish. In other words, to make work that is inherently satisfying
and emotionally engaging oppressive increases the oppression. If the work were
not engaging, if it were not important-thus, if the worker could be indifferent
to it-it would not be as slavish (Marx 1975c, 66).

As de Beauvoir puts it, “Marriage is obscene in principle in so far as it
transforms into rights and duties those mutual relations which should be
founded on spontaneous urge” (de Beauvoir 1961,418). Housework and child
care can be unalienated, meaningful, satisfying, and enjoyable. But if they are
expected of a housewife, if they are her duty, if she is coerced into doing them,
if it is her role, her destiny, then they become slavish and oppressive. A woman
may enjoy, may care about and be emotionally involved in, may find meaningful,
housework and child care, but as Marx says, in a slightly different
context, quoting from a speech by Lord Ashly, “the virtues, the peculiar virtues
of the female character [are] perverted to her injury … all that is most moral
and tender in her nature is made a means of her bondage and suffering.”B
Instead, as Marx puts it elsewhere, love should be exchanged only for love,
trust for trust (Marx 1975b, 326). Such expectations shouldn’t be imposed
upon one as one’s destined role.

Honest, open feelings, relating to persons, caring about them for their own
sakes, loving them because they are lovable-this sort of open transparent
emotional situation would be the ideal (Marx 1975b, 300, 324, 326). But any
oppression, domination, or enforcement of roles here will turn the nurturer
into a slave at the most intimate level of feelings. In working for the benefit
of the species, especially in childbirth, nurturing, and child rearing, women,
as de Beauvoir puts it, become slaves to the species (de Beauvoir 1961, 223-33).
Women are burdened by their species activity, locked into it, subordinated to
it, destined to it. The highest human activity becomes the most slavish and
the deepest virtues a means to bondage.

However, we must focus not just on oppression and domination but also on
alienation. Housework and child care, we have seen, can be unalienated ideals.
How, then, does alienation enter the home, the family, and how does it develop
between men and women?

All men (as well as women) are born of women. In giving birth to children,
as well as in caring for them, bringing them up, and educating them, women
objectify themselves in their children, and this objectification humanizes,
encultures, the child. But from the very beginning, the child takes on a life of
its own, and as the child gets older its life becomes more and more independent
and autonomous. Is this not already what we have described as alienation? Not
yet, I do not think. This is still only part of the humanization or socialization
of the child. Humans beings should become independent and autonomous. A
mother wants her child to become independent and autonomous. If the child
does not, he or she will not develop as a fully human being.9

For alienation to arise for women in the family, there must arise a sphere or
spheres outside the family-social, economic, religious, or political spheres that
become larger and more powerful than the family and then can effect
alienation in the family. For alienation to be effected in the family, women
must remain more or less in the family, isolated from other spheres that arise
and come to have a life and dynamic of their own that is independent and
autonomous, which largely excludes women, which therefore women do not
adequately understand and certainly do not control, and which thus gives rise
to a power that comes to oppress and dominate women. This occurs as men
come to engage in activities and interaction with other men outside the family
that form these external spheres. As children grow up and join these existing
spheres, as they get caught up in and molded by these spheres, they can separate
from, turn upon, and come to dominate and oppress the women who gave them
birth-they can, for example, come to support political laws, social policies,
or religious attitudes that oppress women. It is Marx’s view that in early history
these independent spheres did not exist. Economic production occurred within
the family. There was little economic activity going on outside it. There was
no barter or exchange, and even when these did begin, they took place on the
borders of the community with outsiders (Marx 1967,87; Marx 1975f, 290-91).
In early society, the political sphere as a separate sphere outside the family can
be nonexistent, minimal, or undeveloped. And even as it develops, it can be
a sphere in which both men and women participate relatively equally, as both
Marx and Engels, following Morgan, think was the case with Native American
tribes (Marx 1972a, 144-50, 162-63, 172-73. Engels 1942, 76-77). The religious
sphere may not be separate from the family or may include women. It
may even be the case that this early society is peaceful and does not engage in,
or does not engage much in, military activity.

But at a certain point, and differently in different cultures, military activity,
political activity, and economic activity, especially exchange, can develop as
spheres in which men interact with men (Rubin 1975, 168), in which men
come to be the main or the most numerous participants. 1O As these separate
spheres develop and take on a more complex dynamic, as they become more
independent of women and the family, as they become more powerful and are
able to shape the cultural world in accord with their own dynamic, and thus
as women come to have less control and understanding of this dynamic because
they are excluded from it, alienation arises.

Jaggar (1983,218, 307) argues that alienation is a characteristic of capitalist
relations and thus, for Marx, housewives cannot be alienated. I do not think
this is correct. We have already seen that alienation can precede capitalism,
and while it is the case that housework in the family can be unalienated,
alienation can very well enter the family from outside. For Marx, as the
economic sphere develops, especially as exchange and finally capitalism
develop, economic factors will come to predominate in determining the other
spheres of society in a way that they did not in early history. At this point the
alienation involved in the economic sphere-market alienation or fetishism
can enter the family. We must now focus more carefully on the way in which
capitalism enters the family, alienates it, and oppresses it.

In capitalist society, for Marx, labor power is reduced to a commodity. It is
bought and sold on the market like any other commodity. This particular
commodity is produced when parents give birth to, nurture, raise, and educate
a child who will become a laborer. From the capitalist perspective, then,
procreation, child care, and housework (at least for the working class) can be
reduced to the production of labor power. How is the value of this commodity

The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every
other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production,
and consequently also the reproduction, of this special
article … the labour-time requisite for the production of labour-
power reduces itself to that necessary for the production of
those means of subsistence … necessary for the maintenance
of the laborer. [Also] the seller of labour-power must perpetuate
himself, “in the way that every living individual perpetuates
himself, by procreation …. ” Hence the sum of the means of
subsistence necessary for the production of labour-power must
include the means necessary for the laborer’s substitutes, i.e.,
his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners
may perpetuate its appearance on the market. (Marx 1967,

Housework and child care, then, are necessary to produce and maintain the
value of labor power. II The houseworker produces use values-prepares food,
sews clothing, provides shelter, and contributes to the upbringing and education
of the worker or future worker (Marx 1967, 171-72). This labor in the
family is not paid labor-it is done for free (Marx 1967,395). The capitalist
can simply assume that it will take place in the family outside the capitalist
economic sphere-the “capitalist may safely leave its fulfillment to the
laborer’s instincts of self-preservation and of propagation” (Marx 1967, 572) Y
Marx argues that as capitalism develops, especially as it introduces
machinery that dispenses with the need for muscular power, it draws women
and children into the factory; in fact, it brings the whole family into the factory.
Thus, the capitalist “usurp[s] the labour necessary in the home of the family”
(Marx 1967,394-95). This means that some of the housework previously done
by the housewife, “such as sewing and mending, must be replaced by the
purchase of ready-made articles. Hence the diminished expenditure of labour
in the house is accompanied by an increased expenditure of money. The cost
of keeping the family increases, and balances the greater income. In addition
to this, economy and judgment in the consumption and preparation of the
means of subsistence becomes impossible” (Marx 1967, 395n).13 A great deal
of housework will, of course, still have to be performed, most likely by the
woman, who will now have less time to do it and will be able to do it less
efficiently and economically.

Moreover, Marx suggests that bringing extra members of the family into the
factory will not simply multiply the income of the family by the number of new
workers (Marx 1967, 395). What the capitalist will end up paying this family
of workers (at least over time as settled by market forces) will be precisely the
value of their labor power-what it costs to maintain and reproduce the laborer
and the laborer’s family. With the wife working, the family will now have to
pay for some of the services previously performed by the housewife and other
services will not be performed as economically. This extra expenditure of
money will have to be included in the increased wage that the capitalist will
have to pay the whole family, but by no means must this be, nor was it
historically, twice what the male worker originally received working alone.
What the family will receive in wages is precisely what it costs to produce and
reproduce their labor power. The market will drive wages toward this level. l4
This, together with the fact that the woman must now work both in the
factory as well as in the home, produces intense alienation. IS AI; the woman
enters the factory, she directly enters the sphere of alienated labor (Marx 1967,
645). Since this also means that she can do less housework than before and
thus must purchase on the market certain goods and services that she previously
provided herself, it will mean that alienation will also enter the
household. Housework itself will come under the sway of market forces that
cannot be controlled. Market forces will control the cost of goods and services
that must be purchased as well as the fact that the family’s wage will be
depressed significantly below a multiple of the husband’s original wage toward
the minimum cost for the production of labor power. The fact that the family
needs these products but does not control them and finds them difficult to
afford gives rise to alienation from the product-makes them slaves to these
products that they need but do not control. Moreover, the fact that the wife
has less time to do housework, can do it less economically and less efficiently,
means that she will also be alienated in the sense that she will lose control
over her own activity. Her activity will be more frustrating and, since it is
expected of her, will feel more coerced. She will be alienated in the process,
the activity, of housework.

And just as alienation from the product and in the process of production
gives rise to alienation from the species, because one does not control and
therefore cannot direct either one’s product or one’s activity for the benefit of
the species, so also in housework and in child care, because the housewife does
not control the product or her activity, she cannot direct them for the benefit
of the species. Instead, housework and child care produce a mere commodity they
produce labor power. A woman works to prepare her children, her
husband, and herself to enter the alienated realm of the factory; she thus works
to distort and frustrate the development of the species. Work that could be
satisfying and meaningful becomes embittering. Housework and child care,
which could be ends in themselves, are turned into means to produce a
commodity that the capitalist takes advantage of to gain more surplus value
and to pay lower wages. Such housework does not produce a humanized
environment in which the family can be at home; it makes the home into an
alienated realm that turns out human beings as commodities destined for the
alienated realm of the factory.

The housewife who is expected to do this double work also becomes
alienated from her husband. Alienated and uncontrolled market forces that
drive a workman to bring his wife and child into the factory to make ends meet,
mean that the workman who previously “sold his own labour-power, which he
disposed of nominally as a free agent[, now] sells wife and child. He has become
a slave-dealer” (Marx 1967,396). And if he forces his wife to do the housework
at home, he also becomes an oppressor and intensifies her alienation in the

Such a husband clearly oppresses his wife and increases her alienation, but
we cannot say that he exploits her, as Fraser (1987, 37), MacKinnon (1989,
67-68), and de Beauvoir (1976, 76-77) suggest he does. Housework, according
to the capitalist view of things, is not productive labor. To the extent that
capital conquers the whole of production, including that of the home, it
transforms work in the home into unproductive labor (Marx 1971, 159). Before
this, work in the home was social production (Marx 1975f, 275-76; Marx 1967,
77-78; Engels 1942, 75). Productive labor, Marx says, “in its meaning for
capitalist production, is wage-labour which, exchanged against the variable
part of capital (the part of the capital that is spent on wages), reproduces not
only this part of capital (or the value of its own labour-power), but in addition
produces surplus-value for the capitalist” (Marx 1971, 152).

Unproductive labor, on the other hand, “is labour which is not exchanged
with capital, but directly with revenue, that is, with wages or profit …. An
actor, for example, or even a clown, according to this definition, is a productive
laborer if he works in the service of a capitalist … to whom he returns more
labour than he receives from him in the form of wages; while a jobbing tailor
who comes to the capitalist’s house and patches his trousers for him,” or, we
might add, his wife, if she does this instead, “producing a mere use-value for
him, is an unproductive laborer” (Marx 1971, 157-59, also 160). Unproductive
labor, then, is labor that produces use values that are simply paid for out of
income (Marx 1971, 159-60). Productive labor, on the other hand, is labor
that produces surplus value and profit for the capitalist. A productive laborer
is one who works for a capitalist and produces goods that the capitalist can
exchange for a value above and beyond the wage that the capitalist must pay
the productive worker for the value of the worker’s labor power (Marx 1971,
156, 160). Exploitation is the appropriation of this surplus value. In pocketing
the value that the laborer produces above and beyond what must be returned
to the laborer in the form of a wage, the capitalist exploits the laborer.
It is clear that from his wife’s household labor the husband receives only use
values that are consumed, and whatever expenditure of money is involved is
paid for out of income-wages earned in the factory. In normal, modern
housework, a wife does not produce products that can be exchanged on a
market for surplus value. Thus, however oppressive her condition, a wife does
not produce surplus value and thus her husband cannot appropriate surplus
value. Therefore, he does not exploit his wife. Of course, the term
“exploitation” also means simply “taking advantage of,” “benefiting unfairly
from,” “using a person,” and so forth. In this sense we can say that a husband
exploits his wife. But he does not do so in the technical sense, the sense in
which we say that a capitalist exploits a worker; he does not appropriate surplus

Housework, on this view, is simply unproductive-it does not produce
surplus value for anyone. However, it does save surplus value for the capitalist. 16
To employ laborers, the capitalist must pay the value of labor power. He must
pay what it costs to maintain and reproduce labor power, which is a good deal
less than it would be otherwise, due to the wife’s household labor that she
performs for free. If the capitalist had to pay for this free labor or the extra
household costs this labor saves (labor that is necessary for the maintenance
and reproduction of labor power), he would have to pay higher wages and this
would reduce the amount of surplus value he would be able to appropriate. The
fact that he does not have to pay for this household labor therefore saves his
surplus value. Thus, the wife has to engage in surplus labor in the factory over
and above the necessary labor needed to reproduce her wage, which surplus
labor the capitalist appropriates directly, which he exploits; and she also
engages in necessary labor at home (necessary to the maintenance and reproduction
of labor power), which she is not paid for, and which the capitalist
does not appropriate directly, but which he benefits from by saving his surplus
value. Does the capitalist exploit this labor that is carried out in the home? If
exploitation is defined as the appropriation of surplus value, and if the woman
working in the home produces no surplus value, then we cannot say that the
capitalist exploits her either, as Morton (1980, 148) holds he does.

Why can’t the housewife produce surplus value? She produces, or contributes
to producing, a commodity (labor power) that is exchanged on a market
(the labor market) for a wage. And just as all commodities are assumed to
exchange at their value, what it costs to produce them (the socially necessary
costs of raw materials, machinery, buildings, wages, and so forth), so labor
power exchanges for (gains a wage equivalent to) what it costs to produce it.
The capitalist, however, has the power to make the laborer engage in surplus
labor whose product the capitalist can exchange on the market for surplus
value that he pockets himself. The houseworker in the home is not in the
position to produce surplus value. The commodity that she produces {labor
power} exchanges for a wage that is simply equal to what it costs to produce
it. Why can’t she produce surplus value? For example, what if she works harder
or longer to better nourish and educate her family, or what if she has more
children? Couldn’t this generate surplus value? To see this, imagine that she
were only to nourish her family to the point where they could engage in
necessary labor time, the amount of labor time required to reproduce their
wage, and then they simply collapsed from exhaustion such that the capitalist
could not get them to engage in any surplus labor at all. The capitalist would
simply fire these workers, or, if all workers available were like this, the capitalist
would go out of business. What, then, if this woman decided to work harder
and longer to produce a better commodity (or more of them}-workers capable
of engaging in surplus labor so that the capitalist can now gain surplus value?
Wouldn’t this woman, then, do surplus labor, labor above and beyond the
minimum labor necessary to produce the commodity labor power? Wouldn’t it
then be her work that allows the capitalist to gain surplus value? And doesn’t
the capitalist then appropriate the wife’s surplus labor and thus her surplus
value-doesn’t he therefore exploit her? No, not from the capitalist perspective.
The surplus value involved here belongs not to the wife but to the
capitalist. If our capitalist purchases iron from another capitalist who produces
it, that iron will contain surplus labor that was already objectified in it in the
ironworks. Our capitalist will purchase the iron on the market at its value, and
it will rightfully belong to our capitalist. He will then set his own laborers to
work on it, and he will gain his own surplus value by selling on the market the
commodities they produce. This surplus value belongs to our capitalist, not to
the capitalist who owns the ironworks, and the latter is in no way exploited he
was paid the value of his iron. In just the same way, our capitalist pays the
family the value of their labor power. The fact that he exploits the family in
his factory does not mean that he exploits the wife at home any more than he
exploits the owner of the ironworks whose iron he makes use of in the process
of seeking his own profit. Our capitalist has paid the value of the iron as well
as the value of labor power.

The wife is incapable of producing surplus value. Even if she works harder
and longer to produce a harder and longer working laborer, the market and
competition will see to it, sooner or later, that she only receives what it costs
to produce labor power. Until the market adjusts, the family members, if they
work harder and better, can perhaps get a raise in pay, or if the wife has more
children, the family will earn more; but sooner or later competition will cause
the market to adjust and the average family wage will equal the cost of
producing labor power.

Why can the capitalist gain surplus value by exchanging commodities on
the market where the houseworker cannot? Why won’t the market adjust so
that what the capitalist’s commodities will exchange for will equal his costs of
production-eliminating his surplus value? The market will certainly tend in
this direction. Struggle by labor for a shorter workday and higher wages will
tend to reduce the amount of surplus labor time the capitalist can demand and
the surplus value he can appropriate (especially if the capitalist cannot pass
these higher costs on to the consumer in the form of higher prices because of
the pressure of competition from other firms).

But the fact is that if the surplus value of a particular capitalist shrinks too
far, the capitalist will simply quit business. Long before this happens, however,
the capitalist will begin threatening his workers. If they expect him to stay in
business, if they hope to keep their jobs, they will have to accept reduced wages,
longer hours, harder work, and so forth. And so wages will be pushed back
toward subsistence level. No surplus value will accrue to the family as it
exchanges its commodity (labor power) on the labor market for a wage. After
all, this is the necessary condition that allows the capitalist to gain surplus
value for himself, and the capitalist is more powerful here.

It is deeply ironic that, under capitalism, the oppression of the housewife
cannot even be called exploitation. This is not to suggest, however, that
capitalism is innocent. Far from exonerating capitalism, this makes capitalism
even worse. We must see that the distinction between productive and unproductive
labor is not something Marx approves of or accepts, as some modem
feminist theorists such as Kuhn (1978, 47) and Zaretsky (1986, 9-10) seem to
think it is. Marx presents this distinction as an ugly fact generated by capitalist
society and, indeed, as a fundamental critique of capitalist society. Unproductive
labor produces use values and productive labor exchange values. And it
is absolutely clear that Marx deeply objects to the fact that in capitalist society
the realm of exchange value predominates such that to realize something as a
use value it must first be realized as an exchange value (Marx 1975f, 283-84).
Even to be able to afford to produce human beings-develop their powers and
capacities-they, or at least their labor power, must first be sold as a commodity
on the market in exchange for a wage. This is certainly not something Marx
accepts. It is Marx’s goal to eliminate exchange value (Marx 1975d, 85) as well
as, of course, market exchange and thus alienation or fetishism. And if this
occurs, the capitalist distinction between productive and unproductive labor
would disappear. Without exchange and thus exchange value, there could be
no productive labor in the capitalist sense, no labor that produces commodities,
which, when exchanged on the market, could produce surplus value for
the capitalist. For Marx, “productive” labor is not truly productive. I t produces
surplus value only for the capitalist and impoverishes, alienates, and degrades
the wage worker and the houseworker (Marx 1967,573). “Unproductive”
labor, on the other hand, produces not only use values, which are real wealth,
but also human beings, their powers and capacities, and thus is truly productive
labor, labor that can enrich and develop the human species. As capitalism is
replaced by a socialist community in which all production is collectively and
democratically controlled production of use values for consumption by the
whole community as well as the production of human beings, the development
of the powers and capacities of individuals, the capitalist distinction between
productive and unproductive labor will disappear. “Unproductive” labor will
become truly productive, and the private appropriation of “productive” labor
in the form of surplus value and thus exploitation will disappear.

There is another matter that we must discuss here. The emancipation of
women, Engels argues, is impossible if they are isolated in the home and
excluded from the sphere of society and social production (Engels 1942, 148).
This is so, Jaggar argues, because only in society and social production can
women gain a sense of independence, equality with men, and class consciousness
(Jaggar 1983, 66). Yet including women in production, Engels realizes,
will involve increased oppression of women. For Engels, the double work and
thus double oppression of women, brought about when they enter the factory,
can be eliminated in socialist society by industrializing housework-making it
a public industry (Engels 1942, 148).

Under capitalism, the family and civil society are very different realms and
very much opposed to each other. Civil society is competitive, antagonistic,
and fetishized. It is the realm of self-interest and of the aggressive pursuit of
these self-interests. The family, on the other hand, is more cooperative and
less competitive. It is a realm of common concerns more than a realm of
self-interest. It can also be a realm of nurturing, support, and caring-a realm
of reciprocal affirmation and reinforcing emotions. 17 It is a small community,
a Gemeinschaft, which is quite unlike the Gesellschaft of civil society. This is
not to paint an idealized, romanticized, or ideological picture of the family, as
if there were no troubles, disagreements, or oppression within it. The best of
friends, the tightest-knit communities, after all, can disagree. Moreover, disagreements
between those who are close to each other can often be far more
intense and bitter than disagreements between strangers. Furthermore, community,
bonds of feeling, nurturing, caring, and support do not rule out
oppression. Many people seem to think that love can take place only between
equals who respect each other as equals. That is romantic illusion. It is quite
possible to love, to love deeply and seriously, someone you consider your
inferior. And it is quite possible to love someone while what you expect of
them oppresses them. This is not to say, however, that love is not of the highest
value. Love ought to be exchanged only and equally for love. The point is to
remove the oppression and realize the love.

If civil society and the family are so radically opposed to each another, there
would seem to be two possibilities with respect to the liberation of women.
First, women, along with men, could evacuate the family and enter civil
society. And to avoid the double oppression this would involve for women, we
could, as Engels suggests, industrialize housework and child care. But if civil
society and the family are so radically opposed, then as both parents enter the
alienated, competitive, antagonistic, self-interested, and grueling realm of civil
society, they will bring that alienation, antagonism, and so forth along with
them back into the family when they return home at the end of the day. This
will erode the family. At the end of the workday, with their nerves frayed and
on edge, they will find it much more difficult to maintain a communal, caring,
and emotionally supportive realm in the family. This will tend to weaken the
family and dissolve it. Many modem feminists would simply say good riddance
to this oppressive institution. And it would be impossible to disagree, at least
with the end of the oppression that has historically been involved in the family.
But at the same time certain other things would be lost: that aspect of
housework, now industrialized, that can be an unalienated ideal and that
humanizes the environment of the home; working for the benefit of the species
in raising a child oneself; the caring, nurturing, emotionally supportive, and
communal dimension of the family; and the cultivation and preservation of
valuable human emotions, attitudes, outlooks, and values. All of these qualities
and activities have certainly been wrapped up with and inseparable from the
historical oppression of women in the family, but this is not to say that when
the oppression of women is overcome these qualities and activities should not
be seen as of the highest value and that it would not be a serious loss if they
disappeared (Markus 1987,97).

It would seem that the only way to support the family, the second possibility
here, would be to keep one adult in the family. It could be either the husband
or the wife. In the past it has almost always been the wife; and in the foreseeable
future, in most cases, it will probably still be the wife. If one person remains in
the family isolated from the competitive, antagonistic, aggressive, fetishized,
self-interested realm of civil society, this person could keep alive the supportive,
nurturing, and communal realm of the family and counterbalance the
negative elements of civil society brought home into the family at the end of
the day by the other person. The family could be preserved, but the preserver
would lose the development and scope of the larger world of civil society, would
be locked into the family and into expected roles, and would be oppressed.
Thus, it would seem that we must just choose between liberating women
and losing the family or preserving the family but giving up the liberation of
women and accepting their oppression. It seems that we must so choose, but I
would suggest that there is a third way-a way that is at least implied in Marx’s
thought. The third way is to do away with civil society. Marx, after all, wants
to eliminate the competitive, antagonized, self-interested, fetishized realm of
exchange–the market or civil society-and transform it into a realm of
communal solidarity in which individuals consciously cooperate and work
intentionally for the benefit of the community.

Moreover, it is the view of Rosaldo (1974, 36, 41), Lamphere (1974, 100,
I11), Reiter (1975, 253, 282) and Evans (1986,103-19) that the best condition
for women is one in which the separation between family and society, the
private and the public sphere, is minimized. If society becomes communal, it
will be less antagonistic to the family, which itself is a small community. To
take a simple example, think of a frontier farming family. Here there would be
no civil society-no market, competition, exchange, or fetishism-or this
realm would be far enough away as to have little effect on the family. The
family works in common, collectively, and its labor is social production. Here
the work of the woman is of major importance for survival. Its importance
cannot be distinguished from the importance of the man’s labor. There may
be a division of labor. The man might plow, take care of the livestock, do the
building, and the woman might cook, clean, sew most of the clothes, quilt,
care for the children, but all of this is work that is crucial to the survival of the
family. Without any of it, the family would suffer. The woman’s work is
objectively important even if her husband, subjectively, is reluctant to say so or
to recognize its importance.

Moreover, her work need not be confined to the house. She can also work
outside the house in the fields. Even grandparents, children, and grandchildren
can work in the fields; they can work long hard hours, and they can do so
without eroding the family. Indeed, generations upon generations have thought
that such work tends to reinforce the valuable qualities nurtured in the family.
In other words, because both the home, narrowly conceived, and the world of
work, conceived as larger than the work going on in the house, are both
communal, because there is no antagonistic, competitive, fetishized realm of
civil society, productive work does not erode the home. It is part of the home
and reinforces it.

Obviously, the modem feminist movement is not about to return to the
frontier homestead. That is not the point here. The point is to eliminate civil
society and locate the family in a community that will not erode it. That is the
possibility that Marx’s thought opens up for us. If we can break down the
difference between family and society, if we can surround the family with a
neighborhood community, so that the immediate community becomes an
extension of the family, so that the family moves out into the immediate
community, and so that the further reaches of society are communal, more like
the family, then the liberation of women without the destruction of the family
will be eased.

The immediate neighborhood community could be responsible for child
care, and not in a distant and impersonal manner but in a familiar and personal
way, something like an extended family. The neighborhood community could
also be responsible for a good deal of housework. Engels suggests that housework
should be industrialized. Exactly what this means is not clear. If it means
that an industrial organization of strangers enters one’s home to work, that is
not especially appealing. Moreover, if it means that housework becomes the
ongoing profession of a class, this could create (or perpetuate) a class of menial
laborers. It might be much better to have a good deal of housework, as well as
child care, done by the immediate community on a basis of rotation (with the
help of some professionals). All, including men, would take part in it and do
so as a part of social production. They would get time off from their other work,
not do it in their free time, and it would be part of the work expected for earning
one’s share of social production. After all, housework and child care contribute
to the maintenance and reproduction of labor power. If it were done in free
time, it would save the community surplus labor and thus perhaps be an
exploitation of individuals by the community.

Such changes could eliminate, or at least seriously reduce, the structural
oppression of women-the oppression that arises from, or is reinforced by,
social, economic, and political forces. What would remain would be the
personal oppression of women. This would have to be worked on by a
community that tries to change attitudes. On the other hand, other problems
would arise here. Many feminists, for example, have been critical of communities
in China and what used to be the Soviet Union. Communities do not
solve all problems. They have their own problems. But that is a topic for other

1. In Jaggar’s view, “Marriage is … a relation that is remarkably similar to the feudal
relation of vassalage” (Jaggar 1983, 217, 219).
2. Here Marx differs from Engels. Marx writes: “This latent slavery in the family,
though still very crude, is the first form of property” (Marx 1975c, 46, 33 ). Engels is famous
for holding that it is absurd to think that at the beginning women were the slaves of men.
Engels argues that male domination begins only with the rise of the patriarchal family
and especially monogamous marriage, and these institutions arise for economic reasons
(Engels 1942,42,49-50,58, 147). For Marx, the domination of women is not brought
about by economic conditions, but male domination itself establishes economic conditions–
at least the first form of property. Here Marx’s views are closer to those modem
feminists who object to reducing women’s oppression to just another aspect of economic
oppression and to the failure to see the importance of activities of women that are
noneconomic, nonproductive, or that traditionally have been excluded from the area of
economic production–especially women’s activities in the family and in reproduction
(see, e.g., Eisenstein 1979, 11-13; Nicholson 1987, 16-30; Flax 1990, 46-47; Harding
1981, 143-44). I will argue that the alienation of women in the family is due to social
conditions (including economic conditions) outside the family, but that male domination
can arise independently of economic conditions.
3. For Marx, housework is labor, and the patriarchal industry of a peasant family that
is, housework before the rise of capitalism-was social production (Marx 1975f, 275;
Marx 1967,78,395, 395n).
4. For further discussion of this matter, see Kain (1988, chap. 2).
5. It may seem that there would be aspects of housework where the houseworker is
not in control-when the dishwasher or the water heater breaks down, when the
houseworker must deal with the plumber or repair person, or simply when purchasing any
store-bought goods. It is quite clear that alienation can enter the family from the alienated
sphere of civil society that surrounds it-it can do this through technology, market
exchange, or through the need for and dependence on produced goods. At any rate, this
sort of alienation is brought to housework from outside (and I will discuss this below). But
if we are trying to identify the source of alienation, we must say that housework itself can
be free of alienation. Nevertheless, it might also be objected that houseworkers, in
bringing up their children, are often unable to control them. This may be true, but unless
it is a specific kind of loss of control, again produced by forces outside the family (as I will
argue below), it is not alienation. After all, human beings (certainly at a certain age)
should not be controlled. Part of what alienation or fetishism means is that what are really
relations between persons come to appear as abstract relations between things. The point
is to return them to relations between persons. Relations between persons may not be
unproblematic, but they are the paradigm of unalienated relations for Marx. This is to
say that, for Marx, the concept of alienation is not a catchall that includes all ills,
everything that is undesirable, such that when alienation is overcome all will be perfect.
If alienation is overcome, there will still be many ills that need to be remedied, but they
are different ills and must be understood and treated differently. Moreover, Marx’s concept
of alienation does not include the modem notion of psychological alienation.
6. Marx uses the term “object” in an unusual way. To say that humans are our object
is not to say that they are things or may be used as things. For Marx, we are essentially
related to objects; they are parts of our essence; and they are ends in themselves (see Kain
7. Jaggar (1983, 216) does not notice that child care overcomes alienation from the
8. Marx (1967, 402n-translation altered; for the German, see Marx 1972b, 23:
9. On the tension between the desire of a mother to protect her children and the
desire to let them grow and flourish, see Ruddick (1980).
10. Marx would hold that this division of spheres between men and women arises out
of original sexual division of labor and the male domination (or slavery) latent in the
family as well as through accidents (Marx 1975c, 32-33, 44, 46}. It is a division of activities
whose long-term consequences for inequality and alienation probably could not be fully
11. There has been an extensive discussion of housework as unproductive labor; see,
for example, Benston (1969), Dalla Costa and James (1972), Secombe (1973), Smith
(1978, 198-219), Gardiner (1979, 173-89), and Molyneux (1979).
12. This article is intended not as a contribution to the already very extensive
domestic labor debate but rather as a broader discussion of housework. alienation. and
oppression. Nevertheless, in touching on some of the issues central to the domestic labor
debate. I hope I will be able to slide around some of the objections that have been made
to the claim that the housewife’s labor produces the value of labor power (see also notes
13 and 14 below). Smith. for example. wants to distinguish between and oppose: (1)
housework as a set of services that merely produce use values for immediate consumption
and (2) housework as the production of a definite product. labor power. which is a
commodity (Smith 1978, 201). I do not see how these two can be separated. In capitalist
society, labor power simply becomes a commodity. It is bought and sold on a market, and
to stay alive, laborers must compete to sell this, their only commodity. Moreover, it is
quite clear that labor power is neither produced nor maintained without housework and
child care. Housework as a set of services that produce use values for consumption is
necessary to produce and maintain labor power. But further, housework is necessary to
allow workers to compete in selling their labor power. No ordinary laborer earns enough
of a wage to simply pay for all the housework that needs to be done. Efficient housework
may well mean the difference between a well-fed, strong, and healthy worker able to
compete and one who is not. Under such conditions generated by capitalism, housework
becomes the efficient production of the commodity, labor power, that must be exchanged
on the market to keep the laboring family from starving.
13. Gardiner (1979, 181-82) holds that the value of labor power is determined only
by the cost of means of subsistence (food, clothing, shelter, and so forth) necessary to
maintain labor power, and not by housework. I do not see how these two can be separated.
The cost of necessary means of subsistence is in very significant part determined by
housework-determined by how much or how little housework the houseworker is able
to do and determined by how efficient the houseworker can be (both of which in turn
depend on whether the houseworker works in the factory full-time or part-time or works
only in the home). Again, the working-class family cannot afford to purchase all the goods
and services it needs to stay alive. Housework is necessary to keep the cost of producing
and maintaining labor power down.
14. Both Gardiner and Smith seem to assume that, on the view they oppose,
housework would have to create a value that is added to the value of labor power over
and above the cost of subsistence. As Smith says, the value of labor power “would be
equivalent to the value of the means of subsistence bought with the wage plus the value
said to be created by the domestic labour” (Smith 1978,202; Gardiner 1979,181-2). And
for Smith, since this extra value created by domestic labor would not be paid (the family’s
wage is only enough to cover subsistence), labor power then would be sold below its value.
Moreover, it would be the only commodity sold below its value and thus would totally
disrupt Marx’s whole theoretical system in which all commodities sell at their value. I
think Smith is mistaken. We are trying to understand and explain the value of labor power
here. It would thus be circular to say, as Smith in effect is saying, that the value of labor
power is determined by the value of labor power. Smith claims that the value of labor
power (sold to the capitalist for a wage and put to work in the factory) is determined by
the value of (the housewife’s) labor power (added, of course, to the cost of means of
subsistence). We cannot appeal to the value of labor power to explain the value of labor
power. Marx approaches things quite differently. If the laborers are surviving, then they
are receiving from the capitalists the value of their labor power-which is determined by
what it costs to produce and reproduce labor power. This requires enough to purchase
what has to be purchased to survive, but at the same time requires a good deal of
housework. The value of labor power, the wage, is not high enough to allow the family
to purchase everything it needs. A great deal has to be done by the houseworker and real
efficiency is necessary. From the capitalist perspective, housework is not paid below its
value, as Smith suggests. Labor power is paid at its value–its value is what it costs to keep
the laboring family alive and reproducing laborers. Smith thinks that there is something
wrong with saying that the value of housework is only what it costs to purchase means of
subsistence, that there is no “plus,” no extra, no surplus for the extra value created by
domestic labor. But what is so surprising about this? The wage of the factory worker also
covers only means of subsistence. The factory worker receives no plus, no extra, no
surplus-that is pocketed by the factory owner. There will be a struggle between capital
and labor over this surplus. The fact that capital wins is what makes the system capitalist.
The fact that the laborer loses is what reproduces laborers.
15. Neither MacKinnon nor Jaggar seems to think that Marx recognizes the double
oppression of women (MacKinnon 1989,32; Jaggar 1983, 217).
16. For a very interesting contemporary view that various forms of self-service in effect
shift work to the consumer, most often the housewife, and allow capital to save surplus
labor, see Glazer (1990, 142-67).
17. There are, of course, families that are not nurturant and caring. I certainly do not
want to suggest that if we could eliminate alienation all families would simply become
nurturant and caring. Capitalism is obviously not responsible for all ills in the world and
alienation is not a catchall containing everything undesirable-such that if alienation
were overcome everything would be perfect. I have been trying to delimit alienation in
this article-to show how it involves, but cannot simply be identified with, all forms of
domination and oppression, and to show that it is a specific ill, not a catchall for all ills.
Marx offers a very powerful analysis of certain forms of alienation and oppression. But
once alienation is overcome, other human difficulties will remain to be dealt with. And
there are many such difficulties that Marx has little or nothing to say about-such as
personal oppression or psychological alienation. That is left to other theorists.

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