María Ruido, “Just Do It! Bodies and Images of Women in the New Division of Labor”
“Just Do It! Bodies and Images of Women in the New Division of Labor”
“Representation needs to be contextualized from several points. The representation of texts and images does not reflect the world as a mirror, mere translation of its sources, but is rather remodeled, coded in rhetorical terms. (…) Representation may be understood as a visible formal ‘articulation’ of social order “.
Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference, 1994
WORK> NON WORK: REDEFINITIONS FROM FEMINISM
“What do you do? What is your occupation?” Although every day we all reply quite easily to this apparently simple question, if we stop and carefully think what is our interlocutor demanding, we conclude that, in fact, what he/she really wants to know is the job we have or the activity or activities we make for a living and does not expect us at all to enumerate the wide range of actions, relations and productions that we unfold throughout the day.
Defining work and its limits in abstract terms at the present time, where the times and locations of production became blurred and extended, is not an easy task. However, experiencing its consequences on our bodies seems to be less complicated, especially if we consider a definition of work that goes beyond the economistic view (whether neoclassical or Marxist) and, especially, if we understand our sustainment of a daily life and our daily incorporation of personalities and social actions as spaces and (re)productive efforts. Everything that tires, that occupies, that disciplines and stresses our body, but also everything that constructs it, that takes care of it, that gives it pleasure and maintains it, is work.
Thus, we could say that work, besides being a fundamental part of the socio-economic structure in which we set in, is an experience, although we all know that this liquid description has little to do with the traditional division of labour recognized by economics, sociology or anthropology until recently.
As explained by several authors (Federici, 1999; Pérez Orozco y del Rio, 2002; Carrasco, 2004; Duran, 2006; Carrasco, 2006), the classical concept of work considers as such those productive activities governed by the laws of market and generally carried out in the extra-domestic space. If we consider that, since Modernity, Western capitalism completely split off the productive forms, underlining the division between public (productive) space and private (reproductive) space, this division of labour becomes also a sexual division, as well as an implicit regulation of spaces and times. This division of labour emphasizes and increases the value of the productive-accumulative public space versus the reproductive-life maintainer private space, and it settles the image of the man as the family provider in opposition to the woman, dependent and caregiver, supporting the dichotomous patriarchal capitalist order.
This socio-sexual division that devalued and condemned to invisibility, gratuity and non-work category a range of activities usually performed by women was and still is, not only false (women have worked and work in the domestic space providing items or services intended for the external consumption, thereby breaking the public versus private dichotomy), but it has also placed in the centre of the economic question the logic of accumulation instead of the logic of sustainability, the production of commodities instead of the care for human life, and without whose energy, power and consumption, any other activity would be useless and impossible (Orozco and Pérez del Río, 2002; Carrasco, 2004).
It is not a coincidence, then, that the distinction between work (paid employment, socially recognized), and non-work (unpaid, informal, socially illegitimate or unregulated) has an immediate correspondence in representation. Until a few decades ago, our imaginary of work was limited to the strictly economistic definition, and its main characters were, obviously, the homo economicus and its activities within the spaces of production, leaving obs-scenae (“out of the work scene”) and almost unrepresented all those tasks that women carried out within the domestic space or those other unregulated that, although they often imply an economic exchange, they enter a broad category of informal activities that have not acquired the consideration of work (for example, the sex work, the care for sick people, elderly and children, the maintenance of the affective networks, etc …).
Although it is not my intention to describe here an exhaustive history of the evolution of the concept work, I cannot cease to explain, as an introductory framework, several different “incorporations” of the term due to feminist critiques, as well as some fundamental paradigm shifts in its own conception, as, to a certain extent, these critical positions help to explain the emergence of some of the different images of work that we will find, especially from the 70s onwards. In some recent texts, authors such as María Ángeles Durán or Cristina Carrasco draw attention to the already long trajectory that these “expanded definitions” of work have, from the early enlightened feminism to the present days (Carrasco, 2006), as well as to the need of starting to consider in the state and supra-state economic studies the enormous weight of the so called “non-observed economies”, so that, in an effort to achieve a visibility increase (also fiscal, let’s not cheat ourselves), the opaque, submerged or informal activities become considered and valued by the macroeconomic indicators (Duran, 2006: 16-21). To really understand what it is and what work means it would be necessary, as some of these women explain, to redefine the economic logic itself: not presenting care and benefit as separate and opposed terms, but “affirming the primacy of human needs and sustainability” (Orozco y del Rio, 2002) over the abstract accumulation, de-hierarchizing spaces and the public/private dichotomy, and directing our gaze to the field of care and affection and their relations with power structures, also as a place of generation of economic flow (Precarias a la Deriva, 2006: 122-126).
For this “expanded economy” to result politically active, I think it would be essential also to transversally sexualize and ethnicize the production processes and their studies. I am referring not to simply apply the formula of addition, but to the need of developing an authentic deconstruction of economic history, its elaboration frameworks and processes, in a similar way as the one proposed since the 80s by Griselda Pollock and other scholars of representation for the art history after a period, during the 70s, of merely “parallel” feminist historiography (Pollock, 1994).
“Feminist economics is not an attempt to extend the existing methods and theories to include women, it does not consist, as stated by Sandra Harding, of the idea of “add women and stir” [Harding, 1996]. It is about something much more deeper: to seek a radical shift in economic analysis that will be able to transform the discipline and allow to build an economy that integrates and analyzes the reality of women and men, taking as a basic principle the satisfaction of human needs ” (Carrasco, 2006: 31).
“Does the feminist history of art must content itself with rediscovering female artists and reevaluating their contribution to art? Is it not rather an authentic feminist reinvention of the ‘art history’ discipline in order to reveal the structural sexism of its discourse based on the patriarchal order of sexual difference?. (…) Knowledge is a political issue, an issue of position, interests, perspectives and power. History of art, as a discourse and as an institution, maintains an order of the power invested by male desire. We must destroy this order in order to speak about women’s interests, and especially, in order to put in its place a discourse through which we will affirm our presence, our voice and, consequently, women’s desire” (Pollock, 1995: 63 and 90).
TRANSNATIONAL BODIES OF THE NEW GLOBAL ORDER
In the hierarchical order of traditional work, sustained by the extradomestic prejudice and the physical distance, the worker (either manual or affective) has been one of the examples of the otherness, of the excess and the excretion against the counterpoint of the central body, the bourgeois paradigm of introverted and self-contained body. The working body is, par excellence, the body of the sweat and the fatigue, exterior to the norm, but devoid of self-determination, governed by external time, and therefore opposed to the epitome of the modern body, which is presented as autonomous, controlled, perfectly limited and precise. If the bodies of men workers are excessive bodies, close to savage and rebel to social disciplines, the bodies of women workers represent the maximum degree of abjection and obscenity, because of their dual status as women and workers (even their triple status, if besides women workers, they are ethnically signified, as in the case of immigrants) (Nead, 1998). In the visual hegemonic order continued by the patriarchal eye of industrial capital, these bodies are instituted, like the rest of the “other” bodies, as objects of study and observation. They will rarely take the scenic protagonism, and much less outside of the traditional production areas. Normally, these bodies of otherness act as “extras” or backdrops of the protagonist bodies in hegemonic narratives, those of (men and women) that, far from the physical production activities, allegedly have the control over their time and actions.
However, for several decades, although the classic imaginary still persists in the cinema and in the media, the working body has expanded and diversified. With the dissolution of the usual hierarchies of industrial capital and the imposition of a false reticularity that expands everything that is related to work to all spaces and times, we all have become “bodies of production” (Ruido, 2005). In this complex scenario of redefining work, we turn into privileged territories of (re)production and diversities, desires and sexualities appear now as fundamental economic variables, both in the division of labour as well as in the different forms of consumption.
The work sabotage expanded during the 70s operaismo (Virno, 2003), the exodus from the factory, the defection of the traditional class seems to have reversed, and it has become not only non-rejected, but capitalized and used by capitalism in a new phase dominated by the immaterial flow of information and sustained by the materiality and corporeality (mostly female) of the huge cross-border factories. From the concentrated and linear production of the Fordist factory, we have moved to the decentralized and reticular production of post-Fordism, where, thanks to the new technologies and its optimizing applications, as well as to the cheapening of transports, the location for assembly is chosen depending on the production costs, building a network of global corporate pressure, unimaginable in other moments in history. It no longer appears to be anything else outside the regime of global companies, holders of the authentic power, guides of the political agendas of governments (Federici, 1999, Sassen 2003).
As we noted above, the informal production becomes part of the normality of the offshoring and the subsistence within the regime of domestication and extreme flexibility scenario (that is why we can talk about a “feminization” of the economy)-see Haraway, 1995; Federici, 1999; Vega, 2000; TrabajoZero, 2001 – so that all the maintenance and worker’s safety costs rely upon him, without any commitment by the employer and, increasingly, neither by a state in crisis that pays, exclusively, for the final product, encouraging disloyal and wild competition. This informality and hyperflexibility extends to many sectors, including the one that produces and/ or transmits information, images or signs. Cultural producers and the so-called cognitariat (which does not correspond with the traditional intellectual class) maintain, under the cloak of vocation, highly irregular and precarized working conditions where the paralyzing romantic mythologies appear mixed with the most sophisticated technologies in an almost complete political disarticulation (Kuni, 1998; Lazzarato, 2001; Berardi, 2003; Ruido, 2004, Rowan and Ruido, in press).
Mobility is established as an effective control strategy in the metropolis of information. Cross-border bodies are part of the economic game (Sassen, 2003), while this same borders become impregnable walls when the capital does not find an immediate profitability (see the current situation of the southern border of Europe, displaced to Morocco because of the international interests). Our bodies, our affections, our time of relationship, everything seems to have entered the economic game: the personal, rather than political, is economic. The imposed precarity and fragility in the new division of labour structure our lives to a greater or lesser degree, and are some of the most obvious instruments of contemporary biopolitical regime. The bodies of postindustrial precariat (which coexists with the proletariat, not replacing it) return to the permeability and the extreme flexibility of domesticated production. They come out from the concentrated traditional production spaces to embrace a working regime without any separation between life time and working time.
Moreover, consumption becomes one of the new privileged forms of social relationship, the one that provides us presence and visibility in the framework of the economy of capital: the first product of the immaterial economy is not the information, but the social relationship and its raw material, the subjectivity (Lazzarato, 2000 and 2001; Precarias a la Deriva, 2005). The time of non-business, the leisure, becomes economic time when it appears as (re)productive time. The place and the moment of the personal construction is managed by professional staff, properly paid (from coaches and fitness instructors to psychologists and various therapists) that keeps us within the limits of physical and mental “normality”.
Care becomes a deferred activity, sometimes even a surrogated one -like in the case of surrogate mothers-, usually paid by women from the so-called first world to other women,- from the second or third world-, regenerating the already known hierarchical structures lady-servant which, in the long term, consolidate the impoverishment of the developed countries and the sexual division of labour. In the global economic exploitation, women of the developed countries assume, once again exclusively, the reproduction, deresponsibilizing men and the State for the sustainment of life, while women in developing countries seem to be condemned to producing workforce for transnational capital while providing, at the same time, energy and affection in a labour activity, the care, without defined limits or times, where emotional involvement and constant support are expected (Federici, 1999; Carrasco, 2004; Precarias a la Deriva, 2006).
Thus, together with the traditional and non-traditional working classes, an increasingly large new group appears, consisting of a transnational workforce, extremely fragile and susceptible to the deepest exploitation (Sassen, 2003), because of their aberrant status of “paperless”, people evicted from their most fundamental rights in the name of the preservation of a highly questionable definition of citizenship. On this respect, going in depth into the need of rethinking the symbolic and the economic value of care and the people who develop it, and connecting this with the need of revising the current relationship between employment and citizenship that prevails in our legislative framework, Precarias a la Deriva demand the “citizenship,” a right that politicizes and questions the relations of double subordination (between the caregiver and the subject of her work) that characterize our current concept of care.
“We define citizenship as the right to care and to be cared, so that the meaning of care does not imply subordination for women, nor for any other position of subject as caregiver/carereceiver.
If citizenship relies on the sexual contract as an heteronormative device, citizenship subverts this device through the proliferation of bodies, practices and desires for the production of other forms of life (…) Therefore, we strategically use the game of the language of rights, of citizenship rights: right to resources, spaces, times…. to give care and to receive care”(Precarias a la Deriva, 2006: 126) .
WOMEN AT WORK / WOMEN’S LABOUR:
HOUSEHOLD SPACES AND EXTRA-HOUSEHOLD SPACES
As pointed by José Enrique Monterde in the title of his book, the image of workers has been the “denied image” in the history of cinema (Monterde, 1997): an image that evidences hierarchies in the order of production, an uncomfortable vision for the modern imaginary, already framed by the same constraints on the construction of the gaze as other traditional forms of representation.
Work, however, sorrounds us, traverses us, shapes our reality, so it is no wonder that it is one of the thematic pillars, at least in the documentary record, nor it is no wonder that the first moving images that we preserve correspond precisely to workers leaving a factory in Lyon (La sortie des usines, 1895): these are disciplined bodies by the Lumière theirselves in their factory, at their service, controlled by their gaze from their position in the industrial process, and once again productive in the captured image.
The few preserved fragments of Lumière’s films contain scenes of the daily domestic and extra-domestic work, productive and reproductive, a voracious record only possible in an omnivorous eye which will soon begin to discern its privileged objects and accounts.
It is no wonder that, just as in the literature of the 19th and early 20th century, in the first cinematography it also prevails a general paternalistic and panoptic vision. It won’t be until some years later that other forms of gazing and other subjects of representation will appear. From this assumption, the cinema of the 20s and 30s faces the elaboration of discourses on its socio-economic reality with two fundamental types of narratives: the militant revolutionary narratives (which best examples we owe to the Soviet cinema, especially to Eisenstein and Pudovkin) or the overwhelming descriptions of the brutalization and the alienation in the industrial production chain, due to authors who were inserted in the order of the industrial capital. Both in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926) and Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 1936) we can observe how the surprising intuition of their directors already points out the way in which the rhythm of the factory structures and organizes the life of the characters, although in one case there is a dramatic tone, almost apocalyptic, which becomes definitely threatening in its final part, while in the other case, there is a marked parodic and critical accent.
Cinema, which is a fundamental shaping technology of our time, was (and it still is) one of the most significant tools used by the main ideologies of the 20th century. Then, it is not surprising that, in opposition to the workers vision proposed by the cinema-spectacle of the early capitalism, an entertainment that intends to show the world without conflicts or with conflicts that have been allegedly resolved from the emotional exception, where antagonisms and social struggles are reduced to mere anecdotes, the cinema of real socialism stresses, through a categorical hypermasculine monumentalization, the success of the usual practices of the militancy and the protagonism of the triumphant working class. In both scenarios, however, the role of women seems to be similar: neither in the disciplinary victory of the corporation and the sacrifice of the (virgin) Mary in Metropolis, nor in the revolutionary conversion for the love of the son in The mother (V . Pudovkin, 1926) we find a real interest in the portrayal of women workers, but just a mere accompaniment of who is considered the protagonist of the labour scenario and its struggles, the worker (always a male). Women are, in both discourses, mere accomplices, figurants in the fundamental political struggles, the class struggles, with no claims or specificities of their own.
In this general prospect of vicariousness, some cases of an incipient (and always secondary) feminist struggle should be subtracted, as we can see, for example, in Salt of the Earth (Herbert Biberman, 1954), where those women who are close to the protagonists, begin to have their own voice and, in the midst of a brutal strike, they mobilize to prevent the access of the strikebreakers to the mines. This demonstration of strength has an unforeseen price for the workers: the claim for gender equality interweaves with the demands for racial equality of the Latin-American miners (Sand, 2005: 192-195).
Portraying the postwar scenario after 1945, the neorealist films, both the Italian and others due to their state varieties, insist on the miserable consequences of war. Among the large number of women who appear in the scenario of almost all of them, it is unforgettable the humid and hypersexualized image of Silvana Mangano, the protagonist of Bitter Rice (Riso Amaro) (Giuseppe De Santis, 1949). The film, which narrates the vicissitudes of a group of women harvesters, reflects the poverty and difficulties in an area, the rural one, less visually exploited than the urban one, and it does it through the figure of some women who, in addition to their workforce, they also put their own bodies and their diverse profitabilities at stake in a highly sexualized labour scenario.
Although, in general, the interwar period and the years after World War II mean an entrenchment of the already mentioned positions and traditional strategies, fundamentally due to the Cold War order, the polychromed bodies of the 50s and the 60s begin to build more nuanced images of male and female workers. I am not referring only to the “women’s professions”, that begin to have an important (quantitatively speaking) and normalized place in the cinema and the media, but also to films like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (Sydney Pollack, 1969), that takes advantage of the commercial success and the accumulated memory capital of the successful film The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940) to continue the historicist fresque of the American Great Depression, pointing at the new ways of corporal exploitation (Sand, 2005: 217 -221). This new episode, reopens the memory of the previous film not only because Jane Fonda is the daughter of Henry Fonda, who is the protagonist in the John Ford’s film, that it clearly quotes, but it completes and redefines it by extending the crisis and the misery to the field of personal relationships and, especially, by displacing the production to the leisure scenario. Through a dance marathon where couples compete until they die of exhaustion, Sydney Pollack is already proposing, in a brutal way, the body itself as a territory of economic surplus value and not only as the main tool of the workforce.
The body as the scenario or the currency for economic exchange and the underlying sexual division of labour order is absolutely present in the work done by women and especially in those “women’s work”, both in the cinema and in the media. As we already mentioned, if there is a doubly “denied image” in the representation of work, that is the one of women workers. If the productive activities and their conditions occupy a generally non-protagonist space, especially in fiction, the actions and forms of the reproduction of life in the household area remain practically invisible. Women’s non-works (except as a naturalizing affirmation or an anthropological print) are almost ignored by the cinematographic imagery until the 60s, especially those of difficult representation, such as the different immaterial forms of attention or affection and, of course, the socially stigmatized forms of work, such as sexual work.
Reproduction and its related tasks appear only in more or less condescending, moralistic or mystifying visions, and always to reify the sexual order (see, for example, the interested worship of motherhood and devotion of feminine care, very present in the cinema of diverse ideologies). Even the most vindicative or revolution celebratory films -in all its forms- reaffirm the sexual division of labour, praising the figure of the self-sacrificing and resigned female militant, or that of the heroic mother who reproduces and feeds men for the cause, not to talk, of course, about the image of traditional femininity (adapted to each time and space) where the cinema has been a powerful and fundamental rhetoric machine, an irreplaceable “gender technology” (de Lauretis, 2000). I believe there is no exaggeration in saying that, today, our bodies are literally constructed by the cinema and the media. As we mentioned above, providing evidence of the fact that one of our main tasks is to remodel and to build our body and subjectivity within the limits of consumption, it is no more than stressing the extensions of work, literally in-corporated here.
In the traditional overview of the productive representation, there are some jobs that are assimilated to femininity or almost always conjugated in feminine: as we already explained, those tasks related to care, reproduction, assistance or attention in any of its forms are usually interpreted by women. From nurses to teachers, going through secretaries or prostitutes, women workers traverse the scene -not always in supporting roles-, but with very different endings. While in the genuine Las que tienen que servir (Jose M ª Forqué, 1967) or Como está el servicio (Mariano Ozores, 1968), the caregivers and sustainers of life are rural immigrants arriving at that moment to the large cities, harmless, emotionally generous, -although sometimes a bit clumsy- and apparently satisfied with the disrespect and the classism that is generally professed to them, in recent films, like the Brechtian The Ceremony (Claude Chabrol, 1995), the housekeeper (a restrained Sandrine Bonnaire), helped by a woman socially excluded because of a never proved murder accusation (a persuasive Isabelle Hupper), cruelly takes revenge on the family she works for, not only for their condescension, but for years of social injustice that had kept her, among other discriminations, in the illiteracy.
This fear of the rebellion of the submissive caregiver (whether she is the housekeeper, the wife- mother or the babysitter) soars in the North American films of the 80s and the early 90s. Coeval to the crazed seducers who break marriages and sexually harass men that flood the United States’ filmography of those years, (distorted mirror of the women that, in those days, were beginning to get a scarce but feared professional recognition), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (Curtis Hanson, 1991) represents the epitome of the masculinist mirages on the perversion of power: patriarchy’s fear of women using their motherhood to change the world (rather than to transmit their genes and their property).
If in the cinema and the television, the caregivers (sometimes) rebel, the secretaries and chief’s assistants seem to reaffirm, almost always, the corporate hierarchy and dominance, usually including among their regular services, the sexual and emotional ones. This is usually the common argument of many telenovelas and soap operas, which seems to be confirmed by films such as Working Girl (Mike Nichols, 1988), where the protagonists do not hesitate to use those women’s “weapons” to achieve a promotion in the business world, but where Melanie Griffith’s talent is subjected to her attraction to her competitor Harrison Ford. The most recent and successful example of the alienated secretaries -although it looks apparently rebel- is Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) by Sharon Maguire, where Renée Zellweger plays a woman in her thirties, obsessed with marriage and the biological clock: her character is the reverse (and the punishment) of the powerful harassers of the 80s that we mentioned before, the culmination of the symbolic murder of the premises of feminist liberation that had begun a while ago, especially on television and in the best seller literature, as it has already been pointed with well argumented examples by Susan Faludi in her book Backlash in the beginning of the 90s (Faludi, 1993).
And what happened with those “winners” of the 80s in their role as bosses? Women who have reached some positions in the cooptative postindustrial labour hierarchy have achieved it at the expense of renounces or shortages that, of course, take their toll: they cannot escape from the dissatisfaction caused by the rejection of their mother and wife “instincts”, nor the unease generated by the priority dedication to their professional careers. Nobody seems to represent better this generational anxiety than the anorexic Calista Flockhart, who incorporates one of the most successful TV characters from the 90s, the neurotic and contradictory Ally McBeal, praised by the media like Bridget Jones, as a perfect icon of Post-Feminism.
But, among the feminine jobs par excellence, prostitution is the one that has been and still is the object of a large amount of formalizations. Whether appearing as the perverse woman, the cause of all evil, such as Lulu in Pandora’s Box (Georg Pabst, 1928), unforgettably played by Louise Brooks, or the innocent and trusting Irma la Douce (Billy Wilder, 1963), the prostitution in classic cinema has been the result of a “twisted” destination, of poverty or bad luck, and it has never included a reflection on the actual conditions of an activity that has not been and still isn’t considered as a work today. This activity, socially stigmatized like few others, has generated a great number of images and narrative profiles, but very few representations that situate it within the economic and social system and that deal with the authentic and complex relations of the sex workers with their immediate environment. The contempt and fear generated by the consciousness of the necessity of prostitution as part of the maintenance of the patriarchal order that emerges from Pandora’s Box (which recalls the story of Jack the Ripper in the background, who causes the death of its protagonist) are complemented by the abolitionist and sentimental paternalism of Irma la Douce, where a well-meaning but clumsy Jack Lemon, in love with Shirley McClaine, pretends to solve her life by becoming her “only client” (a corrosive version of the marriage, which I am not sure up to which point Billy Wilder was conscious of).
Although the redemptorist vision, which has formally imposed, still persists with strength (see Princesas, by Fernando Leon de Aranoa, 2005, who insists on a typology of the whore expecting her conversion into “princess” without opening a real debate about sex work as a part of the service sector), it is true that the representation of prostitution undergoes a radical change under the perspective of some feminist directors since the 70s.
We should remember that in those moments some artists and filmmakers began to point out the bodies, mainly women’s bodies, as political battlefields and territories of social construction (see the works of Martha Rosler, Adrien Piper, Hannah Wilke… or during the 80s, those of Cindy Sherman or Barbara Kruger, to mention some well-known examples) (Broude and Garrard, 1994). At that time, the video, a new technology with less traditional burden than painting or sculpture, becomes a powerful tool for reflection and vindication of the performance of femininity as a labour of construction of subjectivity imbricated in the sustainment of the system. However, it will be in the cinema where the critical strategies against the traditional representation will acquire recognition (Selva and Solà, 2002).
Films like Jeanne Dielman (of the Belgian director Chantal Akerman, 1975), a detailed story of three days in the life of a discreet widow who practises prostitution in her own home, radically question the traditional terms of work and spaces of production and reproduction in parallel with the redefinition of work that feminisms were doing at that time, moreover, it does it by subtly using some complex formal strategies (such as the real time long sequence shots, the offscreen of the “prime action”, the re-framing of shots that fixes our attention on the small details that anticipate the dénouement and give the whole film a dramatically cold atmosphere…), which difficult its assimilation.
A decade later, it will be a North American director, Lizzie Borden, the one who will explore the working conditions of prostitutes in New York in Working Girls (1986). The protagonists are women who define the sexual services they carry out as a work, although they are aware of the social prejudice they are subjected to and their possibility of choice, something which is not shared by all the prostitutes, since, as explained by recent audiovisual works (especially documentaries), prostitution is one of the forms of corporal production more intensively subjected to slavery and trafficking networks, generating authentic global movements that, it is not by chance, follow, to a great extent, the transnational military movements.
As explained by Lourdes Portillo in Señorita extraviada (2001), where she explores the opacity and passivity that prevail in the investigation of Juarez murders, the new workers are, now, the assembled bodies of the hypersexualized factories of the dislocated non-places -from Mexico to Indonesia, going through Eastern Europe or India-, missing bodies without consequences, “off the screen” of the traditional gaze, unrepresentable, unnamed, as they were the Victorian London prostitutes murdered by the Jack the Ripper (Nathan, 2005; Ruido, in press). The bodies-merchandise trafficked in the global networks conjugate, as suggested by Ursula Biemann in her works Writing Desire (2000) and Remote sensing (2001), the sexual exploitation and the extreme violence (especially against women) with the interests and the circuits at the service of the large corporations (Sassen, 2003). Silvia Federici explains it very well in her text “Reproduction and Feminist Struggle in the New International Division of Labor“: the new international division of labour triply exploits women: it reaffirms them as objects of consumption and merchandises because of their condition of fetish-bodies; it exploits them as unique reproducers and responsibles for the sustainment of life (either directly or differly) and as second class workers (they are less paid, have less important positions, their productions are devalued…); and, finally, it exploits them because of their racial and ethnic condition, widening the differences between women from developed and underdeveloped or developing countries (Federici, 1999).
Neither the dislocation nor the consequences of applying the conditions of the new transnational division of labour are alien to our immediate context, in which we are witnessing the displacement of the southern border of the European Union. To give one recent example, the video documentary Frontera sur (2003) by the journalist Helena Maleno and the photographer Alex Muñoz, emphasizes the relationship between the migration conditions of North Africans and Sub-Saharans to the European Union and the multinational interests (especially the primary sector, turned into agro-industry in Almeria’s “sea of plastic”), showing the influence of the five major corporations of transgenic seeds in the recent political decisions of the governments-franchises. Although in the Spanish context the migration figures have become lately popular in a variety of contexts (especially in the video documentary and the television), their role, especially in the cinema, is less common. In this sense, it is interesting Icíar Bollaín’s perspective on immigrants in Flores de otro mundo (1999), a film that moves away from the exotization and hypersexualization, which is commonly found in these kinds of characters. The director narrates here the arrival of a group of Latin women to a village in the interior of the peninsula, a sort of “women’s caravan” that will end up establishing connections and stable relations with its inhabitants while generating significant changes in some native settlers, loaded with prejudices and reticences.
While almost all audiovisual documentary texts construct quite dramatic discourses on immigrant’s reality (Winston, 1995), fiction films have diverse nuances, ranging from mushy sweetening to victimization, going through films such as Las mujeres de verdad tienen curvas (Patricia Cardoso, 2003), where, without hiding the hyperflexible working conditions of textile maquilas -in this case, in the United States, although all workers are immigrants,- the story of a smart and determined Mexican teen who frees herself from the small family workshop (although probably not from labour precarity) when she obtains a scholarship to study at a prestigious university is narrated with humour.
LEAVING THE FACTORY
In 1995, one hundred years after those first Lumière’s images and in a clear reference to them, Harum Farocki elaborates a complex montage exercise, almost as a brief chronicle of the 20th century, that he also entitles Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik (Workers leaving the factory). What distinguishes the multiple exits from the factory that appear in this audiovisual essay from the ones that appear on the first Lumière’s film is that, unlike that one these abandonments will be definitive for many employees. Although the traditional working class does not disappear, and neither disappears the effort needed for the material production, but it will be transformed and dislocated, it is also true that productive forms that blur the agreed spatial and temporal limits will become extended and normalized, while information and communication (under very different forms of application and diffusion), now become the fundamental merchandises.
The coincidence, during the 70s, between some visual and narrative formulas as the ones already mentioned, the redefinition of the limits of work and the revision of the production model of the industrial capitalism, is not accidental. It will be precisely the capital, in its new informational or post-Fordist phase, the one that, with a different ordering and regulation of places and timetables, will render profitable some of the political strategies that were running since the ’70s (Virno, 2003), perversely transforming the absenteeism from the factory, which was, in those days, the spine of the class struggle, into endemic precarity; transforming emotions and creativity into emotional looting and unlimited exploitation; redefining the claim for flexibility and diversity as domestication and irregularity; and, finally, distorting the dehierarchization into false reticualrity directed from the centrality of the metropolis (Villota, 1999; Precarias a la Deriva, 2004; Vara, 2006). Forced flexible personalities, emotional capitalization (Holmes, 2005): from the repetitive and monotonous chain work we have moved to the domestication of the imagination and the exploitation of the affective networks in a “feminization” of work that has little to do with the one drawn by the feminist agendas (Vega, 2000; TrabajoZero, 2001).
If in the classical cinema, the worker (and especially the woman worker) was “the denied image” of modernity, the excessive and abject body of the production scenario, in the informational capitalism, the work in the industrial factory becomes a sub-genre encoded in the representations of the production. Within this sub-genre, which some authors describe as “farewell to the proletariat” (Sand, 2004), some revivals of what we could call “new neo-realism” stand out, such as the French labour cinema, especially with the personal work of Robert Guédiguian and Eric Zonka, but particularly, because of its spatial vigour and continuity, the British cinema of the last decades. The bloated bodies of the brutal Thatcherist reconversion insist, through a slightly stereotypical forms -especially in Ken Loach and Mike Leigh films-, on the narrative of the working class conflicts that is far from being merely residual.
In many of these films underlies, veiled or explicitly, a critique to the subversion of the sexual division of labour, and a nostalgia, more or less obvious, for a world where the man provider had his own places and times (the pub, basically) forbidden to women and their influences. This fear of “contamination” and “feminization” of the homosocial spaces (and of the culture of power they represent) is present, in a very significant manner, in The Full Monty (1997) by Peter Cattaneo, where the order of the traditional gaze is inverted (Mulvey, 1988): the body object of the traditional scopic pleasure (women’s body), becomes the subject of the voyeuristic gaze on the bodies of men, forced to work as strippers to alleviate an unemployment situation for which they, indirectly, blame women. Once again, instead of a revision of the forms of masculinity and their place in the system of production, the film insists on the reafirmation of roles and on a soothing and victimist justification that, mixed with the tone of the costumbrist comedy, draws an (at least) immobile overview.
A closer example of this indirectly accusing victimization would also be Los lunes al sol (Fernando León de Aranoa, 2002), a film that still yearns for a classical labour universe: masculine, productive, dignifying, with the gaze placed on the full employment, and that releases, like in the previous case, a more or less controlled anger towards the women appearing in the film, the only ones who have a job in this overview of “feminization”-although it is a precarious, poorly paid and temporary job- but also the ones who have to put up with the violent assaults (physical and emotional) of the fear suffered by the male characters.
More complex and delicate is the perspective of the recent works by the French director Laurent Cantet, especially Ressources humaines (1999), where the sexual rearticulation of the work contract binds the experience of “disclassment” and uneasiness, not only of the “abandonment of class”, but also of rethinking the most immediate vital referents and their personal consequences. This film shows how work is more than just an economic activity, but also a powerful technology that constructs subjectivities and relationships.
On the other hand, in an apparently feminist tone and taking as a background the difficult relationships between mothers and daughters, the film Solas (1999) by Benito Zambrano, narrates the story of a cleaner (a character rarely common on the screens, and nearly always in a secondary way) who speaks clearly about her material conditions, as well as about the difficulties that they entail in her personal live. In this scenario, the protagonist and her mother, despite their will and strength, are still dominated by the omnipresence of an abusive father-husband, who is now sick, and the final resolution of the conflict still has a certain tinge of “appeal for the patriarchal order”: the protagonist accepts her maternity under the tutelage of a mature man (the paternal neighbour, symbolically “castrated” because of his age), who indirectly recovers the control over the situation by taking the fruit of the biological conception of another man (who is expelled from the scene) in a sort of “corporal dislocation” or surrogate paternity that allows the continuation of his heritage.
We could already observe that in the distance that separates two precise documentaries by Barbara Kopple: while Harlan County (1976) relates the success of a strike and the specific strategies of the political practices of the traditional working class, American Dream (1991) exposes, not without anxiety and nostalgia, the inefficiency of these tools in the midst of a constantly changing political and labour scenario, where the capitalist system of production has mutated and strengthened. In this landscape without outsides, the unions have become institutions of consensus that merely perpetuate themselves, the classic images of work appear as alien and useless, and the very concept of representation becomes a tautology. The acid criticism, the parody, and sometimes the poetic resistance are some of the tools used in certain audiovisual proposals. A recent example might be the delicate staging by Marta de Gonzalo y Publio Pérez Prieto W: la force du biotravail (2001), a videoperformance showing a couple of “winners” (according to the current social standards) isolated and lost in their sheltered domestic universe, talking about an undefined immaterial work that conforms these lives completely besieged by insecurity and uncertainty.
Especially interesting because of its collective elaboration and being a result of a militant research process consisting of polls, walks and plural reflections, would be the video and the book Precarias a la Deriva (2004). This work in progress, not only speaks in feminine of the precarity and the new forms of work (breaking, also, the dichotomy between material and immaterial work, between extra-domestic work spaces and domestic work spaces), but it also emphasizes the logic of care and placing in the centre of the analysis the sustainment of life and affection. In their study, Precarias a la Deriva gives a voice to different women who lead or intervene in each of the “derivas”, sexualizing the Baudelairian flâneur and introducing in the randomed situationist circuit the trajectories of the daily tasks, embodying the production process in a profound redefinition of labour that goes further beyond than the proposals of the feminism of the 70s.
Within the new division of labour, marked by the power of the image and information, and by its distribution, the cultural production (from design to code diffusion, going through the figures generated by the art institution, etc…) it has, however, an ambiguous place within the production system. While many of its products are simply denied or made invisible,- and of course, unpaid-(for example, the work developed by video game testers, by the free software generators or the contributions of participants in chats and news groups, just to mention some examples), though they are largely capitalized by some companies and economic groups, the frequent representations of cultural workers (both men and women) in the cinema and mass media still go on the idea that the cultural production is a rewarding and light non-work, a sort of vocational “reward” where money is not important. The social value that these images could signify becomes simply a fetishist “overexposure” that, in practice, makes them invisible, since it is clear that it has not been useful to establish a clear consideration of their activities as a work nor to improve their material conditions (which often include doing them for free) (Ruido, 2004, Rowan and Ruido, 2007). A good example of this reifying “overexposure”, as we already mentioned in our text “In the mood for work” (Rowan and Ruido, 2007), would be Carrie Bradshaw, the protagonist of the successful TV series Sex and the City, turned into an authentic social phenomenon that influences fashion and set trends. Carrie’s life goes by among trendy restaurants and luxury shops thanks to an activity, writing, that it is presented as simple and pleasant, where she uses her own life and that of her friends as a regular material. Her life time and her working time are not only overlapped, but this confusion also involves the continuos and normalized looting of her affective networks.
I do not want to close this brief review on the images of women at work without suggesting the potential effectiveness of the representation as a contribution to the social valorisation of some activities that, in our postindustrial scenario, are still not generally defined as work.
Bridging the enormous gap confered by their diverse social meanings, their various remunerations and their different situations within the economic system, which are quite incomparable, it seems to exist certain intersections between cultural production, sex work and care and attention work, which share, not only the difficulties of being recognised as work, but also the mystification in their representations. If we agree, like other authors, that the production of images shares similar frameworks as the ones of the socio-economic system of production (Benjamín, 2001; Steyerl, 2005), the possibility of designing and disseminating politically active and valorising representations would then require a previous reflection: images would not generate recognition by themselves, but they will reflect the already existing social and/or economic values that would need to be previously changed, so that their representations would be transformed and they will be able to transform.
“As the director Hito Steyerl explains in a recent text that reactualizes the classic by Walter Benjamin “The Author as Producer” (1934), the image construction system is closely linked to the production system and to the economic regime in which they are inserted (…) If in the traditional capitalist scheme the struggle of cultural workers was based, as explained by Benjamin, on positioning theirselves in the production relations (as for example, in the manner of Bertolt Brecht, showing the agreement of representation), the new production system requires a permanent negotiation with the production conditions that are in continuous transit, a constant sign of the representational “offscreen” since, precisely when we register this process, we are acting in a vicarious way and giving rise to a “new cultural object” (Rowan and Ruido, 2007).
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