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March 2018



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Women and Labor. (408)

One of the recurring problems I have with social theories about women and work is that they fail to take into account unpaid female labor.

Marx thought of women as "Supplementary" labor ("Appropriation of Supplementary Labour-Power by Capital.The Employment of Women and Children" in "Capital"), both because he felt that woman were being called to work when they hadn't before, and because women are the manufacturers of future laborers. It takes a man to think that the people who prepare his food, sew and wash his clothing, and clean up after him are not "laborers" and therefore not part of the economy.

Women have always been the major sources of wealth in human societies. Among hunter gatherers men produce the high value luxury good - meat. Women build the shelters and gather the bulk of the daily diet.

In many cultures the farming fell to women as a natural progression from gathering. Even in cases where men clear the fields and do the planting and harvesting, women are in charge of turning the harvest into food. Women are usually in charge of the textile industries as well: tanning hides, sewing, weaving, dyeing, washing.

Even the euphemism "distaff" refers to women's roles as the manufacturers of textiles (a staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool in spinning).

With the development of industrial spinning and weaving women's work has gradually left the home. Factory clothing manufacturing removed the clothing industry from the home (as Marx did document). And the canning industry began to remove food preparation from the home. The ease of industrial freezing and food transportation means that even when we are buying food in restaurants it has frequently been prepared in factories and shipped frozen or canned. The only labor done in the home now is cleaning up after people and heating up factory produced food. Neither of which are manufacturing jobs. They are unpaid services. Sewing and cooking like hunting and fishing are hobbies not jobs in the modern home.

The general public can be excused for not seeing this when even economists and sociologist miss it. But the reason women are leaving the home for the paid labor work force is because all of the women's [unpaid manufacturing] labor has left the home.

You really have to be a bloody idiot to think the half the human population has not been a major part of the economy for the entire history of the species.


Lois McMaster Bujold made a great commentary on this in Ethan of Athos. Ethan has just got through describing the economic realities of reproduction in his all-male society:

Elli Quinn quirked an eyebrow. "How odd. On other worlds, people seem to come in floods, and they're not necessarily impoverished, either."

Ethan, diverted, said, "Really? I don't see how that can be. Why, the labor costs alone of bringing a child to maturity are astronomical. There must be something wrong with your accounting."

Her eyes screwed up in an expression of sudden ironic insight. "Ah, but on other worlds the labor costs aren't added in. They're counted as free."

Ethan stared. "What an absurd bit of double thinking. Athosians would never sit still for such a hidden labor tax! Don't the primary nurterers even get social duty credits?"

"I believe," her voice was edged with a peculiar dryness, "they call it women's work."

Lois McMaster Bujold

Thanks for the recommendation

Brain-O: For some reason I automatically associate the name Lois McMaster Bujold with New Age channelling not science fiction writing. I have no idea where this glitch is coming from, I can't find any similar names in my books.
sorry to post & run - the cats started arguing.

the link above is to an interesting book called "women's work" - while it's primarily targeted @ fiber research - I thought I'd mention it to you. if you hadn't already read it.

Thanks for the recommendation

I have add it to my list.

Amazon.com has a pretty good page design this is the only part of that URL you need
just plug in the ASIN of the book you want in the last section and it will take you to the page for that book.

"Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times" by Elizabeth Wayland Barber