Sunday, December 04, 2005

Feminism and Marriage

Bitch Ph.D has a
great post on Feminism and Marriage. Go read it. Now.


zp said...

I found Bitch PhD to be a little micro, in her analysis. And a little cart before the horse.

(a) Cart Before the Horse, or late-Capitalism and the Family:

Does she really agree with this?

"The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government."

It sounds like she does. But I think that by denigrating domestic labor we're just buying in to how capitalism is organized NOW, to reward work in the "the market" or "the government" and to not reward other kinds of labor. A lot of labor is repetitive, invisible and physical (not the liberal husband's maybe, but that's not the whole issue, unless feminism is just for the wives of liberals) and capitalism is what makes it this way.

I know that once upon a time Marxists imagined that the nuclear family supported capitalism, and was created by it, but working class women (who have worked before, during and after feminism) have suspected this hasn't been really been true recently. Working class nuclear families are destroyed by capitalism, rather than produced by it, or supportive of it. Think about work hours, transportation issues, health issues, travel and relocation issues . . .

If you're going to buy into a system of capitalist values, which Bitch PhD apparantly is willing to do, I'd suggest a different approach - pay women for "domestic" labor.

(b) And if we're thinking micro, it would work like this:

Pay the house-keeping service, the laundry service, the daycare, the local take-out. We've got a service economy (that relies on women's labor) so if you want to make that labor valuable and legitimate in the eyes of the market and the government (the measure of human flourishing, in BPhD's quote), pay for it.

Now it might seem like you'd have to be wealthy to pay for this work, but you'd have to be wealthy to keep your wife out of the workplace too. The idea is that domestic labor should be valued right up there with the rent, the car, the groceries.

And it may be that working at the dry-cleaners does in the end, provide "fewer opportunities for full human flourishing" for the men and women who do so but that is the nature of labor under capitalism and feminists are not going to solve this (for anyone but themselves, in the logic of the quote Bitch PhD leaves standing) by working outside the home. Unless they engage a real crit of capital, which Bitch PhD doesn't seem interested in.

femme feral said...

I agree with you 100%, zp. 100%.

My favorite parts of the post were when bphd argued that making sure labor was divided equally in a marriage is in itself labor, and I also liked the passage in which she urged women to "bitch" about domestic labor. These points seemed cogent to me. I think many women -- even those who identify as feminists -- end up doing the bulk of the housework. And even if they don't, it seemes as though many must continually ask for help. And this really bugs me! (I suppose that I should admit that when I was reading the post I might have had a few specific people in mind. My own way of being "a little micro"?)

That said, I whole-heartedly agree with your criticisms.

Emily said...

I totally want to second and third what was said here. When I'm not doing more positivistic political science work, I am engaging with this very topic in project on gender equity in marriage. My starting point was Okin's Justice, Gender & the Family, which I'm going to assume you've both read.

But I think where Okin and Bitch PhD don't go far enough is in realizing that sexism is only one of the barriers to gender equity in marriage -- capialism (at least the way it's currently structured in the US) is the other. I think we, as a society are getting better and better at getting women out of the house and into the workplace. Where we still seem to have the problems, however, is getting men into the home.

So the project tries to answer two questions: 1)how can we change the way we work so that an equal sharing of paid and unpaid labor is actually possible? (and by equal sharing, I don't mean both equally shirking unpaid labor -- and parenting is really the biggie I'm thinking of here) and 2)(the more difficult to answer, I think) how can we change peoples attitudes about domestic labor so that both men and women will see the value in contributing to the well-being of their household?

I'm totally down with Bitch PhD's suggestions at the individual level, but I think we're in a social and economic climate where even those precriptions are not terribly practical for most people, even people who would REALLY like a more equitable marriage.

zp said...

i have not read Justice, Gender and the Family. i don't even know what field of study it in. but i might. a little light reading while visiting family over xmas? probably not, by the sound of it.

"I think we're in a social and economic climate where even those precriptions are not terribly practical for most people, even people who would REALLY like a more equitable marriage."

i agree with this to the nth degree and i think that pointing this out over and over is right. something about me always turns away from utopian solutions (or prescriptions) and towards a kind of here, now, will it work for me AND others realism . . .

on another note, what is so great about fluffy dollars is that even though some of the posts (and maybe this is reinforced by the idea of a pair of authors) seem to consider the analytics of feminism and marxism as an either/or choice they never really are, in the end.

femme feral said...

I DEFINITELY agree. Marxism and Feminism aren't really either/or choices. Capitalism may be better for women than previous social formations, but it's still pretty terrible.

Emily said...

zp, I think you would really enjoy Justice Gender and the Family by Susan Moller Okin, the late political theorist. It was written in the mid-80s, but it still resonates today. A lot of the book is a critique of other theorists work on questions of justice and how they conveinently exclude the family unit from their analyses, but the meat and potatoes part about the injustice of marriage is chapter 7.