Monday, August 8, 2022

Reading 12

Silvia Federici, "The Construction of Domestic Work in Nineteenth-Century England and the Patriarchy of the Wage," Patriarchy of the Wage

Just prior to the Industrial Revolution, societies did not make a clear distinction between household labor and other forms of labor, since economies weren't powered by currencies so much as cereal agriculture. But once we have mercantilism and heavy industry (the latter sometimes referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution), entrepreneurs and major intellectuals within industrial societies began to encourage a clear partition between domestic work and productive work for the economy. This was why businesses were willing to concede to a 10-hour workweek, to reduce the amount of women in the workplace, and, when the workplace still required women's work, to reduce the number of employed pregnant women.

These concessions were something of an unholy alliance between capital and labor. As much as there might have been nefarious motives, it was more often out of deep love for their partners that men were eager to remove their wives from the worksite. But the creation of the fulltime housewife effectively relegated women to doing free labor. We're not only talking about the responsibilities of making children but cooking, cleaning, and providing emotional support (free therapy) for their husbands and children. As I said, and as Federici argues, there was a self-conscious effort among government and public intellectuals to bring this state of affairs about.

The British government's Children Employment Commission released a report in 1865 which concluded that working women were "returning home tired and wearied, unwilling to make any further exertion to render the cottage comfortable," thus "when the husband returns, he finds everything uncomfortable, the cottage dirty, no meal prepared, the children tiresome and quarrelsome, the wife slatternly and cross," a man's home "so unpleasant that not rarely betakes himself to the public house and becomes a drunkard."

British economist Alfred Marshall afterward his popular Principles of Economics, which argued that a man's "health and strength, physical, mental and moral," indeed "the basis of industrial efficiency, on which the production of material wealth depends" required "a skilled housewife, with ten shillings a week to spend on food," who would be able to "do more for the health and strength of her family" than an unskilled women with 20 shillings.

Such was the introduction of the division between domestic work and so-called productive work in the 19th century. It was a moment when capital, labor, government, and the leading intellectuals had a convergence of opinion. Whatever would reproduce a fairly stable labor force was of the utmost importance.

Beth Nugent, "Another Country," City of Boys: Stories

Bummer story. A young woman lives in a tiny apartment with her mother in New York. Her mother brings over men all the time and introduces them as uncles. The young woman has no friends and only spends time with the neighbor the floor above them, an old man who smokes cigarettes all the time and puts them out on his hardwood floor. One day, the young woman discovers her brother, who ran away from home, is living somewhere with a boyfriend. She goes to visit him, he's strung out on drugs and pushes her away. Next, she decides to go to New Jersey to visit her father. He hasn't visited in forever. He only sends birthday and Christmas money. The young woman arrives at her father's house, and it's obvious that he and his new family (a couple daughters, too) find it awkward that she's there. She sees herself out. And that's about it.

Ted Hughes, "Fever," Birthday Letters: Poems

Sylvia catches a fever while they're in Spain and Ted has to play nursemaid. The whole time he's tending to her, he wonders if his wife isn't exaggerating her condition for attention.

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