feminized labor/work

It is clear from these articles that capitalist modes of production have as a precondition the division of labor which is cut along sexual difference; in other words, the marginalization of women as a class, which is the valorization of men as a class, was a necessary condition for the transition into capitalism. Extending Foucault’s definition of racism, biopower (and capitalism) require differences in the field of the managed organism, the species; race, gender, and class seem to be these archetypal, all-important divisions needed for the initial primitive accumulation of capital but also for the perpetual primitive accumulation for whose existence Boutang argues (c.f., John Lennon’s song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” – this song has been really important to me recently because it hits most of my strongest feelings about conceptualizing women as an oppressed class).

Waldby and Cooper echo Boutang (further echoing de la Costa) in their correction to Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation (the “pre-capitalist mode of often violent primary resource acquisition” which is supposedly replaced by the wage contract) in saying that this form of slave labor in which the laborer is not considered to be the Lockean property owner/seller of their labor is not exclusive to the pre-capitalist mode but is in fact one of the primary conditions for the reproduction of capitalist conditions. Much of this slave labor that is necessary for capitalism to function is feminized labor or “women’s work.” One example is from this article, “The Biopolitics of Reproduction”: “Egg donors spend 56 hours in the medical setting, undergoing interviews, counseling, and medical procedures related to the process,” the procedure involves 7-10 days of hormone injections, not to mention the 5% risk of developing a possibly fatal disease called ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome. The hours, the emotional and physical effects of hormone therapy, and the risk of having to treat a disease by your own means which you contracted “on a job,” all are examples of the hidden costs for the women undergoing these supposedly lucrative egg donations. The act of making the laborer pay for certain costs related to or necessary for the performance of a job Immanuel Wallerstein calls externalizing costs of the labor process to the laborer. So the laborer pays to work when the capitalist externalizes costs to them, making the laborer internalize costs. Other examples of this are an employee’s drive to work or an employee having to buy food at the job or even paying for supplies, such as tools. But another example of this is when a family supports one worker and thus all of the costs of reproducing that worker are externalized to the family, which oftentimes means the women of the family. Thus, women “work for free” in this way, and this seems to be one of the main methods of externalizing onerous costs of capitalist ventures to the people: a process of wealth expropriation. This is what Fortunati speaks to when they write that it is by both the extension of the work day to the limits of human possibility and also the conceptualizing of reproductive labor as “natural production” “which has enabled two workers to be exploited with one wage, and the entire cost of reproduction to be unloaded onto the labor force.”

What seems important to me about these insights, starting with Boutang and ending with Wallerstein, is that the “social contract” never extends itself in a linear fashion in which more and more people are brought into the fold. Instead, capitalism depends on much cruder forms of exploitation, as well as the more sophisticated contract form with all of its philosophical technology, to sustain itself.

The ambivalences of being a woman, the multiple modes of existing throughout the world that are signified by being of this class, come to the center in these pieces. It is the emancipated first world woman who puts off child-rearing for her career and then decides to mine fertility from poor, younger women in often poor countries. This is what Waldby and Cooper mean when they write that feminist theorist Kempadoo “makes clear that the sexual division of labour is inseparable from issues of race, imperialism and unequal exchange, including the power relations that exist between women.” (side note: the idea of poor women “gifting” their eggs to mostly business women in the first world, as though there were no other antagonisms between them, is just as disgusting as the idea that women should “gift” their productive labor in the household or their reproductive labor to men, or better, to capital: “[Reproduction] is an exchange that appears to take place between  male workers and women, but in reality takes place between capital and women, with the male workers acting as intermediaries” (Fortunati, 9).) This also makes me think critically of the difference between sex work in the first world and sex work in the post-colonies.

Women, in general, do more work than men, meaning that they are disproportionately exploited. This is a consequence of their having to perform “natural production” (reproductive labor and other domestic work) and most often the production of exchange value which is waged labor, too.

I am at a loss for how to extend support to the hundreds of millions of women being exploited in the post-colonies: how does one reconcile their feminism with the realities of the two papers regarding the conditions of women in countries which have undergone IMF restructuring programs and thus the collapse of their economies? I suppose the indebtedness of those countries to the rest of the world is most painfully embodied by the women performing clinical or biotechnical labor in which parts of their bodies are most explicitly given up in order for them to procure the necessities of living. Just my existence in the first world means that I am a beneficiary of their indebtedness and servitude. At least the women’s issues in America can be helped by responding to points made in the Fortunati piece, for instance. But maybe women’s issues on the national level only seem to be more accessible to leverage, but are they really without attention to the periphery?




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