Women And Capitalism Essay, Research Paper
The history of woman?s oppression extends to long before the advent of capitalism. The fact that child bearing and rearing children required many years of care and nurturing and that the average woman was smaller and weaker than the average male; women developed a mutual arrangement with men. Women would allow a man to take care of her economically in exchange for maintaining a home, preparing meals and raising the offspring of their partnership. As society changed from an agricultural to industrial economy men had no reason to believe that the mutual arrangement that they had with women would need to be or should be changed. Since money is power and men had all the money, they also had all the power in business. I believe capitalism at first naively and perhaps even innocently excluded women from business because women had always stayed in the home. Later, as feminist urged women to pursue a career, the capitalistic powers not only made it difficult for women to move into meaningful careers, but also conspired to keep women from competing with men in the workplace.
As Rosemary Putnam Tong points out, “Prior to industrial capitalism, the family or household was the site of production. The work women did – cooking, canning, planting, preserving, childbearing, and child-rearing- was as central to the economic activity of this extended family as the work men did. But with industrialization and the transfer of the production of goods from the private household to the public workplace, women who for the most part did not initially enter the work place were regarded as “nonproductive” in contrast to “productive,” wage – earning men”(105). Even women were slow to assign value to the work they did in the home. Women?s work was something that all women had the responsibility of doing, even if it was delegated to others such as servants or slaves. Certainly no financial compensation would be given for work a woman had been doing for centuries without pay.
While unions fought for a living wage for men, enough money to support a family; women were refused the right to earn a living wage (Kessler-Harris 202). Rather than being considered as an individual employee, a married woman was seen as supplementing her husband?s income and was paid accordingly. Alice Kessler-Harris writes that, “If a woman earned wages, the normal expectation was that she did so to supplement those of other family wage earners? If a woman lived independently, her wage was normally not sufficient to support her. Nor was it intended to do so”(Tong 202). Since maintaining the family unit is basic in every society, women had a job of profound importance at home but did not get rewarded financially. Her self-worth came from seeing her children grow into responsible adults and pleasing her husband by keeping a clean house and cooking meals. As women moved into the workforce it was understood that their responsibilities at home could not suffer. Women were forced into doing double work. Rosemary Putnam Tong relates that in both socialist and capitalist countries women have the responsibility of “reproducing the labor force”(106). Hilda Scott calls the work done by women at home as “the Cinderella of every socialist budget”(Tong 106). In other words, the unpaid work done by women to maintain the family unit, and thereby society, was an economical dream come true. So with no wage at home and low wages in the work place, women?s labor was a bargain by anyone?s standard.
Betty Fiedan, the first president of the National Organization of Women, wrote The Second Stage in an attempt to help liberate women from the “hardships of the so-called double day”(Tong 42). In it she proposes that couples share equally in the domestic and public workplaces and also the benefits (Tong 42). Since being written in the 1960?s, these ideas have slowly crept into society. Putnam Tong suggests that the so-called double day consists of eight or more “invisible” work at home and another eight or more hours “visible” outside the home (234). Business has done little to relieve the situation for women. Solutions offered are either ineffective or further add to the oppressive nature of the work situation by decreasing opportunity for advancement (Tong234).
My family is a good example of the shared domestic workload. My mother works more than an eight hours a day. My father is home long before my mother and always starts to cook dinner. I have learned to clean and do laundry to help out. I remember that it was very hard at first for my mother to give up the traditional role she had in our family. She would be upset if things weren?t done just the way she would have done them. She had to control every aspect of the jobs she wasn?t doing. Gradually, she got much better at accepting that everything didn?t have to be done her way. I have friends who have mothers who work but still have all the responsibilities at home too. It doesn?t seem fair to me and I suspect that as more families raise their children the way I was raised, the idea of the “supermom” will be a thing of the past.
In the article “The Political Economy of Women?s Liberation”, Margaret Benson reiterates the unfairness and calls for the socialization of domestic work to liberate women. She contends that capitalism sees women as consumers of “the products of capitalist industry”(Tong 107). In other words men earn the money and women spent it. How can this be unfair to women? As long as women are expected to accept a duel role in order to work outside the home her oppression is worse instead of better (Tong 107). “Thus part of the function of the female wage was to ensure attachment to family. The male wage in contrast provided incentives to individual achievement”(Kessler-Harris 206).
Once a woman is willing to work inside and outside the home she has to be willing to work for less money. As women found opportunities to move into the workforce, the jobs they found approximated the work there had done in their homes, cooking, cleaning, serving, nursing, and teaching. As Rosemary Putnam Tong points out that job segregation is a primary cause for the gender wage gap (112). Using wage information from 1983, Tong points out that women?s jobs pay far less than men?s jobs. In comparing female and male common occupations she shows that male laborers earn $4,000 to $9,000 more than female professionals (112). Recognizing that these statistics are outdated is important if for no other reason than to compare today?s wages with those in 1983. An average nursing position pays $45,000 per year. An average mailman earns between $55-60,000 per year.
Since my mother is a nurse and my cousin is a mailman, this comparison was a natural one for me to make. I have been amazed at the responsibility that nurses have. They are often placed in life and death situations. And they are held accountable if they follow a Dr.?s orders that proves harmful to a patient this means that a nurse must be able to determine the appropriateness of a physician?s order with only half of the education. Mailmen aren?t held accountable if your mail is delivered to the wrong house and certainly the mistake isn?t life threatening. Yet they make far more than nurses do. I have also noticed that in teaching, which was once a female dominated profession, the wages have increased enormously since a large percentage of teachers are now male. Since men joined the teaching profession, teachers have the right to form unions and strike for more money. What was once considered unthinkable; women using children as leverage in bargaining, is now common place with men at the head of teacher unions and school districts. I mention this because a comparable female dominated profession, nursing, which emphasizes the nurturing qualities of women, does not allow nurses to form unions. Further more in hospitals where service oriented positions are unionized; nurses are forced to cross picket lines to provide patient care.
For those women who have been able to break the stereotypical mold and find jobs in the male dominated professions, they find themselves earning a similar salary as the men if a union regulates their profession. If it isn?t, women?s wages lag behind men?s. In the workplace, women also find themselves in the position of enduring hostility and harassment by their male counterparts and less likely to receive bonuses and promotions. While the male established management ignores or even worse blames the female employee for the harassment on the job. Who can a woman turn to for help within a company if the people she works with as well as the management are male?
In today?s climate of “political correctness” it isn?t in a companies best interest to be openly biased against female employees. It is in their interest to provide token female or ethnic representation in management. As usual women do not earn what their male counterparts do. Not only are women set at odds with their employers, but also their coworkers, both male and female with whom they must compete for pay raises and promotions.
Alison Jaggar advances her theory of alienation to include not only the isolation women feel at work but also has the compounded by further alienation regarding sexuality, motherhood and intellectually (Tong 124). Jagger contends that sexuality is a product that women produce. The ultimate goal is for male approval. Yet the end result is that the product, her body, is looked upon as an object. As this happens, alienation takes place.
Jaggar also feels that motherhood is an alienating experience because “the product of her reproductive labor” is controlled when others decide when and how many children are appropriate the medical management of pregnancies by a male dominated medical profession. Women are later alienated from their children by following the advice of child psychologists in raising their children. They compete with other mothers to raise the perfect child. Finally a woman is alienated from her intellect because she is made to feel as if her ideas have no value (Tong 125-127).
If Jaggar?s theory is correct, this certainly would be the ultimate in female oppression; that is to be completely alienated and totally isolated. While I find these ideas to be very disturbing, I find it almost impossible to believe that women can become so alienated in there personal lives. Jagger?s theory on alienation is believable when discussed in the context of oppression, however my personal experiences does not make me believe that alienation is a significant problem for women in their private lives.
In conclusion, I would have to say that I have been far less sensitive to the plight of women because I have not experienced this kind of oppression. In a society where there are biases against almost everyone for their looks, disability, ethnicity, religion and sex, I look at the important women in my life with new eyes. My mother, sister, aunt and grandmother have always worked. I never thought it should have been any other way. As I look at each generation of women in my family, I see that each has made strides in overcoming the pitfalls of working women. My sister has managed to combine her career and motherhood very well. I?m sure the term double day has meaning for her, but also for her husband. She has moved up in the male dominated company of all time, IBM. I have always been proud of my sister but I have to admit I?m even more proud of her now.
1. Kessler-Harris, Alice. Feminist Frontiers IV. The Mcgraw-Hill Companies. pages 201-211. C.R. 1997
2. Tong, Rosemary Putnam. Feminist Thought. Westview Press. C.R. 1998