Day Fifteen: March 7

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  • Blog folders are NOT due on Wednesday. I will return them to you after break and you will not need to hand them in again until the end of the semester (May 4)

Today we begin our discussion of Work, Labor and Liberation.

Betty Friedan, the housewife and the drudgery of housework 

Historical (white) Feminist Equation: 

WORK = Empowerment, Freedom, Equality (Acceptance in the man's world?)

HOUSEWORK = Drudgery, Degrading, Oppressive (trapped in "women's" world?)

A "classic" idea within modern mainstream/popular feminism is that women have been oppressed within the household, that they have not been able to explore the "working/career" sides of themselves, and that they have been trapped into doing the drudgery of childcare and housework. The goal, then, has been to liberate the woman, allowing her to pursue the career that she was forced to give up, allowing her to work and therefore be free and empowered to live the life she has always wanted. 

Betty Friedan: The Feminine Mystique 

Written in 1963; huge text for feminism, founder of NOW; "mother" of second wave feminism...she was a reporter who interviewed housewives and picked up on the "problem that has no name." So, in the 50s/60s, according to the popular feminist narrative, women were miserable as housewives, having traded in the possibility of a career for feminine fulfillment in the home. So, feminism was aimed at empowering women to move into the workforce and having careers. 

Some key themes:

  • sense of dissatisfaction: Is this all?
  • limited roles, only as wives and mothers, not workers
  • relies on/reinforces "femininity" and the MRS degree (remember The Pill?)
  • pinnacle: the Suburban Housewife
  • trapped in the house, trapped in domestic routine which fragments her life and leaves no time for her own pursuits
  • a yearning for something more

2 Questions that shape our exploration of this feminist issue: 

Which women are/aren't included in this description? 

What important discussions get foreclosed when we frame the problem of labor and housework in this way?

But, before getting to those questions, let's return to the "problem": Housework and being a housewife involve demeaning and devalued labor which contributes to the oppression of women (which "women"? who "counts" as a woman?). At the conclusion of the brief excerpt we read, Friedan writes: 

We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: "I want something more than my husband and my children and my home" (203).

What is "the politics of housework"? What kind of work is housework?


when we talked about housework, we were really talking, yet again, about power. Housework was not degrading because it was manual labor, as Friedan thought, but because it was embedded in degrading relationships and inevitably served to reinforce them. To make a mess that another person will have to deal with--the dropped socks, the toothpaste sprayed on the bathroom mirror, the dirty dishes left from a late-night snack--is to exert domination in one of its more silent and intimate forms. One person's arrogance--or indifference, or hurry--becomes another person's occasion for toil. And when the person who is cleaned up after is consistently male, while the person who cleans up is consistently female, you have a formula for reproducing male domination from one generation to the next (88). 

Solution One: Increase efficiency, make life and labor easier through new inventions and products


Reactions to this clip? How is housework described? What problems do household jobs pose? What solutions does this film offer? 

Solution TwoWages for Housework

Wages for Housework Flyers 1975: The mission of the Brooklyn-based New York Wages for Housework Committee was embedded in an economic critique of how American capitalism affected women. The Committee demanded that women have autonomy over their sexual capacities and power over their experience as houseworkers or workers of a "second shift" in the home. While housework was physical work, since it was not wage-labor, it was unrecognized as employment in a capitalistic system. Housework was not only unrecognized, it also fundamentally supported how workers would earn their wages. One campaign poster read, "We have all sweated while you have grown rich. Now we want back the wealth we have produced." This campaign importantly connected economic independence with social power and freedoms and demanded that houseworkers be granted social, sexual and economic autonomy regardless of their position within or without the formal workforce.

Here's a more recent attempt to discuss wages for housework.

Solution Three: More equitable distribution of labor 

Solution Four: Women become Superwomen who can effortlessly take care of everything and make cleaning look easy, sexy and fun!

Solution Five: Get your own wife 

Syfer, "I want a wife"

Enhrenreich, Barbara. "Maid to Order" and hiring other women to do housework

  • shift the problem as one for other women
  • not value domestic work as work, but continue to devalue it and make it invisible (not a feminist issue any longer--93)

On Wednesday, we will delve even deeper into why and how domestic labor is a feminist issue with our discussion of Joan Tronto's "The Nanny Problem." Here's a two final passages from Ehrenreich that I would like us to think about:

What we risk as domestic work is taken over by immigrant workers is reproducing, within our own homes, the global inequalities that so painfully divide our world.

However we resolve the issue in our individual homes, the moral challenge is, put simply, to make work visible again: not only the scrubbing and vacuuming, but all the hoeing, stacking, hammering, drilling, bending, and lifting that goes into creating and maintaining a livable habitat....The feminists of my generation (1960s and 70s) tried to bring some of it into the light of day, but, like busy professional women fleeing the house in the morning, they left the project unfinished, the debate unbroken off in mid-sentence, the noble intentions unfulfilled. Sooner or later, someone else will have to finish the job (103). 

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FYI about "Easy Does it":

Check out this article about the Jam Handy films of the 1930s-40s:

Between 1935 and 1941, the Jam Handy Organization in Detroit produced a series of 111 general-interest soft-sell advertising shorts for Chevrolet. Looking at a cross section of these films and other selections from Handy’s influential oeuvre, which varied in style from newsreels to cartoons to scientific demonstrations, I will analyze how they reflect dominant ideologies of industrial capitalism, how they function formally within discourses of advertising, and how they work to construct spectators as consumers. I contend that through these ephemeral films we may better understand the range of cultures and ideologies struggling for dominance during the Great Depression, as well as gain insights into the meaning of the 1930s with respect to its effects on the 1950s and beyond.

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