Servants and feminism

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Wed Dec 2 14:10:40 PST 1998

-----Original Message----- From: Doug Henwood <dhenwood at> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>

Nathan Newman wrote:

>Home-based services, whether day care, cleaning women or yard work is not
>necessarily an objectionable thing or even necessarily a harbringer of
>Victorianism, but a welcome sign of the success of feminism in reordering
>priorities and responsibilities within the home.

-Contracting out for domstic services to poor women, mainly immigrants -impoverished by imperialism and structural adjustment, is a triumph of -feminism? That's a slander against feminism, and one that will only deepen -the suspicions of the Maleckis of this world that it's an irredeemably -bourgeois doctrine.

Um, Doug - I know you like short posts, but reading to the end does help, since I specifically said "not necessarily" objectionable if the wages are high, hopefully as high as those contracting for the services. I believe I mentioned unions and a couple of other aspects necessary for the "not necessarily" test to be passed.

If the exploitation of women in the home is merely replaced by the exploitation of sub-minimum wage immigrant workers, of course that is not a gain for feminism.

But if house work is recognized as "work" and wages can be assigned and it can be treated as worthy work that professionals can specialize in and be paid for their efforts, it seems quite reasonable to see the extension of the division of labor into household work as a gain, in the sense that moving from feudal household relations to capitalist household relations is a gain. It is not a socialist basis for housework, but for that you need a socialist economy. Which is where the steps towards unionization of household labor comes in.

There is actually an interesting place where the left and the religious right could probably find common ground on this issue. Feminists have talked about "Wages for Housework" over the years. What would make sense is a large tax credit (refundable) for every single home equivalent to the costs of day care plus housework for a year, probably on the order of $7-10,000 per year. Now, in any family, either professionals could be hired through day care and other services, or one or both of the parents could stay home, perform the work at issue, and pocket the money as their wages. Much of the conflict between liberals and the religious right on day care has been liberal insistence that only specific day care centers could receive the money, not stay-at-home moms.

This kind of program could be structured in an incredibly progressive way and would esssentially be a guaranteed annual income for families. Such a program would split the religious activists, since it would be attractive to many of them.

--Nathan Newman

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