Social Scientist. v 10, no. 110 (July 1982) p. 30.


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USHA MENON*

Women and Household Labour

THE political economy of household labour has been a topic of major concern for feminist Marxists. Underlying the concern is the search for a material basis for the oppression of women in capitalist society, which assumes that Marxism has attributed the oppression of women to ideological factors, especially to the persistence of pre-capitalist ideologies. It is claimed that in opposition to this conception feminist Marxism has "discovered" the basis of female oppression in the persistence of household labour conducted by women as an integral part of the process of production.

It is our contention that 'Neo-Marxism' forms the theoretical heritage of the feminist Marxists and the roots of their mistakes lie in the very nature of this theory. In our exposition we restate the Marxist position which has never denied the existence of material processes within the household, placing them squarely within the economic structure of society, although outside the capitalist mode of production. It has also revealed the meterial roots of the oppression of women in their lesser participation in social production.

The debate on the function of household labour under capitalism has been conducted both within and without academic circles in Western Europe and Northern America. As a result the concept of household labour as unpaid labour has gained wide currency in the whole spectrum of the women's movement, and even outside it. The positions taken in the debate can be classified under two broad categories. One considers household labour primarily as labour directed towards the production and reproduction of the commodity labour-power, while the other considers it as labour directed towards the production of use-values.

Production of Labour-Power or Exchange-Value

Domestic labour resulting in the reproduction of labour-power is seen to consist of labour for physical maintenance, including pregnancy, child-birth, child-care, cleaning, cooking, etc, and for

*Works on the research staff of the Indo-Dutch Project on Dutch Multinationals in India, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.



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