dual systems (to Justin from Tom)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Tue Nov 8 22:35:34 MST 1994

On Tue, 8 Nov 1994 tgs at cunyvms1.gc.cuny.edu wrote:

Quoting me:

> I was talking about "exploitation" and thought I had argued that women are
> in a technical sense exploited, i.e. perform forced uncompensated surplus
> labor (for men).
> --Justin
> This is really funny, because before I even got this message, I was just about
> to leave you this one, responding to this idea.
> Forced uncompensated surplus labor?!
> These are all very loaded terms, based upon comparisons with the capitalist
> system not at all very well thought out.  When you say "forced," I have to
> pause.  Are you saying that women have the same objective logic to contend
> with as the "work or immiserate" logic that workers face?  Are you saying that
> if any woman refuses to do her domestic chores, any and all of their
> male companions are going to whip them, like slaves?

Well, in many cases their male companions will beat them. But that's not
the main way in which domestic labor is forced. It's forced in a very
similar way to the way workers' labor is forced, i.e., because women lack
independent resources to make it outside exploitative relations. Viz.: the
single greatest proximate cause of poverty in America is divorce (Susan
Faludi). Facing poverty as an alternative, women "choose" to stay in
situations where they perform disproportionate shares of labor for
nothing. There is also psychological coercion connected with female
socialization, explored with great sensitivity by a number of feminists,
including Sandra Lee Bartky (Femininity and Domination).

> "Uncompensated": well, by this, you are already assuming that men are capitalists.
> You're assuming that they, rather than the capitalist boss, has the money
> to pay women to do this unpaid labor.  Yes, of course they're uncompensated.
> But is that up to the working man?  Is the choice of giving or not giving
> his companion a paycheck really an option?

It doesn't really matter that in working class families the man doesn't
pay the woman a wage. Wages for housework is not something I'd advocate
and certainly making those hypothetical wages depend on male paychecks or
even two income paychecks would be unjust. The point I was making, which
you do not deny, is that domestic labor is uncompensated. It isn't paid
for by anyone. It doesn't get counted in the GNP. Unless you're in the
service (service wives are entitled to a part of their husband's pay, and
for all I know the reverse too), you have no legal right, no acknowledged
claim, to return for the socially necessary domestic labor you do, and
most of it--statistically, is done by women. This is so regardless of
whatever informal or customary arrangements some families may make, as below.

> I know couples--and this is a big tradition in the working class--where the woman
> immediately takes the weekly paycheck from her husband the worker and
> regulates expenditures.  So I guess she's "exploiting" herself--rather than
> the capitalist exploiting them BOTH!
> "Surplus labor"  This connotes the idea that the man is collecting
surplus  ve
> .  That's the very problem I rushed to the E-mail to talk to you about
> tonight before I finally go to sleep.  Under every form of CLASS exploitation,
> there is a SOCIAL SURPLUS.  Where is the social surplus here?

The surplus labor is the labor done over and above what a woman would have
to do for herself (and half of what she would have to do for her kids or
other dependents). What she has to do to maintain herself and (in a two
adult house, less in a more-adult house) half of what she has to do for
dependents, is necessary labor. If she does more it is surplus--not
necessary for her or her share of the dependents' needs.

As I said before I do not think that women's exploitation constitutes them
as a class, for reasons I have explained. But it does constitute them as
an exploited group. And in a precise and technical sense of exploitation.

Watch out who you callin' ill thought out, fella. Exploitation, anyway, is
something I've reflected on. (I even have a paper on Women's Oppression
and Exploitation, but its still pretty conferency, unlike the couple of
papers I have forthcoming on Marxian and Roemerian exploitation in Nous
and Economics and Philosophy, probably next year. This is advertizing, not
boasting. Well, maybe boasting a little bit. I didn't get tenure, but I
did get published!)

> Your words raise far more questions than answers.
Any good words do.

On reflection I don't think we agree that much, except (I hope) that the
abolition of patriarchy does not require the abolition of men. I mean. I
hope we agree on that, not that I hope it's true. It's true, but I don't
have to hope it. I think I know it.

Incidentally, thanks to you, Ann, for your informed and friendly support
here. I always learn from your work, even on the net. Incidentally is the
theory I state here yours? In my paper I mention a view I thought was
yours, and this wasn't it, and Nancy Holmstrom, and Sandra Bartky thought
I had you right. Anyway I thought this up myself, doubtless with your good
influence, but if you thought it up first I want to give credit where it
is due. I do feel rather like a Suzuki student squeaking away at the
violin while Nathan Milstein gazes on, occasionally dashing off a run, as
I try to do feminist theory with you around here, but then the only way to
learn is by doing it.

I still don't accept dual or tri-systems theory, which seem to me to
involve a subtle confusion I find hard to articulate. Here's a try: yes
of course gender and race oppression (and exploitation)--call the package
domination--have their own independent (from class domination) roots and
logic. They cannot be explained without remainder as forms of or merely
functional for class domination, and in that sense cannot be reduced to
the latter. Still, is it right to say that we have three "systems" here?
In a sense we do, but they are systems of different kinds. The "system"
involved in class domination is the economy and to a great part the state,
but mainly the economy. What is involved in gender domination is the
system of gender relations; what's the subject of that? Do we have a word
for it, something corresponding to "the economy"? To say we don't doesn't
mean it doesn't exist. Still, whatever it is, it seems a somewhat
different category of thing than the economy.

Of course putting it this way abstracts from real and deep
interconnections. As I argue above women's exploitation depends on
economic inequality and discrimination, and women's unpaid domestic labor
is absolutely vital for the acknowledged economy. Likewise, as Tom argues,
women's oppression is functional for capitalism (divide and conquer, not
to mention cheap labor).

So what am I saying? I'm thinking out loud. Perhaps it is an error to
think of three (or two, or whatever) systems. Perhaps there is a single
system which involves interlocking elements of class, gender, and racial
domination, which dominations have their distinct roots and particular
logics. Maybe this is what Eisenstein was getting at in her theory of
capitalist patriarchy. Unfortunately I loaned my copy  of the book to
someone who failed to return it, so all I can recall is the phrase.

Well, it's late. Goodnight all.



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