dual systems and adaptation in general

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters quilty at philos.umass.edu
Wed Nov 9 08:49:38 MST 1994


There has been some good discussion around this dual-systems issue
(or tri-, etc.).  My director, Ann Ferguson, has mentioned the work
of Hartmann, as well as her own, which I find to be a good basic
approach.  There is one issue stated by several in this thread which
I think rests on an important misunderstanding.

Justin Schwartz, for example, writes:
   Second, there is a good argument that women are exploited by men, if by
   exploited we mean forced to do unpaid surplus labor outside market
   relations. The stats, compiled by people like Hochschild (The Second
   Shift), are quite clear that women do the lionesses' share of housework
   and childcare. This labor is unpaid in that women have no legal right to
   compensation for it. And they are forced to do it, even if they want to,
   because of their weakened social and economic position relative to men.

The basic facts are right.  Women certainly do disproportionately
much housework, especially relative to their disproportionately low
incomes (even after accounting for who typically *controls*
household income, quite aside from who is directly paid it).
Overall hours of women's work are typically significantly more than
men's in the US (and elsewhere), especially for women who
participate in both wage and non-wage work.

The problem is with naming this situation "exploitation." It just
plain isn't if we give any heed to the Marxist category.  Of course,
there is a non-Marxist sense of the word 'exploitation' which just
means 'unfair' or something like that.  No doubt this non-Marxist
sense describes economic relations of patriarchy.  But the Marxist
sense requires something more specific.

Someone is *exploited* insofar as they are paid a wage for their
labor-power which is (tendentially, i.e. abstracting from
actual firm-level profit) less than their labor contributes to the
increase in value of a produced product.  There's is nothing *moral*
or *critical* per se in this appellation, it's merely an economic
description of exchange relations.  Under this economic description,
not all wage-laborers under capitalism are exploited either, only
*productive* ones.  So for example, personal servants are not
exploited because they do not produce an alienable commodity owned
by their employers.  In an example which I had great trouble once
explaining to a Marxism instructor, neither is everyone producing
physical, alienable things exploited.  There's an old bias about
*productive* labor being *industrial* labor which is just wrong.  On
the one hand, in my employ as a Kelly-Girl, I am exploited, because
my labor-power is reimbursed less than my LABOR is paid for.  On the
other hand, if we imagine hypothetically two industrial items -- say
two Lear jets -- produced one for the purpose of sale, the other for
the purpose of direct use by the factory-owner, we imagine two sets
of workers, one exploited, the other not exploited.  For example, if
Ross Perot hires workers to build a plane for him which is strictly
for his own use, not for sale, those workers are not *exploited*.
This even though the two sets of workers may make the exact same
wages doing the exact same activities, in conditions (wage and
otherwise) determined by the self-same societal pre-conditions.

With an eye (mind?) on the real contingencies of exploitation, we
really cannot say that "women" are exploited by "men" -- at least
not vis. housework and the "second shift".  Since no exchanged good
is produced, in general, by this housework, it simply doesn't enter
into the category.  There are at least two approaches to
understanding, in Marxist (or at least not anti-Marxist) terms the
wage, power and work differentials between men and women.  Probably
this is pretty closely analogous to what one might say about race
also.

First, one can analyze the situation of super- or hyper-
exploitation.  This is the notion that the capitalist wage structure
is not neutrally a question of class, but that class is itself
gendered and raced.  Thereby women (blacks, etc.) are confined
largely to even lower waged work, possibly thereby with an even
higher rate of exploitation (though that does not follow
automatically from the lower wage).  The household inequalities
exist in a social pre-condition determined by these wage
inequalities.  Basically the lack of options for better wage-work
force women into a willingness to accept worse housework.

Second -- not necessarily contradicting the first approach -- we can
analyze the "woman question" as falling under a different dynamic
altogether.  One can split hairs endlessly over whether this *other*
parallel social dynamic is a second base, or is "merely"
superstructural.  I think it really doesn't matter how you name
that.  The only reason it was once important was because a lot of
people have been trapped in an "epiphenomenal" notion of
superstructure in which everything superstructural is merely
reflectively determined by the base.  I don't like that conception,
both because the Althusserian in me believes in "relative autonomy",
but also because of remarks I have made here that insofar as
*Ideology* necessarily belongs to the base, the picture of causality
is complicated anyway.  Perhaps ultimately the whole issue rests on
a category mistake anyway: base/superstructure is a meaningful
distinction of Marxist analysis of economic evolution, but insofar
as different parallel dynamics may operate, there is no reason to
suppose they must be categorized according to this same conceptual
scheme.

Yours, Lulu...

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