The Wife, the Whore and the Single Girl: On the Intersection of Sex and Housework within the Couple Form

By Vanessa Parent |

“Move in with me” he said, “Don’t accept that teaching job, don’t leave town. Live with me, you can just finish your dissertation and I’ll take care of you. I just want you with me. Let’s do this.”  Without diminishing the genuine love and good intentions behind the offer, my only thought in the face of what was a very ‘romantic’ moment was “what’s the catch?” I knew the price of admission would be high; I would feel indebted and obligated, participating in my own servitude out of gratitude for the meeting of my material needs.  While he wasn’t aware of it, I was fully conscious of the transaction implied by his suggestion. Love and support are crucial currency within any partnership. However as a Marxist and a feminist, I consciously understood the transaction implied by the traditional couple form, that is cohabitation or marriage. Historically, in the West, what was a means to secure political/economic alliances and ensure patrilineal transfer of property, became with the rise of capitalism a means to discipline the individual worker body and ensure the reproduction of the labor force. It is a patriarchal, heteronormative construct in which a female exchanges her liberty for her means of subsistence. In my white, heterosexual, middle class context, the transaction implied by the proposed couple dynamic would be the securing of my material needs in exchange for the unwaged labor that I would be unconsciously expected to perform and which, if not performed to my partner qua benefactor’s expectations, would necessarily cause a considerable strain on the relationship.[1]  This dependence would necessarily imply that my role as romantic partner would become intertwined with the one I would take on in the household; unpaid housework and sex would become the unacknowledged currency for keeping a roof over my head.

The value-relation which exists between a man and a woman within the couple form is entwined with the development of the nuclear family in relation to and in support of the rise of capitalism. When considering his offer, I became fully conscious of this relation. This, of course, is old news.  Silvia Federici in her 1975 article Wages for Housework states:

“capital (created) the housewife to service the male worker physically, emotionally and sexually… it is precisely this peculiar combination of physical, emotional and sexual services that are involved in the role women must perform for capital that creates the specific character of that servant which is the housewife, that makes her work so burdensome and invisible.”[2]  

One of the factors which contributes to the housewife’s labor being invisible is simply the fact that it exists outside the social relation of the wage and is confined to the domestic space of the home. It is therefore privatized rather than occupying the space of ‘free labor’ represented by the factory floor. The problem of unwaged reproductive labor is one which has been considered at length since the 1970s and the revolutionary potential of demanding wages for housework as a political act has been theorized by the most dedicated women in the struggle. However my realization within the previously outlined situation was that receiving payment for that labor would not eliminate the core of the problem: that is the fact of the transaction itself.

Because of the conditions in place, any task performed, whether sexual or not, would be performed within the context of an exchange or a power dynamic set up by financial dependence. Without an income, would I have to ask for an allowance if I wanted to have a night out, or buy tampons? Would my unpaid intellectual labor (writing my dissertation) even count as work and would my working day be lengthened because I would be expected to get dinner ready or clean or do laundry since, naturally, I would be the one who’s home all day? Would I even want to have these conversations knowing that I would be in a subordinate position due to the simple fact that he would be the bread-winner? Would sex be as good as cash? Would a blow job be the veiled labor power behind a pair of new winter boots? When would sex for love and sex as part of an unconscious and even self-imposed ‘obligation’ or exchange for securing my material needs end and begin?[3]

The entanglement of sex, domestic labor, and financial dependence could not be resolved with a demand for ‘wages for housework’ in this situation. When would sex for love and sex as part of a veiled and even self-imposed ‘obligation’ or exchange for securing my material needs end and begin?  Sex can take on the conditions of labor when placed within a couple form in which one partner is financially reliant on the other.  Although ‘Love’ is present, the fact is that entering into this power dynamic converts intercourse into currency and labor in exchange for the material needs for subsistence.  The veil of love conceals the value hidden in the sexual service, its very condition as sexual service as well as the expectation of fulfilling that service.

These gendered forms of labor vested in the couple form have been and still are, by and large, expected of women within a patriarchal capitalist society.  The rise of capitalism required the confinement of women to the household and the labor they perform to go unpaid.  Its most cunning and oppressive tactic has been convincing women that it is a condition which validates them as women. In other words, by blinding women to their own oppressive condition, capital has made women contributors to their own oppression. Regardless of legal marriage, the trickery of capital has turned domesticity and fairytale scenarios of coupledom into a ‘natural’ female desire, a seemingly instinctual drive to ‘couple up,’ whereas for men, it has been instilled as a condition of which to be suspicious. Today, the burden of housework for coupled women is exacerbated by the pressure to have a successful career while maintaining the household and still finding the energy at the end of the day to provide sexual satisfaction to one’s partner. [4]

While sexual liberation has come a long way in terms of equality and forging a place for women outside the home, viewed critically, this state of unfreedom has simply reshuffled the female worker within an already existing exploitative system. Borrowing the language of the oppressor does little to eradicate an inequitable political economy or dismantle the conditions which allows it to thrive.  As the ground zero of capitalist accumulation, ‘prerequisite’ to the nuclear family whose rise was part of class based economic development,  the couple form creates the conditions for the unequal distribution of unpaid reproductive labor on which capitalism relies.[5] The traditional heterosexual couple form, whether within the patriarchal and oppressive confines of marriage or simply ‘shacking up’, is an outmoded form of existence, a transaction and power dynamic that sets up the conditions for feminized and thus unwaged labor.[6] [7]

While the call for wages for housework was a productive strategy to open up a conversation about the exploitative conditions women face under capital[8] and having housework actually considered as ‘work’, I argue for the dismantling of the couple form, that is of the conditions which support the creation of feminized labor and of a power dynamic rooted in patriarchal ownership concealed by the promise of everlasting monogamous love which ultimately maintains a capitalist political economy on life support.  I would like to suggest, following up on the demand for wages for housework, the revolutionary potential of resisting the traditional heterosexual couple form.[9]

This is clearly a hefty suggestion which cannot possibly be fully unpacked in this short article. However, I would like to explore the ways in which sexual obligation and unpaid domestic labor intersect as part of the unspoken transaction implied by the couple form and I would like to do so through an art historical excavation of three canonical works; Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Manet’s Olympia and Tracy Emin’s My Bed. I hope this line of inquiry will open up a space for a greater understanding of how domestic labor and sex became intertwined, how non-reproductive sex or waged sex-work have been historically (and presently) shamed and even criminalized due to their transgression of the traditional parameters set up by the couple form and how resisting the couple form can serve as a potent act of non-participation and a political gesture of resistance against capital.

In her book Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici provides a historical excavation of the discipling of the female body that was crucial to the rise of capitalism starting in the Middle Ages.  This disciplining not only included sexual/reproductive functions but the way in which women became responsible for the reproduction of the worker and how that reproductive labor came to be essentialized, or viewed as a natural female attribute.  One of the issues Federici brings up is the sexual differentiation of labor and the invention of housework and the housewife. [10]

In the new monetary regime, only production-for-market was defined as a value making activity, whereas the reproduction of the worker began to be considered as valueless from an economic viewpoint and even ceased to be considered as work.the economic importance of the reproduction of labor power carried out in the home (…) became invisible, being mystified as a natural vocation and labeled ‘women’s labor.’[11]

Federici goes on to explain the consequences of this shift whereby women, who were now left out of the wage relation, were condemned to economic dependence.  Because of their function as reproducers of the labor force, women were confined to the home and their role as producers for use became a condition which was rationalized as an essential part of womanhood.  As one of its cruelest tactics, capital has made women participants in their own oppression by having their role within the household define them and by convincing them that they are validated as women only through their role as mothers and housewives.[12] This became a condition for women one that was, and still is, accepted and even expected of themselves.  Cunningly, this contract of ownership and free labor in exchange for financial security became sweetened by the romantic promise of life-long love. This myth of monogamy[13] has made this exploitative condition one which is not viewed as such and for which women in general hope for. The fairytale notion of being ‘chosen’ became a goal for women to attain and conveniently for men, the guarantee of sex, offspring, a well cared for home and emotional support came to be part of the exchange.[14]  Sex for reproductive purposes as well as ‘fucking’ became part of a woman’s domestic duties along with maintaining the household.

In Titian’s Venus of Urbino, completed in 1538 for the Duke Guibaldo II Della Rovere on the occasion of his marriage, a young girl lies nude on a bed at the forefront of the composition, her body extending the entire length of the canvas. She stares directly at the viewer, a gaze which would be confrontational considering her state of undress but is ‘redeemed’ by prevalent signs of marriage themes and allusions to domesticity.[15] The beginnings of genre painting, paintings meant for aesthetic experience, in the 16th century coincides with the emergence of the female nude.  Nudity was made acceptable by the inclusion of mythological narrative or by the fact that she allowed herself to be contemplated by coyly looking away or by being caught unaware.[16] Titian’s painting defies these conventions by stripping her of mythological signifiers and by allowing her gaze to confront the viewer.  However, her gaze and bare flesh are excused by the matrimonial context of the painting as well as by the fact that her sexuality is deeply tied to the domestic duties which will be expected of her. Her nudity and sexual availability reference her labor within the couple form and family unit; reproductive sexual labor ensuring both pleasure and the transmission of accumulated wealth through patrilineal descent.  Furthermore, the painting had a didactic function, meant to serve as a reminder for his young wife on the subject of domesticity and eroticism.  The domestic undertone is also made clear by the painting’s setting within the private home and by the presence of the cassone or marriage chest through which the maids are rifling in background. Additionally, the small dog curled up at the foot of the bed alludes to marital fidelity.

The aristocratic context of the painting is worth mentioning as naturally the young woman depicted, or the Duke of Urbino’s young bride, would not have the obligations of housework in the manner in which it is traditionally understood. However, here, the sensuality and eroticism in the image along with the domestic and marital content and the painting’s context as a wedding gift, imply that sex is expected of her as part of her marriage contract. Providing her husband with sexual satisfaction is part of her domestic duties as is her promise of marital fidelity.  Aristocratic marriages were a form of currency which would secure diplomatic relations, the accumulation of wealth and dynastic continuity, thus ‘breeding’ was part of a woman’s duties within the marriage and therefor also was being sexually compliant to her husband’s needs.

This canonical painting is useful here as an illustration of the ways which sex has been considered part of a woman’s domestic duties. Sex whether for pleasure or reproduction, then, has long ago been established as a woman’s currency in exchange for the meeting of her means for subsistence.  Thus, sex as an extension of housework, within coupledom as a value relation, is a form of socially acceptable prostitution. Simply put, within the pre-industrial and non-aristocratic context, without the protection of marriage, a woman’s options were either selling her body, paid domestic labor or entering into a convent in which her abstinence and service would secure her material needs.  In each case, her bargaining chip was either sex or housework.  Sex, much like housework, is not considered work within a capitalist economy and when it does take on the form of paid labor it is either criminalized or seen as morally reprehensible. Sex as housework and sex as waged work are two sides of the same early capitalist coin. Industrialization only made the latter option more visible as a class issue, even making it a subject of interest among the Parisian avant-garde artists of the late 19th century.

The female sexual body seems to be the matrix upon which painting’s narrative of progress towards abstraction and the rise of capitalism intersect.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Manet’s submission to the 1965 Salon D’Automne, Olympia which reflects a moment of rupture when painting became aware of its own parameters while the female body declared itself once and for all as both commodity and source of sexual labor within the capitalist and industrial context.  Removed from the morally acceptable sphere of domestic servitude, the prostitute’s gaze directed at the viewer becomes an act of defiance while her hand covering her genitalia reflects the availability of her sexual labor being subject to a price.

1024px-edouard_manet_-_olympia_-_google_art_project-1

The labor which the female body has performed as part of her household duties is, in Olympia, represented as waged, class-based and a reality of modern life.  Indeed, art historian T.J. Clark, in his text Olympia’s Choice, declares the painting “the founding monument of modern art” where the flesh and capital intersect with the materiality of paint on canvas.[17] In Manet’s painting, the figure of the prostitute, usually condemned to the margins of society, famously forces the “displacement of the spectator’s imaginary possession of the work” and by extension the possession of her body, through the prostitute’s stare.[18] Within the context of the present inquiry and placed in dialogue with its predecessor The Venus of Urbino, what is evident here is the removal of the domestic sphere qua workplace and the very clear insertion of the bedroom as such. A form of labor which was previously depicted as unwaged, expected and essentialized, is now represented as waged and very clearly a matter of class. It is also performed outside of the monogamous and patriarchal couple form in which the woman becomes an extension of an economic system based on private property and in which Engels claimed “the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became a slave for his lust and a mere instrument for the reproduction of children.”[19]  Her defiance therefor is not only in her stare but in her demand for wages for what would be considered part of her domestic labor (i.e. free), and in her resistance towards a condition which would make of her body private property and source of labor.[20]

The invention of monogamy as the only socially and morally acceptable state for a woman, is the root of capitalist hetero-normative patriarchal oppression.[21] It reduced women to reproducers of the labor force and guarantors of patrilineal wealth distribution while stifling and shaming their sexuality. The State and Church as agents of capitalist growth ensured through legislation and ideology that non-reproductive sex be condemned and/or criminalized.  Removed from her domestic setting and marital context, the reclining nude in Manet’s painting is thrust into the realm of the wage.   She is at once reified, a flat, painterly cipher for the modern condition, and a potent threat to capital’s bedrock: the family unit and the unwaged reproductive labor guaranteed by the couple form.

Additionally, the dual nature of housework as reproductive and sexual is represented in Olympia. However, now that the sexual labor is waged, it is disentangled from the reproductive labor which is now racialized and represented in the figure of the black maid.  Freed from the bonds of domesticity due to her entrance into the social relation of the wage, reproductive labor is outsourced to the female racial other; the dynamic of dependence and subordination set up by the couple form is mimicked in the depiction of this ‘couple.’  Furthermore, the presence of the black maid calls attention to Capitalism’s reliance on another form of unwaged labor, namely slavery, which France abolished in 1848.[22]  Both women in this case have entered the realm of waged labor. However, the image acts as a reflection of Capitalism’s dependence on and institutionalization of sexism and racism.

Furthermore, the painting acts as a reflection of the conditions that await women under capital at that time; the coupling of sex and reproductive labor imply unwaged domesticity while maintaining her ‘moral’ integrity and when the two are extricated from each other, the consequence of the wage is moral degradation on the one hand and racialized subordination on the other.[23] The painting also reminds the viewer of the white supremacy inherent in capitalism, an economy whose growth was driven by slave labor and colonization. As a result, white supremacy has created a very different experience of the ‘family’ and ‘couple form’ for Black women and non-white women from former colonies. The couple form and nuclear family in the manner in which I am discussing in this article is very much a white heteronormative construct.  Considering that systemic racism has forced black or non-white immigrant women to seek an income outside the home and has created a very different domestic situation and family dynamic, thus creating a vastly different feminist struggle than the one I am presently exploring.

Tracy Emin’s My Bed (fig. 3), an installation first exhibited in 1999 at the Tate Modern in London,  does away with the art historical trope of the reclining nude. It also discards the traditional medium which saw the female body as the landscape for upon which Modern Art’s experimentation with medium specificity begins.  From Manet to Cezanne we witnessed the gradual dissolution of the body and Emin’s Bed to a certain extent responds to this modernist antagonism towards figuration by antagonizing it in return.  The body, specifically the female reclining body, appears as a trace, the materials used in the installation are indexical of its presence.  The piece consists of the artist’s unmade bed as it was left following a period of emotional turmoil during which she confined herself to her bed for a week.  The sheets are stained with bodily funds, the floor is strewn with cigarette butts, a K-Y jelly tube, empty bottles of alcohol as well a panties stained with menstrual blood, a used tampon and used condoms. The body which lay in, no longer visible, is an emotional and very clearly material body, one which pours out of itself. It is a private body made very public.

The piece proved to be very polarizing, shocking viewers and critics alike for its messy display of a woman’s emotional state and bodily functions.  Within the context of the present inquiry the piece can be understood as subversive to the beloved art historical trope of the reclining nude exemplified by Venus of Urbino— compliant, passive, devoid of bodily functions. At the same time it picks up where Olympia left off. Not only has the flattened body of the unknown prostitute completely disappeared, but it has dissolved into a mess of bodily fluids, evidence of the subject’s dire emotional state, her sexual activity and her lax self-discipline.  Materiality is also boldly declared in this path towards dissolution; in the case of Olympia, the flattening of the female form calls attention to paint and surface, and in that of My Bed  the body vanishes only to leave a mess of female secretions as trace.  My Bed points to a subversive feminist gesture against dominant social structures, and their foundations in disciplining the female body as well as shaming it for not complying to the social norms which keep an exploitative political economy in place. The work also butts against the reproductive role capital has cast women in since the rise of private property.  It is clear that the subject of the painting has neglected the very basic tasks of social reproduction or housework which every worker is expected to perform, especially women. As such, the entire installation alludes to the impression that this is a ‘single’ woman’s bed. She is also clearly not pregnant, evidenced by the menstrual blood staining her underwear as well as the tampon.  The used condom also implies that she is engaging in sexual intercourse without the intention of reproducing, thus resisting the role which has been socially and culturally ascribed to women. The couple form—heterosexual and thus reproductive— is what has traditionally given ‘value’ to a woman.  As such she can be easily defined, put to work (for free) and this disciplined, and her purpose as reproducer of labor-power and as ‘producer for use’ within the household is clear and under control.  Here, Tracy, as evidenced by her bed, is ‘failing’ on all counts. Even today, the assumption is that whatever sex a single woman is having is necessarily non-reproductive. It is therefore not contributing to the replenishing of the labor force and is being given up ‘for free,’ meaning outside of the age old transaction of the couple form.  Even the rhetoric surrounding sex and the single female takes on the connotation of a transaction. As a single female, my sexuality and my body is discussed in terms of exchange value; ’no one will buy the cow, if they can have the milk for free.’  Instead of fully owning my sexuality and enjoying for the pleasure it can provide me, sex is a ‘dowry’ to be withheld as a bargaining tool for commitment.  The less she ‘gives it up,’ the higher her ‘worth.’  Single women are also not contributing to the maintenance of the male worker. Considering this, along with the fact that they are stripped of their assigned essence as reproducers and engaging in sexual labor outside of the couple form, single women, like the prostitute, pose a threat to the very foundations of an economic system founded on extracting the most value from the worker body by existing outside of the context of the nuclear family.  She is not having reproductive sex, nor is she contributing to the reproduction of the male, and thus productive, worker body. Therein lies the revolutionary potential of willingly resisting the couple form which attacks capital at its roots.

Furthermore, the bodily waste frames the unseen body as the locus of anti-capitalist struggle—that is, the undisciplined, uncontrollable, natural body. This anxiety surrounding the natural body and the eventual institutionalization of its subordination to the superiority of the rational mind during the Enlightenment, contributed greatly to the rise and maintenance of a capitalist political economy.[24]  It is part of the master/slave dynamic which allows for a system such as capitalism to take hold.  Imposing self-management, management of desires, bodily processes as well as administration of one’s home life (social reproduction) creates a more disciplined and efficient worker. As Federici states in her discussion of Cartesian dualism, the issue of the control of the body over the mind “did not simply imply the control of the ruling class (the mind par excellence) over the body-proletariat, but, equally important, the development of the capacity for self-control within the person.”[25]  The dynamic of the household mirrored this condition, whereby as a microcosm of the bourgeois/proletariat, the man qua mind came to dominate the woman qua body through sexual obligation and unwaged housework.

In closing, while proposing a clear picture of what ‘dismantling the couple form’ would entail is too involved a task for this short piece, especially considering the nuances the couple form may take on according to class, sexual orientation or non-normative gender identification, it was my intention to illustrate how the couple form contributes to and sustains the gendering of labor which in turn maintains an exploitative political economy in place. Furthermore, any couple form which takes on the already existing structure (a product of capitalism), regardless of the non-normative status of its members, simply borrows the language of the dominant model, therefore creating within it gendered forms of labor and setting up inequalities.  It would be my hope that this art historical excavation of the expectations set up by the couple form would lead to a consideration of resistance as a potentially revolutionary suggestion.

On a more personal note, I chose to return home to a sessional teaching position and a dissertation which will take me much longer to complete but at least the only unpaid reproductive labor I would have to worry about is my own.  He said I was getting in my own way and that my politics were preventing me from seeing that which in the long run would really make me happy; a man’s love and support. The myth that ‘love’ entails only one way of existing within a couple form; monogamous co-habitation and marriage, is as much a capitalist construct as the housewife and the male bread-winner. Redefining the couple form and refusing to participate in upholding existing models which only serve to maintain a sexist, exploitative and sexually oppressive political economy in place, I view as a gesture of resistance.

In a system which would make me either a housewife or a whore, both implying that I be defined by my position in relation to a male counterpart in terms of my labor, I chose non-participation. As a single girl, my hustle, my body, and my mess are entirely my own.

***


[1] It is important to mention that differences in class, sexual orientation and race would lead to a much more nuanced discussion of feminized labor within the couple form, conversations which I hope this paper will encourage and which I hope to explore further. I would like to acknowledge and stress the importance of a plurality of feminisms which would do more than simply address the Eurocentric, hetero-normative model.  Considering that my discussion concerns the couple form and its impact on women in relation to the development of capitalism and that capitalism is European and colonizing, my discussion, for now, will be limited to an understanding of the woman’s role within the Eurocentric model which developed as part and in support of the exploitative economic system. This will also be reflected in my choice of canonical artworks which feature the white female nude.

[2] Federici, Silvia. “Wages for Housework.” 1975. pp15-22 in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. Oakland, CA: PM, 2012.

[3] Sex can take on the conditions of labor when placed within a couple form in which one partner is financially reliant on the other.  Although there is ‘Love,’ the fact is that entering into this power dynamic converts intercourse into currency and labor in exchange for the meeting of material.  The veil of love conceals the value hidden in the sexual service, its condition as sexual service, and the expectation of fulfilling that service.

[4] Federici, Silvia. “Why Sexuality is Work” 1975. pp23-27 in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. Oakland, CA: PM, 2012.  

[5] The couple form mimics the conditions set up by capital such as: unequal division of labor within the household, usually giving the person who earns a higher wage power over the other party. Additionally, because capitalism implies institutionalized sexism, it is usually the woman who earns less outside the home and is expected to take on the responsibility of unwaged work inside the home.

[6] While there are conditions where the male member of the couple is relegated to performing unpaid feminized labor, considering the history of oppression endured by women within the institution of marriage, this article will not address particularities such as more egalitarian distribution of housework between partners and will rather consider the conditions set up by the couple form for women in general

[7] Unpaid reproductive labor is of course not the only free labor capitalism relied on. Slave labor was crucial to economic growth.  As a result, sexism and racism are systemic within the current political economy.

[8] See Wages for Housework for additional information.

[9] Again, I am limiting my inquiry to the gender normative/heterosexual model with the understanding that a feminist perspective on the subject which is inclusive of all identity positions and sexual orientations would demand a much more nuanced study than I am able to provide in a short article. I do however hope to explore this at a later date.

[10] Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch. New York: Autonomedia, 2004. Print.p.  75

[11] Ibid 75

[12] The implications which a re-examination of the couple form would have on motherhood and parenting is beyond the scope of this paper. However its consideration must be mentioned as well as the potential for more communal forms of child rearing which would be opened up by resisting the confines of the dominant couple relation.

[13] To read more about the phenomenon of monogamy as being linked to the development of class based society, see F. Engels The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.

[14] By this I mean the guarantee of sex from a consenting or non-consenting partner. I would like to remind the reader that marital rape was not fully outlawed in all 50 states until 1993.

[15] Nudity was made permissible in paintings during the Early Modern period through the inclusion on mythical themes and characters. Otherwise, the nude female would be sleeping or looking away from the viewer in a manner to suggest that she is passive and allowing the viewer to objectify her without the discomfort or shame.

[16] Mythological narrative made nudity acceptable in painting. Should the object of the gaze not be a goddess, her gaze was often turned away from the viewer in a manner which suggests passivity.

[17] Clark, T. J. “Olympia’s Choice” in The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. Print. 80

[18] Ibid 80-81

[19] Engels, F. “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.” Marxists Internet Archive. Marx/Engels Internet Archive, 2010. Web. 2 July 2016. p.30

[20] “Private property transformed the relations between men and women within the household only because it also radically changed the political and economic relations in the larger society. For Engels the new wealth in domesticated animals meant that there was a surplus of goods available for exchange between productive units. With time, production by men specifically for exchange purposes developed, expanded, and came to overshadow the household’s production for use… As production of exchange eclipsed production for use, it changed the nature of the household, the significance of women’s work within it, and consequently women’s position in society.” (Karen Sacks’ chapter in R. Reiter’s Toward an Anthropology of Women (1975.)

[21] It is no wonder that the Right, whose agenda leans towards maintain gin the fallacy of freedom implied by capitalism, consistently pushes, as part of its agenda, the protection of the hetero-normative family unit, one in which sex is reproductive.

[22] For more see Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, “Still Thinking About Olympia’s Maid” in Art Bulletin, vol. 97, Issue 4, 2015. 430-451

[23] It is crucial to acknowledge how historically, the white middle class has outsourced its domestic labor to Black or immigrant women which has only reproduced the oppressive dynamic set up by the man/woman relation within the normative couple form. Terri Nilliasca in ‘Some Women’s Work: Domestic Work, Class, race, Heteropatriarchy and the Limits of Legal Reform’ in the Michigan Journal of Race and Law states: “Historically the labor of Black women as enslaved domestic workers allowed White women “mistresses” to maintain and elevate their stays within the confines of the heteropatriarchy, while White men continued to be the head of the heteropatriarchal household. After emancipation, White women continued to elevate their status within heteropatriarchy by supervising and regulating the labor of Black women… White women’s reliance on the labor of Black and immigrant women meant and ability to seek fulfillment in the workforce without the burden of challenging traditional patriarchal notions of family and gender roles.”

[24] For more details on this I direct the reader to Federici’s Caliban and the Witch p.149-151

[25] Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 151

 

Vanessa Parent can be reached at vmparent7@gmail.com.

 

 

Advertisements

One thought on “The Wife, the Whore and the Single Girl: On the Intersection of Sex and Housework within the Couple Form

  1. Nicole says:

    Thank you, this really made me think. In trying to negotiate a fair and equal distribution of domestic labour with my partner (and trying to decide whether or not I want to have children) I have long been wondering if it is ever possible to reach something that actually feels fair.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s