Review: Wages for Housework

Monday, 12 November 2018
This review originally appeared on rabble.ca.

Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77
By Louise Toupin; Translated by K├Ąthe Roth

In order to understand the context in which Wages for Housework — a global feminist movement organized around the idea that domestic (or reproductive labour) was as "crucial for the survival of the capitalist system as more typically male 'productive’ labour'" — was born, one must consider or recall what it was like to be a woman in the 1970s.

In the first chapter of her ambitious book Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77, feminist writer and retired university professor Louise Toupin provides a glimpse into daily life for women in the early 1970s — a time in which housework (also called domestic work or care work) was not considered to be real work, rather it was a "labour of love," or a biological duty imposed almost always upon women.

"In Quebec, for example, women could not serve on juries, and civil marriage and divorce had just been legalized, as had homosexuality 'between consenting adults,'" writes Toupin. She adds that access to abortions was only in the process of being liberalized, advertising of contraceptive methods was illegal, and "pay equity was an illusion." At the turn of the 1970s, "very few books dealt with the question of women as a political issue," and scholarly feminist studies were at their earliest stages.

Born in this climate, Wages for Housework saw the absence of earned wages as oppression, and waged men as the oppressors, giving women little, or no, bargaining power to negotiate their own conditions of work. "In reality, a wage is much more than money. It must be understood, in political terms, as a power relationship that structures society," writes Toupin.

Chronicling the Wages for Housework movement from its beginnings emerging from the International Feminist Collective in Italy in the early 1970s, Wages for Housework is divided into two parts — "The International Feminist Collective: Historical Overview and Political Perspective" and "Mobilizations around Women’s Invisible Work." It is the first international history of the Wages for Housework movement, which is much overlooked in the history of second-wave Western feminism.

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