POLI 364 - Costa & James: The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community
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Mariarosa Dalla Costa & Selma James – The Power of Women and the
Subversion of the Community
The attempt to find the “female role” as created by capitalist division of labour.
Central figure = the housewife.
Capitalism has created the modern family – and the housewife's role in it – by
destroying previous family/community groups.
This is not to say that the process by which capitalism has shaped family and
women's roles is complete.
To show the link between the housewife and the working woman.
The post-WWII daily struggles of women run counter to the organization of the
factory and home, because of the “unreliability” of women (absenteeism.)
Because women must also consider the job at home, they are bound to be even
more disengaged from work discipline, and impose higher costs to capital. This is
one excuse for the lower wages paid to women.
The oppression of women did not begin with capitalism. Rather, capitalism
intensified the exploitation of women as women, and gave them at last the
possibility of their liberation.
The Origins of the Capitalist Family
In pre-capitalist society, the home and family were central to agricultural and
In post-capitalism, it was the factory that was central to socialized production.
Women lost the relative power that they had derived from the family's dependence
on their labour, which was seen to be social and necessary. Capital destroyed the
family, community and production as one whole. Basic social production is in the
factory/office, while the man has been detached from the family and been turned
into a wage labourer.
Thus, the man is now burdened with the financial responsibility for all who did not
earn a wage (women, children, the elderly.)
This precipitated the expulsion from the home all those who did not service those
who worked for wages (children being sent to school)
Although I would tend to venture that this was not necessarily a bad thing...
In pre-capitalist society, every member of the community of serfs were seen to be
serving one purpose; collective survival or the prosperity of the feudal lord. This
compelled the serfs to be “co-operative in a unity of unfreedom” (5).
Capitalism broke this co-operation, separating the male from the female, and both
from their children.
The modern women's movement, even when it takes the form of a violent rejection
of any possibility of relations with men, can only aim to overcome the separation
which is based on the “freedom” of wage labour.
The Class Struggle in Education
The school has been identified as the centre of ideological discipline and the
shaping of the labour forces and its masters.
“In elementary school children... there is always an awareness that school is in
some way setting them against their parents and their peers, and consequently
there is an instinctive resistance to studying and to being 'educated'” (7)
This is such a vulgar point; do the authors really suggest that individuals were
better off illiterate, poor, and toiling in the fields as subsistence farmers for their
Competition is a natural instinct; C&J presupposes in their analysis that this
competition is bad.
Children see teachers “teaching him or her something against her mother and
father, not as a defense of the child but as an attack on the class” (7).
“Capitalism is the first productive system where the children of the exploited are
disciplined and educated in institutions organized mid controlled by the ruling
This control is never complete. “The working class continually and increasingly
challenges the contents and refuses the costs of capitalist schooling. The response
of the capitalist system is to re-establish its own control, and this control tends to
be more and more regimented on factory-like lines” (7).
“Those working class children who arrive (those few who do arrive) at university are
so brainwashed that they are unable any longer to talk to their community” (8).
Parents focus their energies in raising their child and giving him/her and
“education.” This is how capital uses parental aspirations to enlist their help in
“disciplining fresh labour power” (8)
How would these authors respond who those (majority) individuals who would
view knowledge and human welfare as having intrinsic value?
The Exploitation of the Wageless
Capital has recruited the man and turned him into a wage labourer, creating a
fracture between him and all exploited class who are not earning a wage, who, by
not participating directly in social production, were thus presumed incapable of
being the subjects of social revolt.
Capital rules and develops through the wage; “the foundation of capitalist society
was the wage laborer and his or her direct exploitation” (10).
Yet, it is also through the wage that the exploitation of non-wage labourers has
been organized, an exploitation which as been even more effective because of a
lack of a wage to hide it.
The labour of women had appeared to be service outside of capital. This was
viewed as “oppression”, but not exploitation.
Capital compels every person to function, under the law of division, in ways that are
ultimately profitable to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital. Thus,
children are sent to school so that they may perpetuate the capitalist system for
future generations; their labour is learning, receiving and absorbing bourgeois
education, and the skills necessary to perpetuate capital to the next generation.
“Their labor appears to be learning for their own benefit” (11).
Well, doesn't this show that, often times under capitalism, the interest of the
individual and the interest of the system forms an alignment? And that
conversely, to take action against capital is to take action against self-
The woman's role in the cycle of social production remained invisible because the
only product of her labour, the labourer himself, was visible. The woman was
therefore trapped within pre-capitalist working conditions and never paid a wage.
Under capitalism, labour productivity doesn't increase unless there is a
confrontation between capital and class; technological innovations and cooperation
are at the same time moments of attack for the working class and moments of
However, this has not been true for the production of labour power. While
technological innovation can lower the limit of necessary work in industry, and the
working class can use that to leverage increasing free hours, the same cannot be
said for housework. Childrearing requires “a high mechanization of domestic
chores”, and it “doesn't free any time for the woman. She is always on duty, for the
machine doesn't exist that makes and minds children” (11).
There is some truth to this, and some falsities. Certainly technological
innovations has made much of the “work” associated with childrearing easier, and
this is even more clear when it comes to technological innovations that have