Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Maid in the Market: Women's Paid Domestic Labour // Review

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Maid in the Market: Women's Paid Domestic Labour // Review

Article excerpt

Maid in the Market: Women's Paid Domestic Labour Wenona Giles and Sedef Arat - Koc, eds. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1994; 138 pp.

Reviewed by Taru H. Virkamaki Women's Studies York University North York, Ontario

We all know that women have always worked. What has constituted work of value has varied temporally and spatially, and where women's work was placed on the continuum has been determined by social, cultural, economic and political forces. From the rise of industrial capitalism and its attendant reliance on a "wage system"(f.1) came the ideological separation of social reproduction from production for use, and the commoditization of labour. The gendered division and devaluation of labour has endured into the twentieth century and continues today in advanced capitalist states, and has emerged as the subject of intense feminist discussion and debate. This theme that, according to the editors of Maid in the Market, "died rather prematurely" after a brief tenure in the feminist spotlight of the 1960s and 1970s (p. 4), is reintroduced here to feminist inquiry.

The site of investigation in this book is "women's paid reproductive work in the service sector -- cleaning, tidying, feeding, and caring for and serving people" (p. 1). Giles and Arat - Koc maintain that there is a direct link between the devaluation of women's unpaid domestic labour in the home and the low pay and poor working conditions in the paid reproductive labour women do in the public sphere. Consequently, what is needed now is a "new feminist analysis and politics of reproductive work" (p. 7) informed by a gender, race/ethnic, and class critique that would propose new solutions to the existing domestic labour arrangements shouldered disproportionately by women.

There is a sense of nostalgia as Giles and Arat - Koc recall early feminist and communitarian socialist efforts to socialize domestic work in contrast to the ill - fated Marxist socialists who placed women's liberation for industrial work ahead of their liberation from domesticity. "Material feminists" in North America came out with practical and innovative solutions to relieve middle - class women of their sole responsibility for home and child care -- "communes, collective kitchens, cooperative housekeeping schemes" (p. 3). However, the failure of these solutions to address class and racial/ethnic disparities or to effect the social transformation that would have eased women's burdens is evident today.

This book is intended to spark feminist academic and activist interest in formulating new strategies for altering the existing reproductive labour arrangements. Unfortunately, Giles and Arat - Koc do not intend to participate in the formulation of solutions. Instead, they wish to "leave this to social movements in which [they] hope academics will participate. While sharing the criticisms of the domestic labour debate that it has not provided feminist answers to questions on women's oppression, [they] do not believe it would be adequate to provide feminist answers if that implies solely a concern with issues of gender expressed in universal terms" (p. 5) (emphasis in the original text). I am troubled with this statement that seems to imply that the conceptualization of feminism itself has become so infused with racist and classist meanings that to posit a feminist solution to the problems of domestic work would be a priori racist and classist. I, for one, believe strongly that any solutions to eliminate women's oppression must be informed by a feminist analysis that in and of itself includes attention to race, ethnicity and class. However, from the introduction, we can assume that the articles in this book will not offer any strategies to overcoming women's oppression. But what we can anticipate are some further insights.

The essays that follow reveal the exploitative and oppressive relations that emerge within an advanced capitalist state that function on an economic imperative, and the effects of the uneven economic relations between advanced capitalist and post - colonial regions which produce and allow domination and exploitation of the labour force. …

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