Solving the Dilemma of Wages Against Housework

  • Shreya Goyal
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  • Shreya Goyal

    Student at O.P. Jindal Global University, India.

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This article is in the form of a manifesto which a hopeful feminist would expect in which the much-discussed issue of wages for housework or recognition of housework as economically productive work is broken down into various kinds of oppressions which occur due to its non-recognition largely because the work is viewed to be gender specific. This hoped manifesto highlights and connects two articles- Wages against Housework by Silvia Federici and From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemma of Justice in ‘Post-Socialist’ Age by Nancy Fraser. We see how the narrations of Silvia connect the with the definitions of oppressions given by Fraser and what kind of oppression does the narrations eventually lead up to as per Fraser. In the end we discuss the possible remedies that are ideal for the correction of the explained oppression.




International Journal of Law Management and Humanities, Volume 4, Issue 2, Page 801 - 804


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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) (, which permits remixing, adapting, and building upon the work for non-commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited.


Copyright © IJLMH 2021

The document that has been analyzed in the following paragraphs is ‘Wages Against Housework’ by Silvia Federici in 1974.  This manifesto does not only raise perturb questions about the unwaged housework, which is not even a recognized form of labor, but also highlights the problems arising due to ‘Pink Collar’ jobs taken up by various women. Federici is striving to bring about the revolutionary idea of what might happen if a woman starts claiming wages for the work that they do at home in the name of love. Housework is not a job like other jobs and rather is a kind of violence that has haunted upon this oppressed class by the capitalist movement and patriarchal men. The capitalist men who have manipulated the whole concept of housework and have been successful in hankering household chores from women without incurring any kind of cost and the ones who have imposed restrictions on the liberty of these women for the sake of maintaining old traditions have been categorized as oppressors.

These women are considered oppressed due to misrecognition during the capitalist movement back in sixteenth and seventeenth century. Federici brings about the idea of the injustice that these women face. She explains how women are excluded from the social contract when they are denied a pay for the household work. She says, “The wage gives an impression of a fair deal: […] the wage at least recognizes that you are a worker.  […] To have a wage means to be a part of social contract.” For drawing an analogy, she says, “Housework had to be transformed into a natural attribute rather than being recognized as a social contract because from the beginning of capital’s scheme for women this work was destined to be unwaged.”  Federici correctly puts it “if we take wages for housework as a political perspective, we can see that struggling for it is going to produce a revolution in our lives and in social power as women.” According to Marxist the capitalist class always believed in the notion of divide and rule, based on both race and sex, in order to achieve greater exploitation of the working class which includes exploitation of productive labor by women who are running households on day-to-day basis but are unpaid.  In the essay ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemma of Justice in a Post-Socialist Age’ by Nancy Fraser, this injustice faced by oppressed house makers is categorized under economic injustice. Various theorists gave a different concept of what is justice, some of which include: fairness in distribution of primary goods (John Rawls), equality of resources (Ronald Dworkin) etc. and if the society fails to provide the same to any class then it leads to a kind of injustice faced by them and further denying a particular standard of living to the class facing injustice. Hence, a woman being driven into such kind of thoughts and attributes where she is taught to sell her service without a pay is economic marginalization and deprivation due to political-economic factors.

Federici pinpoints another kind of injustice when she says, “[…] from the earliest days you (women) are trained to be docile, subservient, depended on and most important to sacrifice yourself and even to get pleasure from it. […] our role as a woman is to be unwaged but happy, and of all loving, servants of the ‘working class’”. She says, “as god created Eve to give pleasure to Adam, so did capital create the housewife to service the male worker physically, emotionally and sexually- […], patch-up his ego when it is crushed by his work and social relations […]. It is precisely this combination […] that makes her work so burdensome and at the same time invisible.” She further says, “A man’s home is his castle… and his wife has to learn to wait in silence when he is moody, to put him back together when he is broken down and swears at the world, to turn around in bed when he says, ‘I’m too tired tonight’, or when he goes too fast at love making.” in order to put emphasis on the cultural injustice being faced in the abovementioned evidence. The orthodox idea of women working at home and accepting various forms of prostitution to mind and body falls under cultural injustice. According to Fraser, being subjected to patterns of interpretation and communication, rendered invisible by the authoritative practices of one’s culture and routinely maligned or disparaged in everyday interactions of the society is considered cultural or symbolic injustice.

According to Feminist Theory of Power oppression and subjugation of women is not only due to the individual behavior or weaknesses of women, but this denial of equal resources is also due to the patriarchal ideology and systematic domination. In this context relationship of women with men can still lead to a little power and recognition in the limits set by the oppressors but single women are invisible (Non-recognized) and thus disempowered. When women are constantly taught the things that they should expect and are made to learn what happiness is rather than finding their own, these teachings of what is right and what is wrong for women is the third dimensional power that causes stress, distrust, and injustice among the oppressed. This basically leads to the exploitation.

From the above indication and explanations, we can safely conclude that the injustice faced, due to being born as a different gender (woman in this case), falls in ‘bivalent mode of collectivities.’ Meaning that it consists of political-economic face as well as cultural face. On one hand, injustice due to gender forms a fundamental division between paid productive labor and unpaid reproductive labor and domestic labor, forcing women to adopt the responsibility of the latter. On the other, it also structures the division within paid labor between higher-paid, male-dominated, manufacturing and professional occupations and lower-paid, female-dominated (pink collar), and domestic-service occupations. The result of the former is political-economic structure that produces gender-specific injustices of exploitation, marginalization, and deprivation and that of latter is cultural structure that reduces women due to- androcentrism along with cultural sexism, harms suffered including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and other aggressive domestic violence.

The questions that Federici asks towards the end of her document forces a feminist reader to think about the injustices and pursues one to think about the alternative for whether a woman can any further afford to stay with a man or not? And even if she ends up leaving him then is, she ready to accept gay relations? And if none of the above then how is she going to manage herself and her children without a pay for housework? The simple and rather a lazy solution could be doing a job like men do and then coming home again to continue with the housework. Federici objects the idea of taking a secondary job by saying, “[…] by exposing the way capital has kept us (women) divided […], we- […] – open the process of their liberation. In this sense wages for housework will be more educational than trying to prove that we can work as well as them, that we can do the same jobs”. She says that “we don’t have to prove that we can ‘break the blue-collar barrier’. A lot of us broke that a long time ago and have discovered that the overalls did not give us more power than the apron; if possible, even less”. Due to this, women now must do both the things but have little time and energy to struggle against them. She feels that it is time for us to prove and expose the hardships faced by women, bring to the knowledge of the society the attitude of capitalist towards women and to show that a woman is strong enough to fight against it.  Hence, she forces one to think of other kinds of solutions to this injustice.

The remedies that we could possibly think of are explained by Fraser in her essay. Since this injustice due to gender inequality falls in the face of both political-economic and cultural structures hence, the injustice demands both redistribution (for the former structure) and recognition (for the latter structure). As explained by Fraser- the logic of redistribution is to put gender out of business as such and the logic of recognition is to valorize gender specificity. Given this logic, Fraser feels that it is difficult for the feminist to practice both the remedies simultaneously due to ‘The Redistribution-Recognition Dilemma’ and hence she aims at targeting an alternative which could be combined with the concept of redistribution or recognition and then practiced in order to arrive at justice or correct this injustice. She introduces these alternatives by the name of affirmative and transformative remedies. We see that the injustice faced by the oppressed class here is due to two reasons i.e., being a woman and marginalization because of which the dilemma arises. So, the purpose here is to dilute the rigidness of the stated dilemma and think of a remedy which most closely solves this injustice. It is clearly proved that if nothing then transformative redistribution can help the most in reaching a solution as Fraser states, “social economies combined with deconstructive cultural politics works best to finesse the dilemma for the bivalent collectivities of gender.” Hence the idea of shaking the whole concept of traditions and economy in this regard and then rebuilding it will help the most in correcting the situation of women.


  1. Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework (Published jointly by the Power of Women Collective and the Fading Wall Press) (1975), (last visited Jan 1, 2021)
  2. Nancy Fraser, From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a “Post socialist” Age (1997), (last visited Jan 4, 2021)