Kjersti Ericsson:
Sisters, comrades!

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"The female person"
as a wage earner

In this chapter:
The value of female labor power | Dad gets the biggest piece
| Supplementary labor power for supplementary wages | Girls waiting to marry
| The power balance between the sexes as a disciplinary method | Exploiting the "feminine"


"There are almost only women in this workshop. That is because the work is so monotonous, tedious, and the machines are so very labor-saving and highly productive - you have to be fantastically quick to be able to keep pace.

Therefore, they've figured out, up in the office, that a man couldn't stand it down here.

A man wants higher pay if he is going to work this hard, and anyway, the tedious work would drive him crazy, anyway.

Women are more persevering. They are not very gifted technically, so they don't need much variety in work.

Women are suited to tedious work. And they have such clever hands.

A woman's hand is really fantastic for performing exactly the same motion at high speed - year in, year out.

Because women are so patient."

This passage comes from Marit Paulsen's description of the life of a female industry worker with a double workload, You, person? (1972). It contains much that is typical for "women's jobs": low wages; hard, high-speed monotonous work; the notion that the qualifications that women have for the job they do are "natural" characteristics of women as a sex. Thereby making them "non"-qualifications.

What happens when the "female person" enters the labor market as a wage earner? Siri Jensen (1986) presents an account of the particular situation of working women, and what it leads to for the role they play in the class struggle. Women workers are "squeezed between work and family." All areas of their lives are marked by the fact that they are not only workers, but also belong to an oppressed sex.

Why do women workers so often end up in the situation that Marit Paulsen describes? I assert the following: distinctive qualities of the "female person" (the social role in which women are placed) are exploited in specific ways in Capital's hunt for the largest possible profit. This doesn't necessarily mean that this is deliberate and planned (though this can also be the case). Primarily, it is a question of "the female person's" social qualities making her exploitable in other ways than men.

I will especially consider three things:

The value of female labor power

Women get lower wages than men. In earlier times this was done quite openly. There were women's wages and men's wages for precisely the same work. At the Dale mental asylum, for example, beginner's wages for a male attendant in 1914 was 600 NOK a year, the wage for the same job for a woman was 350 NOK (Ericsson 1974).

Open wage discrimination has, for the most part, disappeared. The difference between women's pay and men's pay has, however, not disappeared. The labor market is gender divided. Wages are lower in the occupations women dominate, than in those men dominate. It's the same all over the world, virtually without exception. A study including 25 countries carried out by ILO in 1982, showed that women's hourly wage in industry amounted to approximately three-fourth's of men's. In the few developing countries included in the study, women's wage level is somewhat lower than in the industrialized countries. But there are large differences between countries. The common denominator is that women's wages everywhere were lower than men's wages. According to ILO, this was mainly due to the concentration of women in occupations that pay less, rather than women receiving lower wages than men for the same work (as quoted in Leger Sivard, 1986).

Why are women concentrated in low-paying occupations? John Humphrey (1984, p. 219) points out that most explanatory models assume that the labor market does not, in itself, take gender into consideration. The labor market is, initially, "gender neutral". However, because of their situation outside of the labor market, women have a tendency to end up in non-qualified and non-qualifying jobs without the possibility of advancement, etc, Women "choose" undemanding occupations that can be combined with having primary responsibility for the family. They have little education, and few ambitions. All these things combine to make women crowd into low-paid occupations. The difference between women's and men's wages is a result of external factors, which influence her opportunities in the labor market.

All this is probably mostly true, but it's not the whole story. It's probably not even the most important part of the story. Humphrey points out:

"The market does not value male and female labour independently of gender. This point has been stressed in studies of sex and skill. Labour markets operate not only to exclude women from skilled jobs, but also to downgrade jobs when they are performed by women. As Phillips and Taylor have argued, 'It is the sex of those who do the work, rather than its content, which leads to its identification as skilled or unskilled' (1980:85)."

This means that there is a difference in the very value of male and female labor. Women do not just end up, because of the systematic coinciding of different unfortunate circumstances, in the lowest paying jobs, though this is also true. Capital can buy female workers cheaper than male workers, simply because they are women. This is an important conclusion because it destroys the foundation under the concept that women workers' main problem is that they "put up with a lot", that they "take what they can get", etc. The main problem is that the conditions women are offered are different than those men are offered - because they're women. The low women's wage isn't primarily a result of women's lack of efficiency in the labor struggle. The fact that the value of women's labor is less than the value of men's labor is one aspect of society's gender system. In our times, this reality is hidden by the fact that women and men are not doing exactly the same work, and the work that men do is evaluated as more "skilled", as Humphrey describes. This doesn't only happen in industry. In their account of women working as shop assistants, Foged and Marcussen recount a relatively typical episode, told by one of the women they interviewed (1964, p.130):

"'Then I got really angry. He had just served his apprenticeship, and was hired here: I happened to see his paycheck, and he got 400 NOK more than me, and I have been here many years. I was pretty annoyed. I went to the boss and said I thought that was pretty lousy. Why the heck should he be paid more than me? That didn't make sense. Oh, but he was supposed to be relieving all the others. Well, but I'm supposed to do the window displays, I said. My work is darned well worth as much as his.'

Despite having the same education, men and women rarely perform exactly the same work. The decision as to whether relieving the others, or decorating the windows, has the greater value, depends largely on which sex is doing the work. Men receive better wages by virtue of their gender."

What causes this? We know Marx' assertion that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of work that is required to produce that commodity. A car is more valuable than a sewing needle, because more work is put into a car than into a needle. Under capitalism, labor power is also a commodity that the worker sells to the capitalist. The laborer is not paid for the labor he/she does. He or she is paid what the commodity labor power is worth. When he or she has sold their labor, the capitalist has the right to use it the entire workday. The capitalist, therefore, presses as much labor as he can into the time he has the worker's labor at his disposal.

But how does one determine the value of the commodity labor power? Marx asserted that it is determined in the same way the value of all other commodities are determined: the value of labor power, as a commodity, is determined by the amount of work that is needed to produce it.

In terms of the commodity labor power, this means that the value of labor power corresponds to the amount of work that is necessary to produce the necessities of life that the laborer must have in order to live and be capable of working each day (plus support a possible family).

This is not without complications. One of the complications is that the value of labor power is not only decided by the physical minimum necessary for a worker to survive and produce enough energy to work (and procreate). Marx states that the value of labor also has an "historic and moral" element. This means that there exists an historically determined standard for what can be called "life's necessities". This historic and moral element is different in Norway today than it was a hundred years ago, and it is different in today's Norway than it is in today's Bangla Desh.

The cause of the difference in the value of women's and men's labor power should be sought in this "historic and moral" element. Marginal differences in women's and men's physiological needs can hardly be the explanation.

Dad gets the biggest piece

Capitalism developed from a society where the oppression of women was already established. A power balance existed between the sexes, where men were women's superiors. This was expressed, among other ways, by differences in their access to, and control of, resources.

In a study of households in a Moroccan village, Vanessa Maher (1964) shows that the consumption pattern of a household is determined by it's power balance. Maher sums it up in this way:

"It is not the caloric value of work which is represented in the patterns of food consumption in the hamlet family, nor is it a question of physiological needs. Rather these patterns tend to guarantee priority rights in resources to the 'important' members of society, that is, adult men. This is especially true where subsistence is precarious. /.../

The standard meal in the hamlets is composed of bread which is dipped in a vegetable relish, sometimes garnished with a small chunk of meat which is shared among all present. Great respect is shown for the food. People bless themselves before and after eating, and refrain from talking or laughing. They eat slowly and with restraint, urging their fellows, 'Eat! Eat!' Women carry this modesty to extremes. If they are guests, they will often swear that they have eaten already, and if they are not that they are not hungry. One woman used to assure her fellow diners that she preferred bones to meat. Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be exempt from facing scarcity which is shared out among women and children. A good mother should give up her share for her children. But children, especially small girls, soon learn to offer their share to visitors, to refuse meat and deny hunger."

This pattern is not unique for Morocco. Studies from other Third World countries also tell us something about the consequences of unequal access to resources. A study from Bangladesh revealed that there were more malnourished girls than boys under the age of five, because girls got smaller portions. Female babies had a 21% greater chance than male babies of dying within the first year of their lives. The picture in Nepal is similar. Moreover, fifty percent more women than men become blind because of chronic food shortages. A study from Botswana also revealed that girls were malnourished more often than boys (quoted in Women, a world report, 1985).

Across large portions of the Third World, where the population in general lives in need, differing access to resources has alarming consequences for women and girls. This pattern of distribution of resources is not so exotic or foreign that we cannot also recognize it in our own society. Many older people in Norway today remember similar patterns in their own families when they were children. First, of course, dad ate until he was full. Then, mom and the kids got what was left over. A mother's duty was to sacrifice herself for her children. This pattern can also be seen in the workers' recollections that Edvard Bull uses as a source for his book Labor communities during the industrial breakthrough. Bull presents what adults who were children, around, and slightly preceding, the turn of the century, tell about living conditions among lumberers in Fredrikstad (1958, p. 164):

"There are even more who remember that 'the food was often skimpy' and that it wasn't 'easy for mother who was supposed to divide up the food for the whole flock. Dad got the most and the best, we accepted it, because he had heavy work. /.../ A man who claimed with determination that they got 'enough food and good food', explained, for example, that 'dad got butter on his bread - and later the rest of the family got it, too.'"

Many women, who belong, today, to the generation of grandmothers, still have "Moroccan" norms in relation to food. They are the last to help themselves, they put small portions on their plates, and they make sure that there is always something left over in case someone else might want seconds. It is very difficult to get them to admit that they are hungry, though the scarcities that caused this pattern ended long ago.

Capitalism inherited a pattern where women were less valued, and received a smaller share of the resources than men. It was well-established that women should receive fewer of life's necessities. This pattern was simply maintained when the necessities of life passed from being distributed in goods to being distributed in the form of money wages. During a debate in the previous century advocating the hiring of women teachers to save public expenses, Morgenbladet, a prominent Norwegian newspaper wrote: "Her Necessities and Requirements, are not, due to her Nature, as extensive as a man's" (see Brock-Utne and Haukaa, 1979).

Capitalists took over a specific power balance between the sexes, and "translated" it to differing values for female and male labor power. The "historical and moral element" that is constituted by the power balance between the sexes, and has its expression in the unequal distribution of resources, also contributes to lowering the value of women's labor power.

Supplementary labor power for supplementary wages

The second circumstance influencing the value of women's labor power, is society's organization in families. Included within the process of "producing the commodity labor power" is the fostering of a new generation of workers, who can replace the current workers when they are worn out. The value of labor power must also include that which is necessary to support a family.

For the most part, it has been the man who was the main provider. Other family members have also been, in varying degrees, wage earners. However, their wages have always been looked upon as a supplement to the amount the main provider could earn. The value of the accumulated wages of the family should be large enough to support the family. When more family members work, the value of the labor power of each is lowered. Women's low wages reflect the pattern which designates the man as the main labor power, and the woman as supplementary labor power. A woman's wages are supplementary wages, a wage that assumes a male head of the household receiving full wages. Supporting oneself and one's children on a woman's wage is virtually impossible. It was not intended to be possible.

Many women are, nevertheless, forced to manage the impossible. According to the booklet Women of the world - an overview by Ruth Leger Sivard (1986) women are single providers in between one-fourth and one-third of the world's families (all these women are not wage earners). The percentage of female single providers varies from around half, in some countries, (for example some Latin American countries) to around 10% in a number of Western European countries. What single female providers all over the world have in common, is that they belong to the poorest stratums of their societies.

The fact that society is organized in families, with the man as the "head" of the household, is not a fact of nature. It is a socially, and historically determined condition, which influences the value of women's labor power. Because the man has historically played the role of "provider", women are, in the eyes of the labor market, partially supported and, at any rate, not themselves providers. Men receive a gender specific wage supplement (or women a gender specific deduction) based on the role the two sexes play within the family as a private support system.

The "historical and moral element" of the value of labor power which makes women's labor power less valuable than men's, consists accordingly, of two elements: first, a power balance between the sexes which secures "the biggest piece for dad"; secondly, society's organization into families with men as providers and women as "supplementary labor power". Together these turn "the female person" into a type of labor power which is particularly cheap for Capital.

Girls waiting to marry

In an article where she discusses the struggle for special protection for women workers at the beginning of this century, Gro Hagemann writes (1977, p. 96):

"Female industrial workers were, without doubt, a group which was in a particularly poor position. Their wages were a clear expression of this. Many things point to the fact that their working conditions were also exceptionally bad. Among other things, mortality rates show that tuberculosis raged particularly strongly among female factory workers.

In addition, there were several reasons why women laborers were a group who had little possibility of fighting to change their situation. The vast majority of these women were young, unmarried women with little experience from labor struggles at the workplace. Most quit working at the factory when they married and, therefore, didn't have the time to acquire experience. 'It was also undoubtedly influential that these women saw themselves as short-term laborers, and therefore didn't have the same motivation as men for changing their conditions. The low percentage of organization is an expression of this.

The industrial revolution pulled women out of the home in massive numbers. Factories created new possibilities for young girls from working class families and tenant farms, girls who previously would have been servants and hired help. Factories offered them better wages and freer working conditions. Factory positions were in demand, but the conditions were hard. Factory work sapped them of strength, and made them worn out and old before their time. Conditions were so hard that it was almost impossible to manage if you weren't young, strong and childless. The women who continued working after they married and had children, had, for the most part, to find other employment."

Female industrial workers were "girls waiting to marry", both in their own eyes and in the eyes of their employers. In rich countries today, this is less true. However we find a picture similar to the one Hagemann sketches, perhaps in an even more grotesque form, in today's free trade zones in the Third World.

The great majority of workers in these zones are women. Often they have far fewer rights than workers in the rest of the country, in terms of union organizing, the right to strike, minimum wage, and working hours. They do not grow old in their jobs. Ruthless exploitation and hazardous working conditions quickly wear out these women's labor power. This abuse is justified by references to women's "natural" role. Elson and Pearson express it this way, in a study of women's working conditions in the Third World export zones:

"The fact that only young women work in world market factories is also rationalized as an effect of their capacity to bear children - this naturally means they will be either unwilling or unable to continue in employment much beyond their early twenties. Indeed the phenomenon of women leaving employment in the factory when they get married or pregnant is known as 'natural wastage', and can be highly advantageous to firms which periodically need to vary the size of their labor force so as to adjust to fluctuating demands for their output in the world market."

By viewing their workers as girls who are "waiting to marry", companies can wear them down in perhaps five years, because they aren't, in any case, staying until they are pensioners. Women leave, or are thrown out of the factory in poor health, broken down before they turn thirty. Many have, however, become dependent upon a certain amount of money income in order to live. When their labor power can no longer be sold they often are left with only one recourse: selling their body into prostitution. This is the reality behind the idyllic picture of young girls going out into the labor market a few years before they do what comes "naturally" to women: marry, become mothers and housewives.

Capital has been, and is still, capable of taking advantage of a social pattern for women's life cycle, exploiting and breaking down young women's labor power in record time. It is now usual that women in rich countries continue working after they have married and/or had children. However, doing this requires that the woman makes certain compromises between her work and her responsibility for her family: she might perhaps leave the labor force for a shorter or longer period, or maybe she chooses to work part-time, and often she works at odd times of the day.

Modern capitalism has proven itself capable of profiting from this pattern, too. An article in the magazine The Economist (Aug. 23, 1986) claims that capitalists now prefer to use female labor in many contexts. An important reason is precisely the fact that women are "flexible, used to breaks in their careers, accustomed to flexible hours." The ideal male pattern of long term employment in the same job, full-time, within the standard workday has become a hindrance for modern capitalism. The main strategy is to break down this pattern for everyone. In the meantime, the female labor force is nice to turn to. A goal for capitalism is, for example, to wipe out the notion that there is such a thing as "inconvenient working hours". In Norway today, 80 % of those who work afternoons and evenings are women.

In the book The Flexible Sex Foged and Marcussen describe the situation in Denmark. They place their main emphasis on how employers take advantage of women's dependence on reduced hours in a deliberate strategy to break down the work week that we are accustomed to seeing as normal. Foged and Marcussen point out that it is women's responsibility to ensure the flow of everyday life. While men's position as providers places the main emphasis on the economic, women are met with dual demands: she should contribute economically to the family's support, and she should care for their needs. The solution to this dilemma, for women, becomes a "barter in working hours" - they become dependent on hours that make it possible for them to function as the glue that holds the family's everyday life together. Foged and Marcussen, who studied conditions in stores and offices, found no clear division between "women on full-time" and "women on part-time". Instead they found a multitude of different working hours, the result of women's "barter in working hours".

This pattern has many advantages for the employers. For example, only full-time employees are entitled to overtime. When extra work is needed, it is cheaper to ask part-time employees to work a few extra hours over their normal working time. Employers in the retail branch see women who work part-time as a permanent labor reserve that can be called upon, not just in case of illness, but also in conjunction with vacations, sales, Christmas and maternity leaves. Foged and Marcussen also say that employers count on women's sense of responsibility. Women help out, not so much for their employers sake, as to help their poor colleagues who otherwise would be standing alone at the register in the middle of the worst customer rushes. In the office sector, part-time is also used (and overtime that isn't paid as overtime) as a way to prepare for the introduction of new technical equipment and lower personnel coverage. Foged and Marcussen summarize in this manner (p. 66):

"In the current crisis, individual agreements about working hours are turning on women like a boomerang. Today, work which isn't full-time is increasingly done on the employer's terms. The employer's greatest advantage is that they have a permanent labor reserve at each place of employment that they can use flexibly. This is a condition for both the functioning of low personnel coverage in the stores, and for personnel cutbacks when new technology is introduced to offices. Part-time employment is particularly advantageous to employers, because, in this manner, they evade negotiated rights that employees in large shops and offices have fought for. Here, women are in the paradoxical situation that precisely there, where most of employees are organized in unions, the majority of the women - the part-time workers - are unable to take advantage of all the rights that have been negotiated."

Another aspect of this development is the division of the labor force into "central and branch labor" as the German researcher Wolfgang Lecher has called it. This means that the labor force is divided in two: a small number of permanent employees working full days with wages and working conditions in accordance with negotiated tariffs, and a large group of loosely tied workers, often hired by subcontractors or a supplier, who can be pushed in and out according to current need: part-time in periods, full-time in periods, and unemployed in periods. This kind of pattern has long shaped many women's working situation. Its recent "discovery" is caused by the fact that this division is now becoming systemized in another way than previously, and it is now threatening men. It is, however, not difficult to see that the adjustment patterns women currently use, make them particularly suited to enter the role of "branch" labor power, with considerably less friction than if men were to do the same.

The power balance between the sexes as a disciplinary method

One problem that capitalists must solve is how to discipline the labor force so that it can be used most effectively in production. Japanese working life is, for example, famous for how traditional dependency and loyalty ties that are rooted in feudal times are used to provide Japanese employers with obedient and altruistic employees.

The female role lends possibilities for the use of disciplinary methods that would not be feasible to use on male employees. The best descriptions of this that I know of, come from the Third World countries. Celia Mather gives an example from the Tarigerang region on West Java. She describes how (1984, p. 154):

"The dominant ideology of what women and young people are and should be, do and should do, is actively promoted by an alliance of village 'leaders' and industrial capitalists, to help create a subdued industrial labour force."

By recruiting young people, particularly young girls, from villages in this area, the industrial capitalist can take advantage of traditional forms for women's subordination to men, and for youth's subordination to age. This creates a labor force that is both cheap and compliant. In addition, the corporate owner ensures that his labor force is handpicked according to specific criteria in advance. They do this by forming alliances with male authority figures in the village. This type of local leader functions as an agent for the company. They are capable of choosing workers on the basis of personal contact and long-term knowledge of the family. Therefore, they are well-suited to weed out those who might cause "trouble". The workers these local leaders recruit become their "clients". They are strongly warned not to make trouble at the factory, because this would affect not only their own good name and reputation, but also their local leader's.

In this way, traditional authority and loyalty ties are used to guard against the possibility of worker unrest or actions. In addition, traditional concepts of cultural propriety are used. The attitude that is the most proper for women, and to a certain extent for young men, is "malu": one should act shy, embarrassed and withdrawn, show respect for superiors, and maintain distance to them, keeping eyes down. They are also encouraged to take on the attitude of "takut": to be afraid of new experiences and new people. Mather writes (p. 169):

"Once inside the factories the young girls consistently (and young men occasionally) say that they feel too malu and takut, so deferential to their bosses (usually older men) that direct confrontation, individually or in groups, is almost unthinkable. They say that they are too malu to be straightforward about any grievances, too takut to complain about low pay or unfair treatment, and would rather leave the factory than 'make trouble' (daripada bikin ribut, lebih baik pulang saja). They show an unwillingness, based on their inexperience, to organize and it is easy for the management to split them and isolate one from another, to dismiss those who 'create scenes' or engage in other types of inappropriate (verani) behaviour."

Mather's article bears the subtitle: "Behind the lack of class struggle in industrial firms in the Tangerang region of West Java." Part of the explanation in the exploitation of power and authority balances between men and women and the use of traditional propriety norms for women's behavior.

In a study of industrial concerns in Brazil, Humphrey also shows that there is a difference between the disciplinary methods that can be used on men and on women. He claims that from the standpoint of the corporate leadership, women are more lucrative to use on an assembly line than men. Firstly, men don't last as long as women in jobs without the possibility of promotion. It is both difficult and expensive to create promotion possibilities for assembly line work. Secondly, high productivity in routine assembly line work often demands close surveillance of the worker's time and space. In one factory Humphrey studied, surveillance of the workers was often imposing and aggressive, occasionally to the extent that it could almost be called harassment. In another factory, women stated that foremen threatened them physically. Male workers would more readily resist this form of harassment, both because they are better able to answer on this level, and because this type of surveillance is seen as an attack on their identity as men.

Susan Joekes (1984) has studied the difference between male and female labor power in Morocco. In Morocco, also, the labor market is strongly gender divided. However, there is a demand for a certain percentage of male workers, also in the branches dominated by women. Why? Joekes gives this explanation (p. 208):

"Employers have good reason for wanting to keep a small proportion of male employees at strategic points in the production process, even though they cost more. Their value rests on employers' ability to use gender relations as an instrument of labour discipline."

One way this is utilized is, to use male workers as "pacemakers" on the assembly line. Assembly line work is often done as piece work in order to maintain a high tempo. Many company officials have, however, chosen another method: they place a couple of workers who work by the piece on each line. Since all those on the assembly lines are dependent on each other, the tempo is pushed up for everyone. Because the "pacemakers" are men, and women are accustomed to subordinating themselves to men, it is difficult for them to protest against the tempo or the fact that men are getting higher pay for the same work. In this manner, company owners are assured of a high working tempo from women without having to pay them extra.

All the examples I have used here are from the Third World. However, systematic studies in our part of the world would undoubtedly also reveal that power balances between the sexes are used to pacify the female labor power. In conversations with female workers, there are always a flood of examples. The system of having a couple of men on piece work in an assembly line where the remaining workers are women paid by the hour is used, for example, at the Norwegian company, the Anker Battery Factory. In the graphics branch, it was for a long time common that when bookbinding apprentices (men) and bookbinding assistants (women) worked together, the apprentices worked piece work. Assistants, however, who prepared the work, did some parts of the operation, and were forced to follow the apprentices' tempo were paid by the hour.

In Norway, and other Western countries, men are often foremen supervising women. Male supremacy tactics are used in addition to the "pure" dominance/subordination relationships that keep women workers in their place. Foged and Rasmussen, for example, describe conditions at a Danish office in this way (p. 88):

"At the same time, there is a male supervisor, who sits in - a little room close to the typing pool, separated only by a wall of shelves. In this way, he always has an ear in the typing pool without being present. The noise from the machines and, also, the chatter of the typists comes through the shelves to him. Here, there are no great dilemma's about how to organize the work. 'The best way is the way we've always done it,' the leaders argue when women make other suggestions. Here they follow the tradition that a women should have a male supervisor, and that they should be supervised, otherwise they talk."

Norms regarding what constitutes "making trouble" and "being impudent" are moreover, different for women's workplaces than men's. "Why are we afraid to go to the bathroom during the shift when the foreman or the boss is there? And if we do it anyway, then we think we're the world's bravest women!" Marion Palmer writes from her job in an industrial fish company in Trondheim, Norway (1986).

Norms for what is "suitable" female behavior probably also contribute to making the situation particularly difficult for women who are union representatives. A man can "straighten things out" and "make some fuss", and it'll be, within certain limits, accepted. A woman will quickly be labeled "hysterical" and "impossible to work with". A number of the cases where female union representatives were fired have this kind of background. In a case in Norway, in the fall of 1986, a boss physically attacked a female union representative (in what was called the "Domstein" case). The most extreme method for punishing women in the home was transferred to the workplace.

The power balance between men and women is not only used to force more work out of women, it is also used in an attempt to elicit other types of services from them. I am not, here, thinking of direct sexual harassment of female subordinates by their male superiors, though this is probably also relatively widespread. What I am thinking of are the extra duties that women are given, particularly in offices, because they "naturally" fall to them as women. Things like cleaning, coffee making, caring for others - tasks no one would dream of asking a man to do at his workplace. Women are not only given more duties, in this way they are also defined as subordinate to men because it is taken for granted that they are men's personal servants. (For a description of this system see Eva-Lill Bekkevad 1986.)

Exploiting the "feminine"

Women are often seen as annoying elements at a workplace. They don't fit into the picture of the "real" worker. Production is organized on men's terms. Women workers are square plugs in round holes. Women, themselves, often experience this when they attempt to find a job that can be combined with the rest of their life situation.

There is, however, another side to it, and this is capitalism's incredible ability to use "femininity" to their own advantage. Women can be exploited more because their labor power is worth less. Their workday consists of less necessary work, more surplus work. (In Marxist terminology, necessary work is the portion of the working day needed to create the values that correspond to what the worker needs for survival. The rest of the workday is "surplus work", and the values that are created go directly into the capitalist's pocket.)

They can also be exploited more because they can be driven harder, and their labor power wears out more quickly since they are "girls waiting to marry". In our part of the world women workers are just as often housewives who are "working on the side". They can be driven harder because they work a shorter day, part-time. A shorter workday gives, as we know greater productivity on the job. Women can, also, be additionally exploited because they can be subjected to disciplinary methods that cannot be used on male workers.

When "the female person" goes into the market as a wage earner, she brings her femininity along. It is precisely this femininity that is actively used by capitalists in order to increase their profit. Since "femininity" is seen as a quality women bear from birth, the increased exploitation is masked behind the "natural" and the "obvious".


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