How patriarchy and capitalism combine to exacerbate women's oppression - CADTM (2023)


  • patriarchy
  • where capitalism comes into play
  • historical background


The oppression of women is very old: it existed before capitalism, which is also a system of oppression, but of a more global nature. Patriarchy can be defined simply as the oppression and objectification of women by men. In addition to its purely economic form, this oppression is expressed in a variety of ways, particularly through language, kinship, stereotypes, religion and culture. The form of oppression depends on whether you live north or south, in an urban or rural area.

Rebellion against oppression or a sense of being exploited does not necessarily lead to a questioning of patriarchy (nor does the oppressed working class simply decide to end capitalism; but it is certainly easier to react against the boss's oppression than against oppression) . the couple). Before such a question can be formulated, the most common explanations must be put aside, whether they are based on physiology (various sex organs or brain) or psychology (a nature that leads a politician to be passive, docile, narcissistic, etc. Criticism of patriarchy as a dynamic power system capable of self-preservation and resisting any transformation of its central claim to male supremacy.[1]

Therefore, to be a feminist is to be aware of this oppression and, recognizing that it is a system, to work to destroy it in order to contribute to the emancipation (or liberation) of women.

Characteristics of Patriarchy[2]

Male dominance cannot be reduced to a sum of individual acts of discrimination. Is acoherent systemthat shapes all aspects of life, both collectively and individually.

1)Women are "overtaxed"at their place of work and they also do long hours of housework, but housework does not have the same status as paid work. International statistics show that women are "overworked" compared to men when both women's paid work and domestic work are taken into account. Separation in terms of housework and family responsibilities is the visible face (thanks to feminists) of onesocial order based on the gendered division of labour, i.e. a division of tasks between men and women, according to which women must primarily and “as a matter of course” devote themselves to the domestic and private sphere, while men devote their time and energy to productive and public activities.

This distribution, which is anything but "complementary", has established aHierarchy of activities in which “male” activities are given high value and “female” activities are given low value. In fact, there has never been a situation of equality. The vast majority of women have traditionally had both productive work (in the broader sense of the word) and various household chores.

2)Domination is characterized by the total or partial absence of rights. Women marry at 19thecentury Europe had almost no rights; Women's rights in Saudi Arabia today are virtually non-existent (in general, women living in societies where religion is a state matter have very limited rights).

Western women's rights have increased significantly, partly under the influence of the development of capitalism which has had them work and consume 'freely', but even more so as a result of their own struggles.

Women have fought collectively for more than two centuries for the right to vote, the right to work, to organize, the free exercise of motherhood, and full and complete equality in the workplace, family, and public sphere.

3)Domination is always accompanied by violence, which can be of a physical, moral or ideal nature.. Physical violence can be spousal violence, rape or genital mutilation: This violence can go as far as murder. Moral or psychological violence can be an insult or a humiliation. In the realm of ideas, acts of violence are represented in various ways, such as in myths and various forms of discourse. For example, among the Baruya (ethnic group of Nueva Guinea), where male dominance is ubiquitous, human milk is not viewed as a product in its own right, but as a transformation of male sperm. Obviously, this depiction of milk as a "by-product" of semen is a form of male appropriation of female procreative power. It is also a way of codifying women's subordination in the representation of the body.

4)Power relations are often accompanied by discourses that present social inequalities as something natural.. The effect of this discourse is that people accept these inequalities as inevitable fate: they are natural and cannot be changed.

This type of discourse is found in most societies. For example, the ancient Greeks referred to the categories "hot" and "cold" and "dry" and "wet" to distinguish between "masculinity" and "femininity." Aristotle offers the following explanation: “The masculine is hot and dry, associated with fire and positive value; the feminine is cold and damp, associated with water and a negative value (...)". It has to do, he says, with a different nature in its ability to "boil" blood: the woman's period is the incomplete and imperfect form of sperm. The perfect/imperfect, pure/impure relationship that Aristotle makes between sperm and menstruation (and thus between the male and the female) has its origin in a fundamental biological difference.

Thus, a form of social inequality codified in the social organization of the Greek city-state (women were not citizens) is transcribed as natural through the representation of the body.

In other societies, men and women are assigned different “natural” characteristics, which also leads to a gender pecking order. To cite just one example, in Inuit society, cold, raw food, and nature are associated with men, while hot, cooked, and culture are associated with women. Exactly the opposite is the case in Western societies, where men are associated with culture and women with nature. Thus we can observe that given different "natural" characteristics (e.g. cold and hot for women), the end result is always a hierarchical social order of males and females, and whatever the "natural" characteristics are in females, always is less well.

My goal is not to deny that there are biological differences between men and women; However, observing a difference does not automatically mean accepting that inequality exists. Even if a number of"natural differences" in a society are not exaggerated between several individuals but between social groups, we have to assume that a social inequality is hidden behind the discourse of difference.

This "naturalization discourse" is not specific to the relationship of domination between men and women; it can also be used to refer to the situation of black people. For example, some discourses have justified the various forms of exploitation and oppression of black people by pointing to their innate “laziness”. A similar claim was made about workers in the 19th centurytheAt the time, their inability to escape poverty was explained by the fact that it was in their "nature" to get drunk from father to son.

This type of discourse tends to transform the individuals involved in social relationships into a "species" with definite "traits." Since these qualities are of natural origin, they cannot be changed, which justifies and legitimizes inequality in conditions of exploitation and oppression..

5)When there are no social struggles, discourses based on "naturalization" can easily be internalized by the oppressed.. For example, when it comes to women, there is a common notion that they are "naturally" more gifted than men because they have children and give birthcareCareThe concept of “care work” refers to a set of material and psychological practices aimed at providing a concrete response to the needs of others and a community (including ecosystems). We prefer the concept of care to “domestic” or “reproductive work” because it integrates emotional and psychological dimensions (emotional stress, affection, support) and is not limited to “private” and free aspects, while also including necessary paid activities for reproduction human life.of them, at least when they are young. However, young women are often just as unprepared as their spouses in the first few days after childbirth. On the other hand, they have often been psychologically prepared (through education and the norms that pervade society) for this new responsibility, which requires learning new skills. This distribution of tasks in infancy (that is, the actual care of the babies is almost exclusively the responsibility of women) is by no means “natural”; it is a question of social organization, a collective decision of society, even if not explicitly stated. The result is well known: women in particular have to do everything to “combine” work and family at the expense of their health and professional situation, while men are deprived of this continuous contact with their small children.

This naturalization of social relations is unconsciously (subtly) encoded in the behavior of the dominant and dominated, forcing them to act according to the logic behind those social relations: in Mediterranean societies, for example, men must obey the logic of honor. (They must be ready at all times to demonstrate their "masculinity"), while women must abide by the code of being discreet and compliant in service to others.

The result of this "naturalization" discourse uttered by the dominant is that individuals of both sexes are color-labeled in the name of their social origins, assigned a single identity, and sometimes persecuted or at least mistreated for their skin, gender, sexual orientation, etc. In Western societies, the white, middle-class, Christian, straight male was and is to a large extent the reference model. Only a person with such qualities can (can) claim to be a versatile person who can speak for humanity. Everyone else - blacks, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, migrant workers and their children, and women (who can indeed endure several of these "afflictions") had, and still have to, justify themselves in order to enjoy the same rights as a dominant group.

where capitalism comes into play

In the past, when children were asked on school questionnaires how their parents made a living, they were asked to leave a blank for their mothers if they were housewives. There could be no better emblem than this “white” for the invisibility of women's domestic work in capitalist societies prior to the feminist revival of the late 1960s. It was feminists who drew attention to the importance and diversity of women's unpaid work in the home.

The invisible contribution of women, which is usually not viewed in monetary terms, is difficult to quantify since it is neither a matter of purchases nor sales; However theUNDP UNDP United Nations Development Program UNDP was founded in 1965 and is headquartered in New York. It is the main United Nations technical assistance organization. It helps the DC to set up basic administrative and technical services without political restrictions, trains leaders, tries to respond to some of the essential needs of the population, takes the initiative in regional cooperation programs and coordinates, at least in theory, the local activities of all UN operations . UNDP generally draws on Western expertise and techniques, but a third of its pool of experts is from the Third World. UNDP publishes an annual human development report that ranks countries according to their Human Development Index (HDI), among other things.In his 1995 report, he put it at an estimated $11 trillion. This number must be placed in relation to world productivity, which was estimated at around $23 trillion at the time, to give an idea of ​​how much women contribute to humanity as a whole. (UNDP, 1995, p. 6).

The monetary contribution of women to the economy (eg in the form of gainful employment) should be added to this 11,000 trillion dollars. Finally, it should be remembered that women generally earn less than men for the same work or work of equal value.

Domestic work includes tasks that reproduce the labor force, tasks that are performed within the family household. 80% of this domestic work is done by women and the vast majority of this work done by women is UNPAID. Somehow the capitalist system never thought of converting domestic chores into professional jobs paid with salary and/or marketable products.sleight of handIt has required that men and women, through the patriarchal values ​​that underlie our society, accept and develop the notion that women are inherently predisposed to do household chores.

The question of women's domestic work in the private sphere is therefore at the center of any analysis of their situation.

The propensity of the capitalist system to reorganize the economy on a global scale in its own wayProfitProfitThe positive profit made by a company's operations. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is that part of net profit that can be distributed to shareholders.directly affects gender relations. Analysis of its methods shows that the capitalist system feeds on a pre-existing system of oppression, patriarchy, on the one hand, and combines many of its defining characteristics on the other. The oppression of women is a tool that allows capitalists to manage the entire workforce for their own benefit. It also allows them to justify their policies when they find it more profitable to shift responsibility for social welfare from the state and collective institutions to the "private sphere" of the family. In other words, when capitalists need additional workers, they turn to women, who are paid less than men, with the side effect of lowering overall wages. This means that the state is forced to provide services to make work easier for women or to enable them to offload some of their responsibilities. Then, when women's work is no longer needed, they send them home, back to their "right place" in patriarchal terms.

There is still no country in the world, even among the most advanced in this field, where women earn as much as men. In fact, some developed countries are losing ground to this criterion in terms of human development: Canada has, since JanS tal 9theIn the world rankings, Luxembourg has dropped twelve places, the Netherlands by sixteen and Spain by twenty-six (UNDP, 1995). Professions in which women are in the majority, such as healthcare or education, are devalued.

When capitalism is in crisis, austerity measures are introduced, making women the first to be excluded from benefits such as unemployment benefits where they exist. Elsewhere, they are pushed into very low-paying jobs, such as work in export processing zones. In Mexico, women's wages in this sector have plummeted from 80% to just 57% of men's. They can also be won over to the idea of ​​doing a good job for a pittance among the multitude of jobs in the informal sector, beyond the confines of “crippling” government regulations.

Women's rights in the workplace are undermined by thousands of government tricks. Of course, there is the "option" of part-time work, ranging from part-time to "zero" contract, with the worker available to the boss to work from zero to any number of hours as needed; And this despite the fact that practically all surveys show that the majority of working women would like to have a full-time job. The progressive dismantling of services such as crèches and crèches or the privatization of others such as nursing homes have created a multitude of barriers for working women. “Equality at work” had the negative effect of introducing more night work for women. Of course it was right to create equal working conditions for women in the security, health, etc. services; However, these so-called equality measures were also about letting women work on the assembly line in night shifts, for example. There is absolutely no compelling need to build cars at night. The new measures for equality between men and women should then have eliminated night work for men in a clearly feminist way. In addition, this fundamentally unacceptable night work on the assembly line makes life unbearably difficult for most women in view of the work that women still have to do in the domestic area.

To deal with this problem, capitalism uses patriarchy as a lever to achieve its goals while strengthening it.

The topic of women's work in production and in public space is therefore just as central.

To deal with this problem, capitalism uses patriarchy as a lever to achieve its goals while strengthening it.

The fact that women are relegated to domestic chores – by patriarchy – allows capitalists to justify their overexploitation and underpayment of women on the grounds that their labor is less productive than men's. They cite weakness, menstruation, absenteeism from pregnancy and maternity leave, breastfeeding, and caring for sick children and elderly relatives. Here the women's salary is denigrated as "for extras". Women already earn around 20% less than men with the same qualifications and the same workload. This has a doubleInterest Interest Amount paid or received from a lender as compensation for an investment. Interest is calculated based on the capital invested or lent, the duration of the operation and the set interest rate.for the capitalists. On the one hand, they have a cheaper and more flexible workforce that can be hired or fired depending on market fluctuations; On the other hand, they can reduce the payout rates overall.

The general problematic of women's work in the public and private sectors thus reflects their oppression, for example when far-right politics or religious fundamentalism force them to stay at home; or their release, as in the case of progressive policies of equal pay, job creation and free public services.


Having duly noted the importance of housework, the current feminist "class struggle" gives the following analysis[3]:

The oppression of women preceded capitalism but fundamentally changed it.

Housework proper was born with capitalism. By largely replacing small-scale production in agriculture and handicrafts with large-scale industry, capitalism increasingly shifted the division between sites of production (workplace) and sites of reproduction (family), relegating women to responsibility for the home. This new ideology of the housewife, which began in the bourgeoisie, created contempt for the woman who “had to” work because she had no husband to support her. This ideology was not limited to the bourgeoisie, but also spread and contaminated the nascent labor movement. Contrary to popular belief, however, lower-class women never stopped working, caught in the web of contradictions associated with their family responsibilities and difficult working conditions. Therefore we believe that the articulation between capitalism and patriarchal oppression must be analyzed as a single phenomenon.

Capitalism is a dynamic and aggressive mode of production, which as such permeates all social relations. For example, at the beginning of the 19th century, capitalism did not hesitate to massively call for very cheap women's and child labour.theCentury to increase production and thus profits. Over the centuries, this quest for maximum profits has led to capitalism (at least in part) undermining paternal and spousal authority, leaving working women “free” to sell their labor power without their husbands' permission and become full-fledged consumers .

This call for women's work experienced new developments worldwide in the early 1960s and today. With traditional or highly modern industries relocating to North Africa, Latin America or Asia, employers are recruiting young women into the labor market in search of new profits. However, these young, exploited and industrious women were able to achieve a degree of financial independence from the men in the family, leading them to demand freedom in many areas.

At the same time, in the developed capitalist countries, more and more activities are being outsourced that used to be in the family and are primarily served by public services such as schools and health institutions, or increasingly by the market: clothing, food, etc.

The oppression of women is beneficial to the capitalist system.

Although capitalism favors a certain emancipation of women for the sake of profit, it is still very attached to the traditional institution of the family. Why?

How patriarchy and capitalism combine to exacerbate women's oppression - CADTM (1)In our societies, the family plays a fundamental role in reproducing the division and hierarchy between different social classes and sexes, to which different social and economic functions are assigned. In the name of the "maternal" function, women must assume all the responsibilities associated with the maintenance and reproduction of labor and the family. Men are always assumed to be the main suppliers of the economy. All this allows, within the framework of professional segregation and in the name of the so-called complementary roles, to continue to pay women discriminatory less.

How patriarchy and capitalism combine to exacerbate women's oppression - CADTM (2)The family also plays its role in 'regulating' the labor market. In times of economic prosperity, such as that experienced for about thirty years up to the early 1970s, women are drawn en masse as cheap labor in a range of manufacturing industries such as electronics and later as wage earners in the clothing industry. But in times of economic recession, as in the last thirty years, employers and the state tirelessly suggest that women should withdraw - in whole or in part - from the labor market to pursue their "natural" calling as mothers. If there are signs of economic recovery (even if short-lived), some collective investments will be reconsidered, not on the basis of gender equality but to 'liberate' women's work and encourage flexible working hours to subjugate.

How patriarchy and capitalism combine to exacerbate women's oppression - CADTM (3)Housework by women always allows the state to save on collective institutions and employers to lower wages. If women were not perceived as being responsible for these tasks within the family, there would have to be a significant reduction in working hours for everyone and a significant expansion of social facilities.

How patriarchy and capitalism combine to exacerbate women's oppression - CADTM (4)The role of authority played by the family has been strongly influenced by recent developments in the situation of women in society; has shifted to an "affective" function. However, supporters of the capitalist social order do not hesitate to defend a family order based on hierarchical differences between the sexes. For example, the most ardent supporters of the traditional family believe that restored parental authority must contain and deter possible outbursts of temper among marginalized youth in the poorest urban areas.

How patriarchy and capitalism combine to exacerbate women's oppression - CADTM (5)Finally, and this may at first sight contradict the previous point, the family offers a major advantage: it is a relatively flexible institution (its forms have diversified greatly over the past thirty years). It can be used as a safety valve for the restrictions wage earners face in the workplace. Most people cannot choose their job or their working conditions. In times of unemployment, the “opportunities” are more limited. But when people “choose” a spouse, when they “choose” to have children, to eat this, to buy this brand of car, to vacation to this country (for those who can afford it), they can feel like getting some of their money back, some of the freedom they lost outside of the family. Advertising tries to maintain this illusion. This feeling of freedom is still limited by essential factors: economic resources, gender and age. Because they are still held accountable. for housework and because of the domestic violence to which they are still too often subjected, women know only too well the limits of their freedom. Children too, as some (especially girls) are subject to their parents' authoritarianism, if not physical violence. Punishment.

These various elements go some way to explaining why the family continues to be a fundamental pillar of capitalist society.

Therefore, contrary to what some feminists seem to believe, it is difficult to imagine how women's liberation (all women, not just a small minority) could be achieved in a capitalist system. Therefore, we consider it necessary to unite the struggle of women against patriarchal oppression and the struggle of wage earners against capitalist exploitation in all conflicts. To illustrate how difficult such an approach can be, some male trade unionists either do not believe it is "appropriate" for women to be factory workers, or are unwilling to join the women's struggle, arguing that it can be done through the struggle happens." global" (i.e. by men). ) struggle that women have to endure in order to receive benefits. Some men also still enjoy "ruling the quarters" at home.

historical background

1. In the beginning...

The position of women in the so-called primitive societies (prehistoric times)

Subsistence farming (e.g. hunter-gatherers)

There was no hoarding, just a constant search for resources, for ways to stay alive. Everyone's "work" was required to ensure the survival of the tribe. No one could appropriate the resources without jeopardizing collective survival. He did this for social equality.

What was/is the position of women among hunter-gatherers? As we read in the works of anthropologists and historians:

  • in the primitive group we observe mobility between male and female individuals, with free adhesion and without discrimination;
  • However, where hunting became dominant in social organization, the abduction of females was practiced to ensure the necessary reproduction of males;
  • other examples, such as the importance of goddesses in mythology, show more that women received social recognition.

The first peasant communes: cooperative organization of work

Social gender equality and collective ownership of resources and means of production continued to be the norm, and land was also collective property for common use.

Such societies had some sort of division of labor between men and women. Women had specific jobs such as plowing fields, pottery and weaving, but such gender segregation did not lead to women's oppression or their exclusion from public life and confinement to the family circle.

Women not only participated in productive activities, but also played a role in social organization:

  • they were members of the city council;
  • some societies were matrilineal (line of descent through mothers);
  • In some societies, raising children is a collective responsibility.

In some of these societies, however, it has been observed that men took the power to control reproduction and thus maintain the number of producers. The "circulation of women" had to be regulated to prevent the disappearance of some groups, either violently through kidnapping or nonviolently through "exchange" or trade.

2. Social surplus production and the emergence of social classes. ancient societies.

The accumulation of resources, the development of productive forces and tools (the time not needed for survival could be spent designing and making tools) led to surplus production. This led to social class as some viewed this surplus as their own property and wanted it to increase.

At the same time (in antiquity, around 3500 BC) we observe the development of slavery - first of captives from conquered territories and peoples; later also because of unpaid debts – and from the state. The role of the state was to ensure that the ruling classes could retain ownership of the social surplus through institutions that excluded other members of the community from political functions: power belonged to hereditary lords, kings, or nobles. They set up an army, a civil service, a judiciary and ideology producers (scholars, teachers) to ensure that the domination of those who appropriated the wealth was accepted by all.

For example, the Egyptian pharaohs relied on scribes to calculate the amount of crops reaped so that a portion could be left for the ruling classes, and on a clergy to teach that any rebellion against the pharaoh, God's representative on earth, future life would be punished.

The position of women changed radically:

  • Widespread Patrilinearity: The new notion of inheritance and the transmission of property through the male line meant that it was important to have male offspring whose parentage was uncontested. Women then became their own assets as they were perceived primarily as mothers and at the same time fathers gained absolute power over their children (see e.g. Roman law and the abduction of women, the story of the battle between the Horatii and the Curiatians).
  • Marriage became a source of property and wealth: for example, the bride price, which in matrilineal societies consisted of a gift, became cattle or land.

As ancient societies developed, wealthy property owners assumed public responsibilities and political functions; Women were excluded from them (without voting rights) and made responsible for the household so that men could be relieved of domestic duties to assume their responsibilities outside and relieved of the responsibility of raising children to ensure the transmission of property.

It could be argued that this applied only to ruling-class women. In fact, the other women worked in the fields, in manufacture or in the silver mines (e.g. in Athens). But even in these cases, the working women also had to do the housework because there was no longer a cooperative organization of work (the family was still a unit of production) - and they were also assigned the role of reproducing labor power.

This is how the idea of ​​women as responsible for privacy “inside” developed. This is the beginning of the confinement of women within the family (which is not the same as "housewife"): the woman as progenitor - responsible for the transmission of property...or the reproduction of labor power.

3. Pre-capitalist societies. feudal societies

The situation of women has changed over time.
In rural societies there was still a gender-specific division of labor.

We find that women:

  • it still had the function of reproducing labor power. Corresponding to this control over the reproductive function was the father's authority over the family;
  • She specialized in domestic work while being involved in productive activities. In fact, the family continued to be a unit of production and consumption, the two being closely linked, with some goods for family consumption and others for barter purposes.

In this period the situation of women was indeed vacillating and contradictory: they were kept indoors and excluded from public life, but the family was a changing entity; for example, widowhood and new marriages were common; Extended families or family reunions were necessary to survive and produce; there were ties of solidarity. Women were sometimes under less pressure :p. Gram. the upbringing of children can be collective. Their productive work has been recognized in some cases: e.g. Gramm. Women could be members of guilds and corporations.

4. The period of commercial capitalism and factory development

As commercial capitalism took shape, followed by mechanization, the situation of women worsened. Also, the role of the family would change with the formation of the bourgeois state.

As manufacturing grew, workers/producers became disconnected from their means of production; Craftsmen hired their labor but no longer owned their own tools.

This process began with the "home-based industry". Merchants rented production equipment (such as a loom) from the family, brought them raw materials, and returned to collect the finished product for wages.

Another consequence of the growth in production was that the family changed from a unit of production to a unit of consumption.

Previously, farming families produced the essentials. In the process of capitalist development, products previously produced in families were produced outside the home.

From then on, housework was devalued, it was not considered a commodity and was no longer recognized as socially necessary.

Much later thatDevaluation Devaluation Low exchange rate of one currency against another.It would affect all professions associated with tasks that women are entitled to in families: cleaning - caring - teaching ...

With women's labor devalued during this transitional period, the bourgeoisie began using women as supplementary, lower-paid workers to put pressure on male wage earners and thereby divide the future working class, whether in the still existing industrial home or in the factories.

In order to ensure acceptance for the transformation of the female labor force into a reserve worker (the ongoing support of women and girls in relation to wages and work), it was necessary to make family responsibilities a clear priority for women.

from the 18ththeIn the 19th century, the "focus on the family" played an important role in the development of civil society.

This represented a new understanding of the family and the role of women: the bourgeoisie's ambitions to become the ruling class led to a new focus on the child, as children had to embody status-seeking projects. In concrete terms, this meant limiting the number of births “in order to provide better care for the children” and enjoying a more intense domestic life. From this perspective, civil marriages were primarily commercial arrangements, and the family also became a means of transmitting societal norms. At that time (18ththecentury) this model of the bourgeois family only existed among the ruling classes. This would change.

5. The industrial revolution and the proletarianization of women

At the time of factory mechanization during the Industrial Revolution, the bourgeoisie defended the bourgeois family model for the working class:

  • Nuclear family (parents and children)
  • Women had to ensure labor force reproduction: men had to be rested and ready to ensure production; Children as future producers could no longer run through the streets and fields, they had to be ready when it was their turn to go into the mines.

This family was increasingly defined as a private sphere, as a unit of consumption, and played an educational role based on the reproduction of the canons of the dominant ideology: respect for the established order and private property. Within the working-class family, the father could rule as lord, leaving external political authority to others.

However, these plans clashed with the reality of the industrial revolution, which also turned women into proletarians. Actually on the 19ththeIndustrial expansion of the 19th century, everyone was mobilized to work in the mines or in the textile industry... including women and children. They were restricted to often dangerous tasks for lower wages.

The working-class family was torn apart by:

  • worker mobility;
  • single migrants living with families;
  • working-class neighborhoods where community life took place;
  • Different working hours, resulting in members of a family seeing little or nothing.

All of this presented a series of dangers for the bourgeoisie, which was no longer in control of the situation. In response, they strove to find ways to implement moral improvement as a means of regaining control over workers:

  • Attempts to reform the family: The bourgeoisie promoted the image of the housewife as the guardian of morals. This ideology meant that all women, whether part of the labor force or not, had to see domestic life as their primary responsibility.
  • The creation of public schools at the end of the 19th century had an ideological function (Jules FERRY and morality) and an economic function (training skilled workers).thecentury and especially at the beginning of the s.theCentury.

This implies the following:

  • Women were also responsible for a "moral influence" on men (for example, bosses asked women to pressure their husbands not to go on strike in the name of family "survival");
  • her job was seen as a "second job": her primary responsibility, not production, meant her salary was in addition to that of the male breadwinner; the notion of supplementary labor implied that they were hired or fired according to the economic needs of the moment.
  • The work performed by women would gradually change, focusing on 'women's jobs', extensions of their roles within the family. This work would be poorly paid because it is viewed as an extension of non-productive work and undervalued because of its association with family responsibilities.

The massive entry of women into factories could contribute to their emancipation. To hinder this process of emancipation, the bourgeoisie not only resorted to "locking" women into the family, but women's low-paid work would also be used to divide the workers. For example, the dismissal of men so that women and children work night shifts in the worst conditions.

6. The situation on the eve of World War I...

Many women worked and were heavily exploited as unskilled workers.

The family was given a place of honor: women should take responsibility for the family, which meant:

  • the place where labor was reproduced and maintained;
  • a consumer unit;
  • the space in which ideological control was exercised (this educational function was shared with the schools, which also reproduced the workforce and ideology of the ruling class).

7. Changes in the 20ththecentury

The massive entry of women into factories and later into offices created the conditions for emancipation.

Gradually, women achieved legal equality, e.g. the right to vote in Belgium in 1948.

Since 1945 more and more women have worked their whole lives. The women's struggle for emancipation developed, the women's movement formed and progress was made, such as:

  • the women's strike at the National Arms Factory (NF) in Herstal (Belgium) in 1966: it was the first step towards equal pay... which has not yet been achieved.

And since 1968 there have been other advances, such as:

  • contraception, decriminalization of abortion;
  • women who denounce the double workday;
  • the provision of public facilities;
  • Education, access to higher education, access to jobs. Women have mobilized in trade unions and political parties.

Women are working more and more, but in times of crisis, particularly since the early 1980s, it can be observed that women are again seen as supplementary workers, as in the 1930s, and there is a greater emphasis on the family and women's role in the home.


Since the early 1980s, the increase in part-time work (in 1995 88% of part-time workers were women) has been presented as a way of reconciling work and family life; In addition, career breaks and paternity leave lead to fewer working hours.

It is also important to note that women make up 40% of the labor force but 28% work part-time, ie almost a third of employed women.

Many women have accepted part-time work on condition that they receive an additional “unemployment benefit” for involuntary part-time work. Now that these positions have been filled by part-time employees, this service will no longer apply!

Management Interests:

  • double labor management: in a reorganization, the owner mandates part-time work for...women
  • Flexibility: number of hours and flexible schedules as needed, based on production needs.

Management and government propaganda revived the concept of the second wage, encouraging families to tighten their belts around one wage, the man's income. In countries like Belgium, this has led to cuts such as lower unemployment benefits for women and the exclusion of many unemployed women living with a man who earns a salary; cuts in pensions for women; subsidies for hiring part-time workers; Incentivize single-income families (male-headed wage earners) through tax incentives (a single income split between a couple pays less tax overall than the sum of two incomes; this is known as the dependents allowance).

In particular, women's employment is at risk, which also makes possible cuts in public spending (public facilities are another target, in addition to the above).

Despite the very fragile achievements of women, men are offended. They feel uncomfortable, threatened and challenged, for example, in their role as fathers (remember that patriarchy also implies father-son rule), or even see these tentative feminist victories as an assault on their status. One current tries to unite men against the feminist current: it is the so-called “men's rights movement”4. This shows the great ability of patriarchy to adapt to societal changes. It is a reactionary movement that damages social relations between women and men. In this context, feminists and men must ask themselves: "What man can smash patriarchy and play a role in women's struggle for emancipation?"

Translated by Vicki Briault, Francesca Denley, Marie Lagatta, Charles La Via, Christine Pagnoulle

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