Monday, April 14, 2014
The Feminization of Work
Although Hardt and Negri’s section on the “feminization” of work is only part of their larger argument, it deserves a decent amount of attention given today’s politics and the place of women in the workforce.
I disagree with H&N’s smaller point that the “last two or three decades” have witnessed an increased presence of women in the workforce. Rather, I would argue, women’s work has become increasingly more visible. In some senses H&N’s would agree – they rightly point to women’s domestic labor as something that has always been seen as something the women naturally do, rather than being respected as work. Yet, they fail in this selection to look at women’s labor practices before 1900. If they were to do so, they would find that women have been working at low level jobs as long as there have been such a thing. Even in the cottage industry and the early whispers of Capital, women’s work balanced domestic tasks with production tasks.
It is not a new phenomenon that women are present and effective in the workforce. They always have been. Rather, we are now seeing their presence, and feeling the effects that characterize this “feminization”: “Part-time and informal employment, irregular hours, and multiple jobs” (133). Women have always worked in these conditions. At least, I can say with confidence, sense the 1500s.
H&N acknowledge too the “bitter irony” that “feminization” has not brought about gender equality in the work place. It some ways, I think that it has in that the men are now being treated as poorly as the women workers have always been. Women are still paid less, on average, for these similarly crummy jobs.
That this process of becoming biopolitical is evident on the “feminization” alone points to the gender bias built into this system. H&N deal with inherent problem by redirecting “feminization” as “labor becoming biopolitical . . . emphasiz[ing] the increased blurred boundaries between labor and life, and between production and reproduction” (134). They hope to fold in the “feminization” into the biopolitical in order not to confuse or misdirect the readers attention from the greater events of biopolitic.
But if we expand our historical lens and see the “feminization” not as modern phenomenon, but as a historical constant experiencing resurgences throughout the centuries, does it earn a different place in H&N’s model?