Silvia Federici expresses radical views of feminism in her late 1970s piece “Wages Against Housework” in that she purports that housework is unpaid labor that is carefully constructed in capitalism to serve both capitalism itself and ultimately patriarchy. Federici outlines how work is valued in capitalism based on the wages awarded for that work. Depending on the worker, wages can be negotiated but all workers have a tangible and symbolic measurement of the presumed worth of one’s work. Granted, Federici admits all workers are exploited and manipulated by the system in that “[t]he wage gives the impression of a fair deal: you work and you get paid, hence you and your boss are equal; while in reality the wage, rather than paying for the work you do, hides all the unpaid work that goes into profit.” (2) Intrinsically there is acknowledgement that the activities being committed are not natural, but achieved when a worker is paid for their labor. The worker is not doing work because they like it but because they are expected to do it by their boss.
With a wage comes recognition for one’s status as a worker that housewives do not receive. Housework is fundamentally different from wage-work. The perceived value of it is blatantly lacking since it is being dismissed as being a natural desire for women to do it. Capitalism needed women to see housework as fulfilling to “make us accept our unwaged work.” This is why so many women supported being good wives and doing the housework with a smile on their face. Workers may wear a uniform to work, while women must wear a smile as their uniform to their unpaid work.
This leads to conflict for those women who are not happy doing “women’s work” who are often labeled “nagging bitches” as opposed to “workers in struggle” when they complain about the labor they put into housework or simply express they do not enjoy it.
One critical aspect Federici exposes is how capitalism exploits and dehumanizes its workers to such a degree that capitalism needed a way to nurse these effects within the worker to keep them working- the housewife. Woman’s role was created to deal with the symptoms of loneliness, injured ego and lack of power created for the male worker by capitalism. Essentially women are cleaning up everyone’s mess, including capitalism itself- physically, emotionally, and psychologically- “because having somebody at home who takes care of you is the only condition not to go crazy after a day spent on an assembly line or at a desk.” (3-4)
Intersectionally, this means the more disadvantaged the family, the hgiher the enslavement and abuse of the woman. “The more blows the man gets at work the more his wife must be trained to absorb them, the more he is allowed to recover his ego at her expense.” (4)
Finally, Federici also addresses the women who are considered professionals and their intense disdain for housewives. Federici argues that these women know that the housewife is one of the most powerless members of society scarig women into pursuing other options to be independent financially and socially. However, their condemnation of their fellow women actually serves to perpetuate the problem of unpaid housework.
Federici’s concluding remarks say it all-“We want and have to say that we are all housewives, we are all prostitutes and we are all gay, because until we recognise our slavery we cannot recognise our struggle against it, because as long as we think we are something better, something different than a housewife, we accept the logic of the master, which is a logic of division, and for us the logic of slavery.” (8)