College offers course advocating ‘wages for housework’

Eugene Lang College is offering a course this Fall predicated on the belief that women should be paid for housework, emotional labor, and other forms of “invisible labor.” 

Taught by author Macushla Robinson, the “Love and Currency” course is based off the 1975 Silvia Federici essay “Wages Against Housework,” a landmark manifesto that urges women to demand cash compensation from husbands for all household work. 

“Wages for housework is only the beginning,” Federici wrote during an era when nearly 40 percent of women didn’t work outside the home, adding that husbands “have to pay us…not one wage, but many wages, because we have been forced into many jobs at once.” 

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Though the essay is commonly taught in women’s studies courses, this appears to be the first class that takes Federici’s original arguments and extends them into the type of intersectional analysis that is now de rigueur in women’s studies departments. 

“Many forms of labor, which are often not recognized as labor, fall along lines of gender, race, and class,” the course description notes, stressing that “unrecognized, invisible, poorly remunerated, and unremunerated labor keeps our society afloat.”

“Whether changing nappies and washing an endless build of up dishes, caring for elderly and infirm family members...or bearing up under everyday sexual harassment, constricting gender norms, and systemic racism, invisible labor is exhausting,” it adds. 

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While Robinson was not immediately available for an interview on the new class, many of her previous essays on the subject argue that the lack of payment for women’s housework is linked to other problems, namely capitalism and exploitation.

In a recent essay, for example, Robinson suggests that women today are faring worse than their predecessors, since many women not only perform unpaid labor in the home, but also have a day-job while their kids are at school. 

Women, Robinson writes, “end up performing double the labour: that for which they are compensated, and the affective, invisible labour for which they are not.” 

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“The capitalist system has appropriated womens’ labour to support the exploitation of a male waged workforce, including in the romanticised cultural sector,” Robinson asserts. “As women have been culturally constructed as closer to nature, and biologically more capable of love than men, their ‘labours of love’ have often been framed as a natural resource. Despite the efforts of many feminists to invert the hierarchy of values that maligns both women and nature, women remain sidelined by this logic.”

“It is difficult to propose a clear path forward. It demands that we override centuries of cultural training,” she concludes. “In many ways the change has to be made by the women (myself included) whom Steyerl identifies as ‘self-exploiting.’ This change is not easy, but it is necessary.”

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