Gendered division of labour

Gendered division of labour, also known as sexual division of labour, refers to the way that people are divided according to what is appropriate work for men and women. The gendered division of labour is derived from social perceptions about what is 'natural' for a particular sex to do as an occupation.

Such divisions are not new, and have been in practice for thousands of years. Naturally, such divisions are bound to a particular society and are laden with history. Examples of the gendered division of labour can be seen in the primacy of women engaged in informal employment, and caring for children, or in the numbers of men who sit on the boards of the world's largest corporations.

In the early days only 50% of white women were employed. 80%-90% of waitering, housekeeping and nursing, and over 50% of music instructors were all women.

Under capitalism, the sexual division of labor rests on the division between reproduction and production where women, over the course of the history of capitalism, have been assigned the role of un-waged workers tending to the reproduction of the male waged workforce. Thus under capitalism gender roles are shaped in a way that is functional to capitalism and accumulation, that is, gender roles proscribe certain kinds of work for women and men. From the capitalist point of view, the work of women (i.e. the reproduction of the male workforce)is seen as a natural activity that is not directly productive (i.e. does not produce commodities) and therefor should not be paid wages in the same way that wages are paid to the male workforce. Rather, the male wage is supposed to cover the needs of women and children. In this way capital exploits both the waged work of men and the unwaged work of women. For both, the value received for their work (i.e the wage) is less than the value realized by the capitalist through the sale of commodities, commodities that are produced by the work of both the male and female worker. Capitalism has achieved this sexual division of labor mainly through state terror and massive state intervention in reproduction which centers on resting control from women of their bodies.

Resistance by women has thus centered on both breaking down the barriers of the sexual division of labor and on forcing capital to pay for reproductive work. Some women's movements such as liberal and socialist feminist movements have fought for women's access to all forms of wage labor. Other feminists have argued that these demands do not go far enough, instead trapping women in the "double-workday" where women both do wage work outside the home and continue to do unpaid reproductive work inside the home. They instead have fight to force capitalism to pay for reproductive work. From this point of view, reproductive work, such as raising the next generation of workers and tending to the physical and psychological needs of the current workforce does in fact produce a commodity, labor, without which capitalist production could not take place. Thus capitalism should pay for this work, through both the social wage (e.g. daycare, health services) and a direct wage, as called for the movement "Wages for Housework." This would both reduce the exploitation of women by capitalism as well as increase women's independence from men.

All women's movements have also struggled to regain women's control over their bodies. These struggles include abortion and struggles against capitalist/male control over female sexuality and identity.

For further reading see: Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Autonomedia, 2004.

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