This is a debate generated by the article titled “Instead of discussing why India needs more women to work, let’s look at how India undervalues work that women do” by Aishwarya R published in The Leaflet on August 1, 2018.
N D Jayaprakash objects:
My submission is that her article is based on several misconceptions.
For example, the author uses terms like “house work”, “domestic work”, “household work”, “care giving”, “shopping”, “cooking”, “childcare”, etc., without defining the concept of “work” and without making a distinction between “work” and “chores”.
I would define the concept of “work” as socially useful tasks, which are creative, productive and beneficial to the entire society. On the other hand, “chores” are necessary and unavoidable household/domestic tasks, which should be equally shared by men and women for the benefit of the family unit.
Such (mostly boring) “chores” (that are non-creative and non-productive) could also be described as “alienated work”.
“Chores” like caring for children and the elderly are of course socially necessary tasks as well. The burden of carrying out domestic “chores” should not fall on one or the other partner. Therefore, the argument that the best way to render gender-justice is to turn “domestic work”, which is currently “unpaid work” into “paid work” is an untenable one, because most of “domestic chores”, which is at best “alienated work”, cannot substitute for productive, creative “non-alienated work”. Gender-justice will be rendered only by sharing “domestic chores” between men and women and not by keeping women away from productive, creative “non-alienated work”.
Emancipation of women is intrinsically linked to doing productive, creative “non-alienated work”; by merely accepting payment for doing “alienated work”, women can never hope to raise their stature and to attain equality with men.
Aishwarya Rajeev responds:
I would like to thank the respondent for reading the article and sharing his opinion. However, in trying to point out a difference between what he considers work and chores, the writer is creating a false binary, which is what my article argues against.
First, simply because household work is not deemed creative/productive/beneficial for the society, the fundamental role of this work in the economy cannot be ignored. My premise was, and remains, precisely this. As pointed out in my article and in many other works of economists, sociologists, and feminists, this is work that is inherently productive but is not counted as productive and hence is unpaid.
I am curious to know why the writer feels that these “chores” are not beneficial to society, or how cleaning, collecting firewood, walking miles to collect water, and many such activities are not “productive”, as, without these, it is impossible to undertake any productive “work”.
Second, that household work should be shared equally between men and women is an obvious and welcome suggestion, but this does not happen on its own. These definitions of what is work and what is a chore are contingent on power and gender hierarchies, and these are unlikely to transform unless the underlying theory and policy evolve. I think the past few centuries and the present scenario are proof of that.
Moreover, since the writer referred to “alienated work”, fundamentals of political economy show that alienated work forms part of even wage labour, but in the case of household work, women are not even paid for it. Thus, a distinction between alienated work and non-alienated work in this context is fundamentally flawed.
My argument hardly says that women should be kept away from work that is considered “productive” presently. It merely puts forth the submission that there exists other work that women are already doing that should also be counted. As I pointed out in my article, a working woman faces “double jeopardy”, and this issue cannot be resolved by simply integrating more women into the workforce, or by hoping that a ‘benevolent’ man will share that household work.
I strongly argue for increasing women’s workforce participation, as well as taking cognisance of domestic unpaid work. Hence, my article is a humble attempt to integrate economic theory with ground reality.
ND Jayaprakash responds:
By dubbing the stark difference between “work” and “chores” as “false binary”, the author has attempted to deny the existence of “alienated” and “non-alienated” work. The fact of expending labour (power/time) does not reveal the “nature” or “character” of the task that was undertaken through that expended labour (power/time). Let me give you the example of “manual-scavenging”: undoubtedly, human labour (power/time) is expended in carrying out that task. Does that make “manual-scavenging” non-alienable work? Certainly not! It is universally accepted that “manual-scavenging” is alienated work and that it must be banished because it is a demeaning task that lowers human dignity. What about nursing of children and the elderly, who are unable to perform ablutions on their own? Such tasks can be carried out through “labour of love” or as part of one’s social commitment to doing unavoidable and necessary tasks within the family and at the societal level.
[“Shram-dhan”; “subbotniks”; “social service”; “community service”; etc., all come under the category of “labour of love” since all essential human relationships cannot be bought or sold.] Even if “manual-scavenging” is carried out on promise of higher wages/salary, performing such a task in no way enhances human dignity. In short, the difference between “work” and “chores” is not a “false binary”; the truth is the deep difference between “alienated” and “non-alienated” work is very real.
2. Your next argument is that: “…the fundamental role of this work [“household work”] in the economy cannot be ignored.” Then you have gone on to add that: “this is work … is inherently productive.” In this regard, I would like to point out that “household tasks” are personal tasks that are carried in private space for private benefit. By what stretch of imagination can you pass off “household tasks” as social tasks being executed in public space for public benefit? Personal tasks that are carried out entirely in private space for private benefit have no direct bearing on the status of the economy at the societal level. Moreover, the author – other than making a bland assertion – has not bothered to explain how and why “household work” is “inherently productive”. While “household tasks” may be “productive” at the private level of the family unit, how could they be considered “productive” at the public level for society as a whole?
3. Yet another contention of the author is that: “…a distinction between alienated work and non-alienated work in this context [i.e., “household work”] is fundamentally flawed.” The author’s argument is based on the view that “alienated work forms part of even wage labour, but in the case of household work, women are not even paid for it.” The author has unfortunately downgraded conjugal relationship between spouses to one of employer-employee relationship. “Love”, “friendship”, “mutual respect”, “mutual understanding”, “mutual trust”, etc., are not commodities that can be bought or sold; they are human relationships that have to be nurtured and galvanized. These human relationships cannot be cultivated and strengthened without the willingness to uphold the concept of gender equality and without the willingness to share equally all mutual obligations.
The demand for payment for carrying out household tasks not only degrades the concept of gender equality but also spreads the illusion that one of the spouses (in most cases women) could be “gainfully employed” at the expense of the other spouse (in most cases men) by engaging in household labour. Thereby, the concept of “gainful employment” is sought to be confined to the household level instead of finding ways and means to address the task of providing “gainful employment” at the societal level.
As I have already explained in para 1 above, just because certain tasks involve expending labour (power/time) and result in earning wages/salary for the same, that does not necessarily make such tasks “non-alienable”. The issue of “double jeopardy” can never be addressed as long as women agree to be further exploited for some additional wages instead of demanding gender justice through institution of a system for sharing all household chores on an equal footing. Instead of attacking “patriarchy”, all that the author is seeking is the perpetuation of “patriarchy” by extracting a price for exploitation. How will women ever escape from such exploitation under those circumstances?
4. The demand for payment for domestic chores is an utterly dubious demand since, as I have already pointed out above, conjugal relationship between spouses cannot be reduced to the level of an employer-employee relationship. “Domestic chores”, which are unavoidable and necessary, have to be executed through unpaid labour or what may be better described as “labour of love”. However, “domestic chores” can be executed through the “labour of love” only as long as such chores are equally shared by both the spouses. On the contrary, if only one of the spouses (mostly women) is burdened with executing all such chores, the same “domestic chores” will turn out to be nothing but drudgery. Even if “drudgery”, which is nothing but “alienated work”, is paid for, it would not alter the character of such tasks since it would continue to remain “alienated work”. Can gender-justice ever be rendered and will gender-discrimination be ever overcome if women are ready to accept payment for being exploited? What is important is to ensure that women – and women alone – are not confined to doing “domestic chores”; females should be provided full opportunities – as has been provided to their male counterparts – to develop and demonstrate all their talents and abilities to the maximum extent possible.
5. The author had also touched upon another issue through the following comment: “I am curious to know why… or how cleaning, collecting firewood, walking miles to collect water, and many such activities are not ‘productive’…” In this regard, I would like to point out that most of these tasks are undertaken not by choice but by force of circumstances. It is the non-accessibility to any other type of cooking fuel that compels people (mostly women) to fetch firewood from elsewhere. Similarly, it is the non-availability of potable water near one’s home that compels people (mostly women) to fetch potable water from far off places. In other words, these are tasks that are undertaken due to compulsion and ipso facto all these tasks fall under the category of “alienated work”. Such “alienated work” is “productive” only in a descriptive and subjective sense and not in an analytical and objective sense. It is only those tasks that are undertaken through choice that fall under the category of “non-alienated work”. Unfortunately, few people have the luxury of being “gainfully employed” in a vocation of their choice; most people are compelled to undertake whatever “gainful employment”, which comes their way that would provide them a source of livelihood. Thus, the sad fact is most people are currently engaged in “alienated work”. It is, therefore, necessary to create a social system that would provide more and more people the opportunity to be gainfully employed in a vocation of their choice.