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SexistDualism:ItsmaterialSourcesintheExploitationofreproductive Labour



Source: PRAXISInternational(PRAXISInternational),issue:4/1989,pages:400407,

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Lynda Lange It is feminist theory which has lately brought to the light the ideological function of many dualities entrenched in various philosophical traditions, for the perpetuation of male supremacy. Among the many dualities of this sort, some important ones are: subject versus object, public versus private, reason versus emotion, culture versus nature, soul or mind versus body, freedom versus necessity, active versus passive, and universal versus particular.1 In the history of philosophy, these dualities have generally not been admitted to be chiefly about the differences between male and female. Nevertheless, they are found to be either chiefly applied to the analysis of this difference, or this difference is a core example of their meaning. In each case, one term of the duality is understood to be superior to the other. In each case also, the superior term is associated with masculinity, and the inferior term is associated with femininity. In this article, I propose a brief systematization of what I take to be the central features of the feminist critique of dualism, then to look at some important social functions of sexist dualism as they concern the situation of women. In particular, I suggest a materialist analysis of this ideological form of thought that bases it, at least to a large extent, on the social relations of reproductive labour. Reproductive labour, that is, the care of children after birth, considered as social relations and social practice in the historical materialist sense, (and not, for example, psychoanalytically), has received remarkably little theoretical treatment by feminists, with the exception of Marxist feminists. However, the Marxist feminist effort to give a materialist account of domestic and reproductive labour necessarily reduces it to class economic interest, which has failed to give an adequate account of womens experience of their daily oppression in a convincing manner. It denies the fact that men of all classes, and not just of the ruling class, enjoy advantages over women that are not just matters of consciousness. Furthermore, the shift to socialism, where it has occurred, has not emancipated women from their specifically female oppression, and has left them still disadvantaged in relation to men, in ways tellingly similar to their disadvantages under capitalism. The ultimate failure of Marxist materialist analysis of domestic and reproductive labour, to account for womens experience, may account for the fact that other types of feminist theory, including socialist feminist theory, have largely turned to psychoanalytic approaches to reproductive relations. The question of the value of the psychoanalytic method will not be addressed in any detail here, except to say that it does not seem to me to be adequate in itself to generate a theory of social change. The psychoanalytic approach has contributed some intriguing criticisms of sexist dualism. What is Redigitized 2004 by Central and Eastern European Online Library C.E.E.O.L. ( )

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proposed in this article is to see how much can be accounted for by using a different approach. The critique of dualism has been made in a variety of ways by different writers. Thus Genevieve Lloyd analyzes the extent to which many philosophical dualities between mind and body, or reason and non-reason, not only associate the feminine with the inferior term, but also are themselves defined in terms of assumed differences between feminine and masculine. This analysis effectively gives the lie to the claim that these dualities are abstractions free of ideological content, since the very norms of reason are seen to be permeated with male bias.2 For example, whether nature is, as the Greeks thought, unknowable matter, by comparison with the pure intelligibility of forms, or, as Bacon and subsequent early modern thought, knowable because not distinct from the intelligible laws of motion by which it is ordered, nature is still associated with the female, and the characteristics of the good knower associated with the male. It remains a theme that both mother nature and her human daughter ought, ideally, to be controlled, or at least transcended, by the good practitioner of reason. According to Lloyd, with Bacon Knowledge is itself the domination of Nature.3 Bacon consistently expresses this idea through male-female sexual metaphors, but in the absence of this colourful language, current ideology of the value of science retains the notion that we may know the possession of true scientific knowledge by the ability to get practical results, where the ability to get these results is still thought of on the model of manipulation and control. For another example of this critique, Mary OBrien argues that the separation of public and private is to the social relations of reproduction what class distinction is to the social relations of production. Once the feminist critique is put into motion, as OBrien writes:
. . . it is relatively easy to see the separation of private and public as an abstract dialectical opposition of particular and universal, of individual and social, of the domestic and the biological standing opposed to political and historical development.4

Patricia J. Mills notes the origins in the work of Hegel of de Beauvoirs articulation of women as alien, inferior, Other in The Second Sex. Woman is identified with nature, but nature inspires ambivalent feelings in man, and this ambivalence is translated into the dualism between the self and the Other, consciousness versus matter, the spirit versus the flesh, and transcendence versus immanence. Mills writes:
The patriarchal concept of women as nature and the socioeconomic legitimation of the domination of nature combine to form the basis of abstract patriarchy.5 . . . feminists have argued that woman as Other has been feared, idealized, and negated as the Other: she has been defined as different from man, and as the ontological principle of difference itself, to be dominated and excluded.6

Alison Jaggar identifies the metaphysical dualism of body versus mind or soul, and the normative dualism of desire or feeling versus rationality. Normative dualism between feeling and rationality is the view that what is special and desirable about humans is their capacity for rational thought.7 Jaggar notes that in the philosophical


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tradition women have consistently been seen as connected to, or entangled in, their bodies, in a way in which men are thought not to be. Hence women are seen as incapable of the highest forms of rationality. Pointing to the ideological function of these dualities, Jaggar writes:
. . . it is easy to see how men, at least men of a certain class, would be likely to place supreme value on mental activity and to ignore the fact that such activity would be impossible without the daily physical labor necessary to survival, especially the physical labor of women.8

My own analysis of reproductive labour goes in the same methodological direction as Jaggars thinking on this matter. This paper will deal with the sexist uses of dualism, although it should be noted, especially in the light of the passage quoted just above, that dualism is often used ideologically in other contexts, such as racism and colonialism, often for the justification of the harsh exploitation of labour power, or other forms of racial or colonial domination. Dualities of this kind, whether sexist, racist, or colonialist, have important features in common which can be systematized in general terms from the point of view of feminist critique. First, they are used by those associated with the superior term to establish their distinct identity in contrast with the others, whether female or of another race or nation. Second, they establish norms or ideals for those associated with the superior term, to the exclusion of the others. A further asymmetry derivative from this second point is that, whereas the superior term is part of a norm for the superior being, the inferior term appears to be descriptive. It ascribes the allegedly inferior being, or race, or nation, certain empirical characteristics which limit or prevent attaining the superior value. However, this normative/descriptive asymmetry is usually applied in an equivocal manner. Women, for example, have traditionally been said to be a certain way, which is ultimately considered inferior, however idealized (for example, emotional or expressive, as opposed to rational). Yet at the same time they are pressured to be that way, it is expected of them, even felt that they ought to be that way. Sheila Ruth writes:
Dare we hypothesize a most monstrous possibility then, that given the prescriptive function of dualism, women, lodged on the side of evil and damnation, not only are bad, but ought to be?9

What this startling question reveals is that within the traditions of philosophy women are characterized as non-human. It is not that they ought to be bad, which is contradictory for a moral being, but that like the natural world, they have been thought ultimately not to be proper subjects of humane moral agency. They are there to be controlled, and to fulfill certain functions. This attitude is also true of racism and colonialism, and not surprisingly, in the light of the passage from Mills, it is also true of the dualist attitude toward the natural world. Finally, because of the establishment of superior identity and the exclusionary norms of that identity, these dichotomies are used conceptually as a justification of social hierarchy and domination. Sexist forms of dualism appear in a wide variety of philosophical methods and schools of thought. Yet the above systematization applies to them all.

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Feminist critiques of dualism are also found to have a wide variety of methods and approaches, even though they are at present predominantly psychoanalytic. With the exception of the problematic intent of de Beavoirs articulation of the question,10 feminist theorists seem to agree that these types of dualism are an ideology that helps maintain male supremacy. At that point, however, the agreement ends, and a comprehensive theory that unites scattered insights continues to be lacking.11 Some offer no particular analysis of the sources of sexist dualism, apart from an implied criticism of the male attitude toward women. Other analyses, developed to one degree or another, point to sexuality, male nature, reproductive biology, a psychoanalytic view of womens relations to their children and/or bodily differences between the sexes, as sources of this type of thinking. While some or all of these views may be insightful, they mostly fail to offer a satisfactory answer to the question of why there should be this antagonism between women and men. What interest is served, and in exactly what way? This is particularly true of feminist psychoanalytic interpretations of reproductive relations between infants and parents,12 and of sexuality.13 Irigaray, for example, traces sexist dualism to female and male anatomy. According to Whitford, writing of Irigaray:
Western rationality, governed by the male imaginary, is characterized by: the principle of non-contradiction (in which ambiguity, ambivalence or multivalence have been reduced to a minimum); and binarism (e.g. nature/reason/subject/object) as though everything had to be either one thing or another [. . . ] An equation is made between the (symbolic) phallus, stable form, identity and individuation. [. . . ] the logic of identity is male, because it is phallomorphic.14

While they may offer insightful diagnoses of the illness, within the limits of these theories, there is no answer to the question what do men stand to lose by losing their social dominance? Indeed, given the grimness of the diagnoses made by many feminist psychoanalytic authors, it would be fairly natural to conclude they stand to do nothing but gain. But this will not do as an explanation for the existence and defense of immense socioeconomic power. While social change involves the struggle to change consciousness, consciousness will not change except in interaction with changes occurring outside of consciousness. A theory of social change must identify what structures outside of consciousness can be, and need to be, changed, (at least in principle), and be able to show their relation to dominant ideology. Our need to separate from the mother, and the shape of our anatomy, do not seem to meet these requirements. OBriens critique of dualism occurs in the context of a comprehensive theory about patriarchal society which is based ultimately on the biological differences between the sexes related to reproduction. She does show how the duality of public and private confers on men the control of property and state, and thus identifies their interest. However, since male control is said to be the creation of men to compensate for the uncertainty of paternity and lack of concrete continuity in their social/reproductive experience, the theory is ultimately circular when it comes to the identification of male interest. Reproductive labour, that is, the care of children after birth, is not theoretically integrated into these approaches, even though it is, of course, always noted as a social-structural problem.


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It is my contention that a major material basis for sexist dualities is to be found in the sexual division of labour, and in particular in the performance of women, of reproductive labour, considered primarily, to use a Marxian phrase, as practical human sensuous activity, and as labour. This points to an interest men have in the control of immense labour power, for the performance of a materially necessary social function, i.e. the perpetuation of the community. This analysis is independent of any particular psychological view of relations between infants and their mothers, or the physical differences between the sexes, while not precluding this type of interpretation of our experience and consciousness. Reproductive labour is defined as follows: it is the time and effort expended giving physical care, emotional nurturance, and active socialization to a dependent human, from the point of birth to the point of personal independence. If adequate time and effort are not expended on care, nurturance, and socialization, the biological human will be dysfunctional, whether for conformity or resistance, if Indeed it survives at all. The crucial idea here is that the care, nurturance, and socialization of children is a form of labour, or work, just as an activity done for wages is a form of labour or work. The human material of society is not an ahistorical given. Every component of the activity of reproductive labour is shaped and changed by changing social and material conditions. We persons therefore, are artifacts of labour, in most cases artifacts of our mothers labour, meaning here her work following our birth. Reproductive labour is performed within social relations of reproduction (such as the male-dominated family), which are material and objective, just as the social relations of production are material and objective. The relations of women and men to these structures are to no greater degree a matter of personal choice or consciousness than, for example, the relations of workers to the mode of production. A particular relation to the mode of reproduction has economic and other social and material consequences for the individual. All women are born into a particular relation to the mode of reproduction, which means that it is oppressive to all women whether single, childless, lesbian, or otherwise in more than a psychological sense. The social relations of reproduction create a set of social and economic rewards and penalties that affect everyone, no matter what choices they make. In a liberal individualist environment, the set of rewards and penalties are such that at present sufficient numbers of women end up performing reproductive labour, in the absence of other options for a decent livelihood. Reproductive relations in market societies provide women with access to part of a male wage in exchange for reproductive labour, while denying them equal independent access to work with decent remuneration. This coercive structure for women as a group makes direct coercion of individuals unnecessary, and permits the illusion of free choice on the part of individuals. In other political contexts, at other times and places, direct individual coercion is used to make women conform to this type of work. It simply depends on what is considered an ethically or politically acceptable form of coercion in a given context. Besides being oppressive in the sense of limiting the options of all women, the social relations of reproduction are also exploitive in a direct, material sense, when the reproductive labour power of women provides a benefit to men at the expense of women. Prevalent modes of reproduction clearly do this. Since the care,

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nurturance, and active socialization, of succeeding generations is a fundamental necessity for all societies, somebody must perform this labour. If men can be freed of it, because women are coerced in one way or another to perform it for little material reward, the limited options of women in occupational and other public roles are a benefit to men as a group. Individual men may enjoy substantial additional privileges. They may free themselves of work required for their bodily maintenance, which is housework in all its ramifications. As a result, men on average enjoy substantially greater time and energy than women for self-development, as well as leisure. The social relations of reproduction heavily structures the lives of the majority of women around the activity of reproductive labour. This affects their relations to production enormously. It also affects their sexuality and their degree of sexual freedom, as well as affecting the social and economic significance of biological pregnancy. This lifelong impact on womens practical, human-sensuous activity may be assumed to affect their consciousness, as the differing situation of men affects mens consciousness. When we turn our attention to the details, and the actual daily experience, of reproductive labour compared to other forms of labour, we can see at once a basis for many sexist dualities. Considering only the short list of eight dichotomies listed at the beginning, the exigencies of reproductive labour make it indeed emotional, and having to do with the body. Things to do with the emotions and the body tend, especially in Western societies, to be private, and to seem to us natural. Bodily functions are also in themselves necessary, not to mention necessarily particular. They are also in an important sense passive they by and large happen to us, especially in our younger years, rather than our deciding to perform them. The relations of reproductive labour are also particular in another sense. We care for our own particular children and other relatives, and not children and relatives in general. Nor are reproductive labourers themselves interchangeable from the point of view of the objects of care. All of this is womens work, a form of work not very amenable to control, order, government, or contemplation it is much more demanding than that. Away from this harried, unpredictable scene, the mind may pursue the serene ways of reason and culture, or the soul its contemplation, or the citizen the pursuit of public justice (from a universal perspective, of course), doing things actively and freely. Failing these lofty pursuits, one can at least engage in rationalized productive labour for a set number of hours per day, for which one receives agreedupon remuneration. An over-arching dichotomy can be seen in the historical fact that the latter sorts of activities have been considered the unique activities of the human subject, a subject who is enabled to objectify the activity of reproductive labour as nature, and the reproductive labourer as therefore closer to nature, and qualitatively different from himself. His illusion, insofar as he believes his own ideology, is that this difference is due to the unique qualities of his inner essence. In reality it is dependent upon the labour of women, and upon the arbitrary separation of reproductive labour from other forms of labour. Is it possible to deny that this is a material interest in and of itself, if one thinks seriously about the effect on mens daily lives if women were to cease doing these things, and begin to live like them?


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This analysis gives reproductive labour a different epistemological status from biological or psychoanalytic approaches. The democratization of reproductive labour is not primarily a matter of changing consciousness, although it would undoubtedly have that effect. It is primarily a practical problem, whose solution will be found in various kinds of practical social change. This perspective helps to clarify what type of social change would count as progressive for women. From an epistemological point of view, this perspective also has wide application, that is, it can be applied in a very objective manner to the analysis of any type of society. For example, Leacock15 writes of a group of North American hunter-gatherer people who had what she terms a reciprocal sexual division of labour, rather than a dominant/submissive division, and little or no distinction between public and private. This society was sexually egalitarian. This suggests that it is ahistorical to presume that the oppression of women comes from the biological and/or psychological differences between women and men, or that it comes from the form of their labour considered merely as practical, human-sensuous activity. It is claimed here that neither any form of practical human activity, nor any form of human body, is inherently oppressive or dominant over others, but may be made so by social relations of dominance and exploitation. As with all durable and dominant ideology, the sexist use of dualism cannot be said to be wholly false, if my analysis has any validity. Rather, it is partial and obscure, and makes the truth more difficult to find, and describe straightforwardly. It masks and mystifies the truth, always in somebodys interest, better than simple falsehood could do. Reproductive labour, and the consciousness of reproductive labourers, really are different from other forms of labour, of course not in every respect, but in a number of important respects. Mills writes of critical theory that it undoes reified universals by tracing them back to the experiences from which they arise.16 From a somewhat different philosophical perspective, this is precisely what is intended here. Reproductive labour is a primary determinant of womens consciousness, just as the separation from it is a primary determinant of mens consciousness. At the same time, those who are heirs to its consciousness17 can be heirs to other forms of consciousness as well. As women take up other forms of labour, such as philosophy, they also change their consciousness, without losing the other inheritance. As a result, women find themselves challenging some of the onesidedness of philosophy.
* Paper prepared for the XVIII World Congress of Philosophy, Brighton, UK. August 21-27, 1988. This work has been financially supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 1. In a course in feminist philosophy in 1988, in one class discussion, myself and a small group of students came up with well over thirty dualities commonly associated with the differences between women and men. No doubt there are many more. 2. Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason: Male and Female in Western Philosophy (University of Minnesota Press, 1984). 3. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, 13. 4. Mary OBrien, The Politics of Reproduction (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 93.

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5. Patricia Jagentowicz Mills, Women, Nature, and Psyche (Yale University Press, 1987), 99-100. 6. Mills, Woman, Nature, and Psyche, 205. 7. Alison Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Rowman and Allanheld, 1983), 60. 8. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature, 46. 9. Sheila Ruth, Bodies and Souls/Sex, Sin and the Senses in Patriarchy: A Study in Applied Dualism, Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Vol. 2, No. 1, (Winter 1987), 159. 10. OBrien, The Politics of Reproduction, 68-71 et passim, Mills, Women, Nature, and Psyche. 11. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature, 160. 12. Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise (Harper and Row, 1977); Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering (University of California Press, 1978); Nancy C. M. Hartsock, Money, Sex and Power: Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism (Northeastern University Press, 1985). 13. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One, and When the Goods Get Together, in New French Feminisms, edited by E. Marks and I. de Courtivron (The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980). 14. Margaret Whitford, Luce Irigarays Critique of Rationality, in Feminist Perspectives in Philosophy, edited by Morwenna Griffiths and Margaret Whitford (Indiana University Press, 1988). 15. Eleanor Burke Leacock, Introductory essay, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, by F. Engels, edited by E. B. Leacock (International Publishers, 1973); and, Myths of Male Dominance: Collected Articles on Women Cross-Culturally (Monthly Review Press, 1981). 16. Mills, Woman, Nature, and Psyche, 208/9. 17. Ruth, Bodies and Souls. . ., 161.

Praxis International 9:4 January 1990