Capitalism Hits Home: The Invisible Labor On Which Capitalism Depends. And Guess Who Does It?

[S3 E06] New

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Part 1 of 2: this week's show focuses on the labor we all need in order to function in our world. It's housework, providing food, cooking food, let us avoid distracting hunger pains, that creates the order and cleanliness that allows us to be presentable in life, have clean clothes that don't smell, allow us to find the clothing we need to wear that day, and so on and so on. Fraad and Forlano try to answer why essential labor is devalued.

Transcript has been edited for clarity

FRAAD:  Hi, I'm Harriet Fraad . . .

FORLANO:  . . . and I'm Julianna Forlano, here with our podcast, Capitalism Hits Home.

FRAAD:  This is a show about the intersections and mutual shaping of capitalism, class, race, gender, and all the other aspects of our personal lives.

FORLANO:  We aim to educate, activate, and alleviate some of the burdens we all experience living in a capitalist USA.

FRAAD:  We hope this program serves you well. It's brought to you by Democracy at Work. Our main topic today will be the labor that we all need in order to survive, the labor that is unnamed, and certainly not valorized. And that is housework — which allows us to function in this world, which allows us to escape the pangs of hunger, which allows us to appear clean and orderly, which allows us to find our clothing in the morning and wear it, and wear it well, which allows us to be comfortable, which allows us an aesthetic surrounding, which allows us escape from the diseases that you get from filth — that crucial work that is unnamed and unrecognized.

FORLANO:  We'll also be getting to the headlines in a moment, but right now, as we always do, we thought we'd start briefly with a quick share about how capitalism has hit us in our homes this past week. Harriet, would you like to start?

FRAAD:  Sure. The way it hit me is I don't know where my home is. We left in the beginning of the pandemic. We've been in very rural Massachusetts, which is safe because there are no people here. And I don't know where I'll be staying. I don't know whether I'll be facing the long, hard winter here or not. And I don't know where I live. Thank you, pandemic, and thank you President Trump.

FORLANO:  That is so accurate, and I have moved out of New York City as a covid escapee. And we're not all that far from each other, Harriet. It's unsettling; that's for sure. One of the things I was noticing is, here in this area the leaves are turning. And I was thinking about just how stunningly beautiful they are. And if you've been following what's happening in the environment due to covid, there's a lot less particulate matter in the atmosphere because people aren't driving as much, airplanes aren't flying as much — all of that is happening, or isn't happening. And so therefore, the color spectrum is actually much brighter. And it hits you in the eye a little brighter. So it's been very, very stunningly beautiful. And hopefully, maybe I'll even get Brian some of the actual photos that I took, and he can put them up, maybe while I'm talking about this.

But one of the things I was thinking about, having just come from New York — now looking at these stunning, beautiful trees that are vibrant with color and how attractive, and how much awe is inspired in me by the trees themselves and just the beauty of nature — is the fact that in New York City there's Times Square. Times Square is — you get a different sense of awe. But the capitalists, and the advertisers, and the people who are fighting for your attention are using our psychology and our natural inclination to be attracted to, and struck by, color. Not only color but, you know, moving images; they're doing a lot of that too. So I was just kind of struck by how vicious these advertisers and forces that want us to kind of buy things, or go against our own interests, are by using our own psychology against us. I don't necessarily have a real premise there, Harriet, but it just was something that struck me.

FRAAD:  Yeah, it certainly is striking. I had a client who called Times Square “Disneyland in Hell,” and I can see why. At any rate, what struck you this week in terms of news stories, Julianna?

FORLANO:  Well, there was a story out — and I'm trying to pull it up here, but I'm having a slight technical difficulty, so I'm going to do it from memory — there was a story out about Macy's, and how Macy's actually awarded $9 million in bonuses to their executives, while at the same time getting rid of 3,900 of their own employees. Nine million dollars — I did not do the math, but — divided by 3,900 is a nice chunk of change had that amount of money gone to the workers, or had Macy's decided to use their largesse to support the people who helped them create their largesse. [Each person could have received approximately $2,300.]

And, you know, everyone's starting to think about holidays. Halloween's coming up, and then we're into Thanksgiving. And Macy's plays a prominent role in our family lives around Thanksgiving for the last I don't know how many years — 40 some odd years — with the big parade. And they've branded the big parade. They've branded the holidays. And at the same time they're not allowing their workers the amount of money they need to actually celebrate the holiday, buying some food for their family. So I don't know. I like to come with a happy story, but I feel like that was exactly the story that was at the crux of what's happening in this crisis right now.

FRAAD:  Well, a very similar news story struck me. And that is that American billionaires have made $845 billion, in addition to the billions they had before, during this pandemic, starting in March. That Zuckerberg from Facebook went from 50 billion to 100 billion; that Bezos, the richest person in the world, went from 113 billion to 192 billion; and so on. And that if we taxed that $845 billion at 10 percent, we'd have 84 billion to use for our families, to use on the kind of education private schools provide, so that children would be educated in the United States, since 79 percent of poor children don't even get on the internet. And we would be able to have the kind of wages that they have in Europe — 70 to 90 percent of their income during the pandemic — so that the economy could work. And we could have jobs like FDR created. We could have 22 million well-paid jobs providing services to Americans who need them. It's outrageous.

FORLANO:  You know, Harriet, I'm struck by your story dovetailing into a different story that I had also read, that I considered bringing, the fact that Exxon (and I think we talked a little bit about this last time). Not Exxon, but one of the big banks — Morgan Stanley, I believe. There are executives from Morgan Stanley, more and more of them, coming out saying that they believe that Biden is the candidate to support in this election, because they need people to have money. So basically that Biden's proposed taxes on the wealthy will be offset by the fact that people will have money, spending will go up, etc. So basically they are saying that trickle-down economics is actually just vulturism — and get away with it while the getting's good — but then once it crashes the system, and you have someone who leads the crash by being such a voracious capitalist himself, they're saying, oh well, we need money in the hands of the people. And then we will still profit off of money in the hands of the people, but then those people can, you know, have lunch. They can have meals. Their kids can go to school. So they are basically admitting that the policies of the Republicans, that they vote for, that they always support, are vicious and are, you know, even at some point going to sink their own ship.

FRAAD:  Exactly, exactly. And they also are getting nervous, because people are realizing they're being ripped off and starting to organize. Fifteen million people have marched in the Black Lives Matter protests, and they want things calm. They want people to calm down and spend money. And they've already plundered the treasury with their tax cuts. They've already inflated their stock market. Now they want to get some income from purchases. So they want people to vote for Biden. And we have to get rid of the whole business. 

FORLANO:  And you can even see in Fox News, Tucker Carlson — a white nationalist, by any measure — is starting to support Joe Biden. So when you see the talking arm, the propaganda arm, of the authoritarian regime, the capitalist structure that we're in, starting to support the Democrat, you know, what does that tell you?

FRAAD:  It tells you that the game's up with Trump. Okay, game's up; we'll use another one.

FORLANO:  But the game needs to be up with the structure of capitalism. They're just gonna be like, okay let's fatten the pigs, then we're gonna starve them again.

FRAAD:  Right. And look, I think we all need to vote for Biden, probably just because he isn't Trump, and because he won't shoot protesters. And we have to protest as soon as he's elected, because capitalism is what caused this. Capitalist priorities are why America has more deaths than any other nation in the world, even though we're the wealthiest nation in the world. And so we have to get rid of capitalism. 

And today we were going to talk about our main topic, which is . . .

FORLANO:  Wait. Before we get to that, we haven't . . .

FRAAD:  Sorry.

FORLANO:  No, no that's fine. We just have to do our brief thanks to the Patreons . . .

FRAAD:  Good, go ahead.

FORLANO:  . . . and the people who have been supporting this podcast. We have seen an increase in the support of this podcast, and I thank you so very much for that.

FRAAD:  Me too.

FORLANO:  Democracy at Work supports and underwrites this podcast, and they help us with their platform. You're probably seeing this on their YouTube page, and all of that. And we thank them so much for the support that they've given us, but they are, you know, a non-profit. They can't support us forever. They're hoping to be able to support us until we are able to self-sustain. So we recognize that people are hurting, that people are not in a great spot. So we're not even asking. Again, we're not even asking. If you can't afford it, don't even have a guilt moment. Do nothing. You can listen to it and share it. That is just as good for us. 

But if you can spare a monthly, I think it is, donation of a couple of dollars, whatever you can spare, just go to patreon.com/capitalismhitshome. Harriet and I are not paid for this, but we do need to pay the person who edits the video and does all the stuff to help us produce the video. patreon.com/capitalismhitshome is where to go, and again, thank you so much for watching. Thank you for the comments. We are reading all of your comments. Although we have increased our income by quite a bit, we certainly are far from our goals, which you'll see. They're listed on the Patreon account when you get there. So with that, again, if you can't donate, just please share us, because Democracy at Work has given us 90 days to hit our marks so that we can continue on a weekly basis, which we would love to be able to do. And with that . . .

FRAAD:  Here we go. Today we're going to talk about household labor. Unrecognized, unnamed labor. The labor we need to survive. Now where does this come from, the idea that — and also that it's women who provide household labor. If women were paid the average salary for the household labor that we all do, we would get an extra $471 a week minimum.

FORLANO:  That’s it? It seems like that’s not enough.

FRAAD:  Now that's unpaid labor. And that doesn't include child care either, which is a huge part of gender-driven labor. 

FORLANO:  And if you don't have kids, it's not as messy. 

FRAAD:  No, because the kids are not running around, messing it up. Exactly. It's still not neat because life is messy. At any rate, where did this come from, this idea that women should clean up? Well, according to some scientists that now are labeled chauvinists and are keeping quiet, they rationalized women's household labor by saying that women have a genetic proclivity to take care of men and their homes and children. Of course, that was silly and has been dismissed. A woman named Gina Rippon has written a tome on gender, and it's called Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds. There is no reason why women should be stuck with this thankless task and underpaid, but we are, because it's a gender assignment. And so women are trained, as we are growing up as little girls, that this is something we have to pay attention to. It's something we have to do. And men are trained that it’s something they have to do, those women. Which is very unfortunate, since it's time-consuming drudgery.

FORLANO:  Harriet, you said a word that I think is interesting: “Thankless” is the word that you said. 

FRAAD:  Yes, thankless.

FORLANO:  Thankless. No one thanks you for the clean clothes that you create for both people, at this point, because now it's still women who are doing most of the housework in most of the homes, and also women are working outside of the homes and doing the child care. No one thanks you for the nice pressed, clean shirt that you wear when you go, you know, even to your job at UPS. You know what I mean? You have to still look appropriate to capitalism. So talk about the fact of who is benefiting from women's unpaid labor?

FRAAD:  Well, I think men are benefiting, because they, too, were raised with the idea that this is our job, assigned by gender. And it's an outrage. It began as a kind of feudal assignment. If you look at feudalism in a Marxian class sense, “feudalism” means that the means of production — and in this case, the household, the vacuum cleaner, etc. — are purchased and owned in the man's name, and the woman labors for a share of what she produces: a share of what she cooks, a share of her cleanliness, and so on. Well, America was built on triumphing over feudalism, and for many women, the triumph hasn't happened. In fact, across the board in the United States, women do more housework than men do. And ads about housework, household cleanliness, are aimed towards women.

FORLANO:  Yeah, you never see like a Mr. Clean, like a sexy woman on a sports car selling laundry detergent. You know, you never see that. 

FRAAD:  No, you don’t. 

FORLANO:  They don't sex it up, for sure.

FRAAD:  And often a male voice comes in while she's struggling and says, wait a minute. Tide Extra Clean, or whatever, you know, because he's the authority and she's the cleaner.

FORLANO:  That makes me mad.

FRAAD:  And so, you know, you don't see what the Cambridge Porn Cooperative has on buses: muscly, cute men in revealing outfits, dusting, and vacuuming, and holding babies, and bringing their wives or girlfriends a nice glass of wine, while the woman is in her bubble bath. No, you don't see that, because it's not part of all that subtle gender training.

FORLANO:  Harriet, when you said that I felt ashamed. I would feel odd. I was picturing myself in the bubble bath while my husband might bring me some wine, and I was thinking, oh my god, I feel so ashamed of myself for him. It's, like, internalized. 

FRAAD:  It is.

FORLANO:  We have a very wonderful division of labor. My own husband is — you know, a little codependence goes a long way. They want you to be happy with them, so they do the chores, whatever. But he does really help. I mean, he doesn't help; we have a division of labor, probably because I'm just like I'm done. And then if he wants it to be clean, it's got to be him that does it. Where was I going with this? He's not going to be thrilled that I outed him as an excellent helper in the home. But just the idea of me sitting in a bath and doing nothing while he's doing the housework . . . 

FRAAD:  It’s guilt-producing.

FORLANO:  I can't even take that in.

FRAAD:  Yeah, it’s too horrible.

FORLANO:  I can take in that he’s vacuuming while I’m raking, or I'm doing something else, but I can't take in — it's sad.

FRAAD:  No, it is sad because it's gender training. And then you think, okay, it's capitalist America. Why do we still have a feudal arrangement in the household? Well partly because that does certainly suit capitalism. They have clean, presentable workers whose home lives are well-organized enough so they can find their clothes, and the clothes are clean, and they're fed and not distracted by hunger when they get to work. And they know that they are basically cared for. And they're cared for by women's labor, and that labor is so devalued that even where people do household work, they are some of the most poorly paid people in the United States. Their average salary is less than half the average overall of salaries in the United States because that labor was presumed to be women's jobs. Not a job, but an exercise of our gender fulfillment — cooking and cleaning.

So it's undervalued, underpaid, and utterly essential. And I think capitalism has benefited, because they don't want to take care of the workers. They don't want to provide meals — which some countries have done. When they want women to have incentives to work, they have meals. And, of course, you know, people say, oh, industrialized meals; Americans would not go for that. Well, two billion hamburgers are sold every year at McDonald's, so if you had actual nutritious, inexpensive restaurants where kids could have a playground and people could sit and eat, Americans would go for it like crazy. 

And if you had industrialized housework — which they have. I was looking up luxury apartments with housework. The Chelsea has someone called Alfred, who you call. Just call Alfred. He comes, he does your errands, he does your shopping, he cleans your house, he makes snacks. And the same thing is true of other high-end condos in New York City, because, of course, why shouldn't people get a decent wage, especially in the cities where you have high rises? You can go through the whole thing and clean it all. Why should individual women be stuck with that? It's ridiculous. And capitalism has counted on our unacknowledged and unpaid labor to sustain its workers. So it is seriously implicated.

FORLANO:  Yeah and it’s not like poor women are getting their houses cleaned. You know, this is only for the very wealthy. 

FRAAD:  Oh absolutely. No, it's poor women who are cleaning the houses and then going home to their own house, exhausted, and having to clean that too. And that's really why I think 70 percent of divorces — it's one of the many reasons — are now initiated by women. Because women are out working all day and then they don't want a “second shift” — in Arlie Hochschild’s words, The Second Shift — to come home and start cooking and cleaning at home. It’s not fair.

FORLANO:  Here's another thing. So I have a toddler, or, well, I guess she's a preschooler now; she keeps getting bigger. Anyway, she requires a lot of what I’ve learned from you to call “emotional labor.” Whether it's — she doesn't like to brush her teeth. So every night there's like a thing I’ve got to do, whatever that is — a dance of emotionality to kind of get those teeth brushed because I don't want . . . . And honestly, sometimes it’s quite draining. Meanwhile, while I'm doing that, my husband is usually downstairs cleaning up from dinner. And I salute him for that. 

FRAAD:  Me too.

FORLANO:  But the problem is, he wants to be saluted. And I kind of feel like the emotional labor that I'm doing upstairs is not quite as — it's almost unseen. Whereas when a man helps with the physical — the house is clean when you're done. You know what I mean? Yeah, I walk in the kitchen and I say, oh it's a glorious thing. 

So I'm not trying to put down what he does, but I just wanted to talk about this sort of — you know, there's another labor involved, which is the emotional labor. I don't want to get off topic from the chores part, the actual chores, but I feel like that division of labor is something that capitalism depends upon too. If you're depressed, you're not going to work, so you need support. And if you're being treated in the workplace like a cog in a machine because you don't own the means of production; you don't even have a stake in the means of production; in fact, you're just afraid that the boss is taking the place to Mexico and you're going to be out on the street — so you're fearful all day long. You're basically being mostly abused in the workplace, and then you come home and there's a required, almost an additional . . . .  Either you're too drained to do the emotional labor, or there's an additional emotional labor of supporting that person, you know, having a nice home, that kind of thing. Would you mind commenting on this area?

FRAAD:  Oh, absolutely I would not mind.

FORLANO:  You've been listening to Capitalism Hits Home, with myself, Julianna Forlano, and Dr. Harriet Fraad. We had such a wonderful time discussing this topic that we went way past our normal time, so we've cut it in two. And this is the first half, and next week we will be releasing the second half on this very same topic: household work and how it intersects with capitalism. For now, that's it. We thank you so much for watching. Please find us on our Patreon, and support us if you can, at patreon.com/capitalismhitshome. Thanks so much for watching.

Transcript by Marilou Baughman
The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracyatwork.info. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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