The US has had a class revolution in the household over the last 50 years and the left did not notice, no less champion that revolution. Hot button issues like abortion and birth control rights or family leave are shadow battles in that revolution. It is time to pay attention.
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Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Hello, this is Dr. Harriet Fraad on Capitalism Hits Home: An Interpersonal Update. This is a show about the intersection of capitalism, class, and our personal lives. This podcast today is called “Listen Up Leftists, There's a Class Revolution in the Household” and there indeed is a revolution that's happened right under our noses and that the left has not recognized even though the right-wing has taken cognizance of it and is using it. What is that revolution? Well, it's a revolution in home life and personal relationships. Those relationships have been transformed in a revolutionary way. The class structures in those relationships have been transformed. Now first of all, how do we know that? What are the signs of this revolutionary change in personal life? Well, for the first time in US history the majority of women are single and by choice. Anyone could look that up. It's on the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The majority of women work outside the home as well as in it, and even for the first time, 75%—the majority—of women who have children are also in the labor force. These are all firsts. The majority of women and men reject marriage until much later or completely. For the first time in US history, the majority of people who they call of prime fertility age—18 to 35—are not married. More about this later. This is just a taste of what's to come.
What happened? Why have these changes happened? Well, most importantly I think—although there's many factors, of course—US men who are white don't get a family wage anymore. In the 60s and 70s—in fact, between the 1820s and the 1970s—white men got a family wage, and we have to remember that, even in 1965, America was an 87.5% white country. Also, there was a scarce labor market and competition for workers. Therefore, wages could be pushed up—particularly if people unionized—and the United States manufactured its needs at home until the mid-70s or largely at home. Well, what happened to change it? One of the things was that computers came into being; another was jet travel; another was multinational sophisticated communication systems that would allow people to communicate back and forth who had outsourced their plants; another was obviously outsourcing. Now, those things were possible technologically in America at that time, and they've been more and more economically and politically possible ever since.
They weren't possible in Europe. We haven't had the massive outsourcing of American jobs that we have in America. They didn't have that in Sweden, Denmark, all the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and even France. Why not? Well, they had powerful communist and socialist labor movements that were militant so that in those countries like Sweden, for example, if you want to stop making a product and outsource it, you first have to get everyone by union agreement, everyone in your factory has to have an equivalently paid job, and you need to consult with the ecological authorities about closing your plant. You need to consult with the community about what would be the impact on the community, and it's so expensive that most people who decide not to manufacture something decide to manufacture something else right there in Sweden because it's so expensive to think of outsourcing. They have a very powerful labor movement, which is why the German metal workers recently got an agreement where they have a twenty-two-hour work week for the same salary and that's so that they could have work-home balance—something almost unheard of in the United States.
Also, why was that possible? Well, the anti-communism in the 1950s—the McCarthyism—made that possible. Why was it possible here and not in Europe in addition to their strong communist and socialist unions? Well, let's look at what gave us the New Deal which raised wages and expectations and lives for the massive American people. The New Deal was possible because the CIO was a powerful union and a lot of its most militant and devoted organizers were in the Communist Party or either of the two socialist parties that exerted a huge influence. In the McCarthy period in the 1950s, the Americans unions threw out their socialists and their communists. They threw out the communists first then they threw out the two socialist parties and gutted their union of some of their most militant members. That was a huge mistake in terms of union militancy, and it was quite different. Americans also believed in exceptionalism, that the United States was different from other countries, that if you worked hard—which was true at that time because of the gains in the unions and because of the scarcity of labor—if you worked hard and were white and male you could do better than your forbearers did, and every generation could do better than the last. Even in the Great Depression, those people who had work did better than their predecessors, and prices didn't rise while wages fell. Prices fell even faster than wages then so that in the 1950s when they gutted the labor movement of its militants, they could outsource and they could use computers and robots and heavy mechanization and international communication systems and computers to allow them to overseas and to replace white male worker jobs because those were the best paid jobs in manufacturing. That ended. Also, if we're looking at the changes for women, one of the things that happened when that ended in the late 60s and early 70s… And I should say also that the McCarthy era was possible because at the end of the war the industrialists—those people who owned the most in America—were sick and tired of FDR's 96.4% capital gains tax and taxes on their profits, and they wanted to defeat the New Deal. So, when FDR died, they started the Red Scare. Don't forget before that Uncle Joe—Joseph Stalin—by the way was our close ally during World War 2 and people didn't have a feeling that the Russians were the enemy. That was deliberately cultivated as part of a possibility of gutting the New Deal and it worked.
There were other things that happened that changed the household at that time. In 1965, the birth control pill was invented and by 1972—which was rather late—but birth control was available even for unmarried women. In 1963, abortion was legalized. Now what happened after the birth control pill was legalized: college education for women went way up because the thing that changed college education for women most was not getting pregnant in college and having to drop out. So, that changed the household and relationships between men and women. Also, the women's movement started and was subverted because it started out of women's frustration at having an education and being unable to access jobs in the economy, in wider society, and in the professions and in academia; not to have economic independence. That movement was very class-oriented in its inception. The first movement periodical of 1968 Notes from the First Year had many articles about class and how gender and class go together. But the CIA funded an operation called the Great Wurlitzer in which they financed CIA agent Gloria Steinem and gave her hundreds of thousands of dollars to use to make the women's movement a gender only movement, and they appointed someone who was black to make the civil rights movement a race only movement so that their class interests were not disturbed.
So that there was a women's movement which for all its problems of class blindness—blindness cultivated by the CIA—was a powerful movement showing women we can and should have an alternative and pushing for change. All of those things together worked to change what happened in the household. The household of the vast majority who were white at that time—this was not true of minorities but white people—consisted of a wage-earning male and a dependent wife and children. The man was the lord of his household manner. The woman worked for him creating use values—cooked food, cleanliness, order, childcare, after-school care, basic but not advanced medical care, emotional labor, sexual labor. That was her first full-time job and so that men could be relative lords in their manner at home with a full-time servant working to help them. There were jokes that illustrate this because jokes really do capture often the feeling of what's going on and the joke for men was “There's a handy little thing called a wife. You screw it on the bed, it does all the childcare, the housework, and
takes care of you, A to Z; handy little thing. Women were dependent and needed to serve their husbands. But of course, men were also trapped in this arrangement, trapped with the support of a woman and children that they may not even like anymore. They were financially trapped and also emotionally trapped because getting a divorce was a big deal at that time. It wasn't no-fault divorce. So, the women's joke which was comparable was “Men are like linoleum. You could lay him right once you can walk on him for twenty years and they support you.” Because men too were imprisoned by that and parenthetically so were children. They were often the vehicle on which their parents’ frustrations and rage were acted out, and it wasn't until 1974 that the first battered child legislation was passed.
I'm not saying that was an ideal family, but that was the family then—the family of the majority who were white of the wage-earning male and the dependent wife and children. Women didn't like that arrangement particularly and so, that's why Betty Friedan's book—published first in ‘63—The Feminine Mystique exposed this mystique of how women who were married and had children and the utterly fulfilling lives of taking care of the house and kids and husband were not fulfilled; were dissatisfied and upset and angry and taking tranquilizers. She was trying to introduce that problem which took fire in the women's movement. Therefore, you have men whose jobs are outsourced and mechanized and robotized and you have women who are dissatisfied and angry and have a movement behind us. And men are perplexed, and women are liberated, because a woman then has to work because her husband's job is outsourced, and he doesn't make enough to support her. White women joined their black sisters and had to work outside the home and got much less content to work inside the home after a long day of working outside the home. Women en masse demanded that if they were going to share the wage-earning power of men, they would have to adjust the men's labor in the house as well to create some kind of equality, and men's and women's relationships changed radically. That's what started that class revolution in the household. Women were dissatisfied for having to work outside the home and then come home and do all the household labor and that is still a major problem. According to Leonhardt of the New York Times, the average unemployed man does less housework than his fully employed wife. So, women were incredibly dissatisfied with that and basically decided this is not worth it. Marriage isn't worth it. So, for the first time it's women who are refusing marriage and it's 80% of women who are those who initiate divorce for the first time in our history. These are sea changes in personal life in America, and it's important to note them because they are the preface to the class transformation. Men whose wages were suddenly reduced or who were out of jobs amassed. Millions of men were upset and angry. They often wanted their wives to compensate with comfort—an extra emotional labor—to soothe them rather than demand that they help out. They could no longer forbid their wives to work outside the home in order to bolster their manhood. They stopped getting the bonus that they got for being white and for being male. Their jobs were outsourced and exported. Women not only didn't want to compensate but wanted help. So that the old deal that women do the housework and our dependence and men our wage earners that support a family, that was over.
Now in class terms, what kind of family was that? Well if we're looking at it with a class perspective, what is class? Class answers these questions: who produces the goods and services of the society? Who gets to profit off of that? Who gets the proceeds off of selling those goods and services or giving them? Who gets to allocate them—to decide where they go and to whom and how are the decisions made all together? It’s about who's in charge, who produces, and who receives? Well in the household, women's labor of cooked food, cleanliness, emotional solace, child care, emotional care, and social connectedness were produced by women and received by men and their children. When women had to leave home and work outside the home, they didn't want that second shift. As Arlie Hochschild’s book The Second Shift so nicely illustrates, it was no longer acceptable. And men were outraged because they had lost their prime position in the labor force and now, they were losing their primary and lordly position at home too. In terms of class, women produced all those things for men and children, and those were use-values. They weren't things that men sold on the market; they were things that women performed that everyone used in a certain portion. Women perform for themselves a certain proportion of the food they produced, they ate a certain portion of the cleanliness, and order in the house they benefited from; a certain portion of the childcare they wanted to do anyway. However, a certain portion of the emotional work they wanted in return—in terms of being cared for and of the sexual labor. They wanted to be pleased and the social connection. They wanted other people to bring friends and relatives in as well, so they didn't have to do all that labor. Men were at a loss. They lost their bonuses, they lost their servant, they lost their family wage and their position, and they lost the ability to forbid their wife to work because the family couldn't survive on their wage alone. That was a tremendous loss for men. I will expand on that in the part 2 of this podcast which is “Listen Up Leftists, There’s a Class Revolution in the Household”.
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Transcript by Eric Fleischmann
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