Capitalism Hits Home: Revolution in the Home and Personal Life

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There are two unsung places where revolutions have happened in America. Those places are the home and American personal/sexual life. Trump and his minions mount a counter revolution against those revolutionary transformations.

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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. 

Today I want to talk about a revolutionary class transformation in personal life, and in the household in the United States, and a counterrevolution in American politics. Now, when I talk about a class revolution, I mean it. A class revolution has happened in only one place in the United States over the past 50 years, and that's the home, and personal life as an extension of the home. What is a class transformation? You ought to know before I go into it. Well, it has four aspects: One is the economic arrangement, in terms of who creates wealth and who appropriates wealth, is changed. A second thing is that there is a transformation in which the underclass – that used to produce and not have much decision over what was received, and what was distributed, and how it was – is empowered to do so: to distribute what they created, or to participate in that distribution, and participate in what happens with what they created. The third is transformation of traditional ways that people live, because if you change an economic arrangement under which people live, all sorts of other changes happen as well. And a fourth is a transformed ideology. People change their ideas about what they are, who they are, what should happen, and what is happening. 

So when I talk about this class transformation, this is what I mean by a class. Class answers three basic questions: who produces the goods, who gets to benefit from the goods' production, and who gets to appropriate it for themselves and distribute it. So in answer to that question, if there's a chair factory that produces chairs, the workers produce the chairs, the employer gets to decide, he takes in all the wealth from those chairs, and the chairs, and decides how to distribute them, and how to distribute the proceeds, when he or she, or the board of directors, sells them. 

So I'm going to concentrate here on the household, where there hasn't been much attention as a class location, but which has experienced a class revolution in the last 50 years. Now, as I talk about this, I am going to apply all these things to the household. So how was the economic life of the household transformed? Who produced the wealth in the household? Who got to appropriate it and distribute it? Well, traditionally, the women, women produced the wealth in the household. Women produced goods and services, which were appropriated by their husbands and children. They produced cooked food, and cleanliness, order, and emotional services – solace, comfort, security. And they also, in addition to those emotional and physical services, did services like shopping, and social services, like connecting a husband to his friends and relatives, inviting them to dinner, keeping in touch with them, making arrangements so that they could get together. And also, childcare is another service that women have provided in the home, where they take care of children. They physically and emotionally take care of children, and connect them on play dates, as well as supervise their homework, make sure they get their sleep, attend to their health. They also provide sexual services to their husbands. 

All of those things were things traditional wives produced. Now what was the class terms under which they produced these things? Well, they produced in a way that economically is called a feudal class. Even though the household of today, and even of yesterday, is not at all like a medieval household, or medieval estate of a lord and his serfs, women create use values, just like the serfs did – things that are not for exchange, and not for money, but for use. So women produce at home a certain amount of these domestic, and emotional, and social goods and services they consume themselves, and the rest are appropriated by their husbands and children. While the serfs produced crops for the lord of the manor, they saved a certain portion of those crops, so that they could survive, and the rest they handed over to the lord of the manor. They were the underclass, and he was the boss, in a way that was understood through feudal ideology of the Catholic Church, that this was God's natural order. The Lord was the lord unto the man and woman, and the man was the lord unto the woman. He was in charge. 

The remnants of that are still felt, not only in people's attitudes, but in the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention on men and women, adopted by fundamentalists and evangelicals – almost throughout, if they are full, practicing fundamentalists and evangelicals – is the dictum that women should be subordinate to men. And that means that women shouldn't be the boss of men at work, and certainly shouldn't be at home. And men, in turn, are supposed to be protective of women, who are their subordinates. Of course, leaving men in charge of protecting women hasn't been such a success, since half of the murders of women are committed by men at home, and most of the assaults against women are also committed by spouses and lovers. So that protection system didn't work under, in the feudal system; it certainly doesn't work now. However, it's still the dictum. In the Catholic Church, the woman is supposed to be in charge of house, hearth – excuse me – hearth and home; the man is supposed to attend to business outside the home. Even though these things are collapsing, as I will show, and have collapsed in many ways in the revolution that has happened, the ideology is still around. 

Now, this has meant a huge transition for men. How did it happen? This transformation has happened overwhelmingly for white men. Now, why for white men? Well, in our racist and sexist culture, and in what used to be – until the 1970s, the mid-'70s – a scarce labor system, white men got two wage supplements: one for being white, and one for being male. And they received what were called "family wages," which meant that their wages could support a family. That luxury was not afforded to black men and other minority men, who didn't receive family wages and therefore couldn't afford to sustain women working full-time for them at home. Now, that's changed for everyone. 

Why did it change? Well, that's the question I'm going to address, because in order to have a revolutionary transformation, one of the things that has to change is the economic underpinnings of the society, or the home, in this case. Well, one of the things that changed is that with the invention of the jet engine, the computer, the fax, other international telephone communication systems, and advanced mechanization and computing, American capitalists realized they could make much more money by not paying family wages. They could move their factories to China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and make a killing. They could use these advanced systems to communicate, and supervise, and fly back and forth if they needed to, without worrying about safety, and job conditions, without worrying about ecological effects, and with paying minuscule salaries. For example, in China, which is the highest paid in Asia, there is no waged work that is higher than $3 an hour. And in some sectors in Asia, it's less than $1 an hour. So you can imagine the profits that could be made. Therefore, capitalists deserted America, and deserted the white male in America, and his position of power and prestige as head of the household. This is a huge transformation, and I will discuss later the politics of that transformation.

At the same time as this was happening, women, the women's movement, started to organize. It began sort of, in a certain way, in 1965 with Betty Friedan's book, but then by the 1970s it was in full swing. Originally thought of as the "women's liberation movement," it then became the "feminist movement," or the "women's movement." Just as male jobs were being exported, outsourced, mechanized, robotized, women wanted into the workforce. And the government wanted women to participate more because they, women, are paid less, and so that they could depress wages even further, and take males – who were used to perks – off of their high horse. That's why they endorsed – the CIA paid Gloria Steinem big bucks to create Ms. magazine and push the women's movement to a gender-only movement, away from class and class transformation of the working class. At any rate (sorry, I have to look at my notes occasionally), what happened was the combination of a women's movement at the same time as the export of well-paid male jobs – millions of them – had a huge impact on males, particularly white males who were well-paid. 

Part of what the women's movement did, effectively, is change legislation that held women back. Some of the most important changes are things like in 1974 credit rules were changed so women could get credit in our own names. What this means is, before we couldn't ever start a business without our husband's name being on the loan. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act and Equal Opportunity Act were passed. In 1966 the Supreme Court allowed married couples to use contraception. It wasn't until 1972 that the Supreme Court allowed contraception for single people, which allowed women not to have to get pregnant. In 1973 abortion rights were passed. Even though states are eroding that constitutional right, it was passed in 1973, and very important to women's liberation – because if you're constantly hemmed in by having one child after another, and having dependent children who you have to support, it's much harder to have any kind of career and compete. In 1972 Title IX was passed, which allowed women to be equals in all programs in sports, funded for however they were. Now, of course that still doesn't happen, but these were rights on paper, which makes it easier for people to fight for those rights. In 1975 the Supreme Court allowed pregnant women to sue if they were discriminated against or not hired because they were pregnant. And it eliminated employers' rights to ask women if they intended to have children and make the fact that they don't intend to have children a condition of being employed. In 1981 the Supreme Court allowed that a husband no longer could be defined as the head and master with unilateral control of property that he controlled jointly with his wife. So even if a husband and wife bought property conjointly, the man was considered the master of that property until 1981. In 1984 the Supreme Court prevented clubs, and any establishments, from discriminating against women and not allowing women to join. 

These are all hugely important things, even now – although each of these things, I ought to stress, even now all of these things have to be fought for. Abortion is a great example. It was declared legal, but the state of Missouri has so compromised it that people need to go to other states to get an abortion. The same thing is true in the state of Mississippi. They haven't overturned it, but they have eroded it. In 2009 the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act allowed victims of discrimination in employment to file a complaint with the government against an employer. The Trump administration is working hard to counteract all of these rights, but they still exist on the books. In 2013 they lifted the ban against women in the military, although women in the military are usually not promoted as fast and are very often raped, but they have permission to join the military. 

Thank you for listening. This episode has been brought to you by Democracy at Work. Please support our work. Visit our website at democracyatwork.info.


Transcript by Marilou Baughman
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