The unsung heroes of our success

Viewing the unpaid and undervalued domestic labour of women through a Marxist lens.  

The unsung heroes of our success

Have you ever wondered or contemplated the successes you have achieved within your life? Have you ever thought about the person who woke you up in time for school, maybe they made sure you had clean clothes, made sure you had food you liked stocked up in the cupboard? Maybe the person who sacrificed their own dreams or goals to ensure you had everything you needed to achieve yours? Maybe she took on two or more jobs, to make sure you could have the little luxuries in your life that you may have never noticed. 

The profound impact of mothers and how their indispensable work goes shamefully overlooked and underappreciated within many families. I would like to untangle these invisible threads of gender dynamics, capitalist structures and familial bonds, to reveal the immeasurable value in the sacrifices of women in shaping our individual and collective success.  

However, to begin to untangle this interwoven web of feminist discourse, we cannot continue without acknowledging the eternally linked relationship between the family and capitalism. The idea of colonisation has often been used as a metaphor for the oppression of women under a capitalist structure and with this comes the idea of Marxist Feminism and the Marxist belief on social reproduction.  

Marx is primarily focused on how we make the world and how the world makes us, paired with the idea that if we improve human consciousness then we improve the world. So, we need to think of how the capitalist appropriation of labour changes our world and consciousness. However, with the rise of merchant capitalism and the growth of waged labour, there is no means to access life without having to sell your physical labour for a wage. You live off your wage and you cannot access anything outside the means of a wage and so access to the welfare state ultimately becomes conditional.  

Ultimately, Marx believes that selling our labour goes against something he calls our species being, a trait which he believes is the human's capacity to do stuff in our fundamental nature, and when we sell our labour, our species being becomes used against us. Our labour becomes congealed and intertwined with us when we create it, and when the worker sells this fruit of his labour it acts to stand against him, and he becomes alienated from himself. 

With this definition in-tow, one must come to wonder what then is the product that domestic labour produces? How do women become alienated from themselves when they are forced to sell their labour for free?  

Women are part of the pre-capitalist world, however, only recently have they become part of the labour force. But they have in fact always played a significant contribution into the labour force, think not of what the worker does at the factory, but how they arrived there in the first place. How have we all arrived in our places and successes in this capitalist world? What led to our achievements in the workplace or academic fields? Well, most likely, it was a consequence of your own mother and her seemingly invisible labour.  

Most mothers sacrifice so much for their kids during their childhoods and even following into their adult lives, many mothers do so much that they don’t even recognize, and the most sickeningly sweet part? They do it all for free, for their love.  

Well, this idea of women producing free labour is not a new concept and was a heavily debated topic within the feminist movement during the 1970s. This movement became a revolutionary event, and campaigns began to ignite in various European countries, with the largest movement basing itself in Italy. This powerful movement began to make others recognize the hardships that housewives and mothers go through when working within their own home.  

While everyone, I believe, can agree that motherhood is difficult, myriads do not truly acknowledge the hidden hardships that women must entertain during their experiences in the private sphere. One of the main hardships of this experience would be the loneliness which follows mothers throughout their lives, with a study conducted by the Red Cross finding that 8 in 10 mothers under the age of 30 experience these feelings of loneliness and isolation during their lives.  

It cannot be denied that the western world seems to hold some form of disdain towards mothers, whether is complaining about the mother not comforting her crying child well enough, or the recent debate of not wanting to give up seats for expecting mothers on the London tube, because according to many unsympathetic citizens it is not their ‘issue’ that women decided to have unprotected sex, women and most notably mothers, are treated almost as second class citizens in society.  

Now, women are not naive, they know they are not liked so this knowledge only adds to the ongoing loneliness that they find themselves stranded within. The Marxist perspective of feminism perhaps explains this exploitation of women’s domestic labour to a deeper political root. After women have given birth, most of them find themselves subjugated to the private and domestic sphere of their home, many finding themselves forced to remain at home to only take care of their newborns and young children, isolated from others during this period which continues into their child's teenagehood. A study conducted by the organisation Chanel Mums, found that 90% of mothers felt lonely since having children, and with a further 54% of these mothers feeling friendless after becoming a parent. 

During their time performing this ‘unwaged work,’ to reference the feminist article ‘Wages for housework’ by Federici, women become separated and isolated from others as they are continuously confined within the domestic sphere. Their jobs are never-ending: whilst a man can come home from his waged work, a woman can never do so. Even with recent years where women begin to dominate the work sphere, they cannot escape their eternal labour; once home from their waged work, they must continue to complete this unwaged work indefinitely.  

However, this work doesn't only confine itself to domestic chores, but also within the partnership with her spouse. She must conform and aid him in his emotional and sexual urges, healing his broken ego when it has become crushed during work; yet who is there to heal her broken spirit or tend to her sexual desires? Up until recently, a woman's sexual life had been left unexplored and unfulfilled. So, she must totally negate her own inner sexuality for her husbands. Many may ask how this is fair? Why must we as women accept this reality of being left destitute and separated from our own innate eroticism?  

Moreover, there begs the question as to what may overcome this form of hidden oppression?  How can a person remedy this form of subjugation towards the women in our lives who we deem as so important to our lives and who have irrevocably changed them for the better? 

Well, the intertwined nature of this gendered form of politics and familial bonds reveals the often unacknowledged sacrifices made by women and mothers in shaping our individual success. This Marxist perspective on feminism sheds light on the exploitation of women’s domestic labour and the alienation which may arise from some women being subjugated in the domestic sphere. 

It is crucial for us all to recognise and appreciate the invaluable contributions of women, not only those in academia or the workplace, but those found often in the invisible realm of domestic labour. From the sacrifices made to ensure the success of future generations to the emotional and sexual labour performed within partnerships, many women navigate a complex web of expectations and constraints that often go unnoticed or undervalued. 

So, how can we overcome this form of oppression? One way, and while it may seem unachievable now, is to dismantle the patriarchal structures and redistribute the burdens of domestic labour which plague our lives. This requires, not only to change the current policies that are in place, but to shift the cultural attitudes towards the value of caregiving and to reiterate the understanding of the importance of supporting women’s autonomy and personal fulfilment. 

Ultimately, the liberation of women from these oppressive systems will benefit everyone, as it fosters a more compassionate society where all individuals can thrive. So, let us honour the sacrifices of the women around us, amplify their voices, and actively work towards building a future where every person can be truly free to pursue their desires or passions, for every person to be able to fulfil their potential, regardless of gender. 


lilac marsh

lilac marsh

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