Excerpt from “Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale – Women in the International Division of Labor”
Zed Books, 1986
By Maria Mies
FROM THE PREFACE
My own questioning wemt further and deeper. Apart from the question of its origin [patriarchy], I wanted to know why such a brutal system did not disappear with modernity, or with capitalism, as both Marxists and liberals had predicted. What was, what is, the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism? Are they two systems? Are they one system? Is patriarchal exploitation and subordination necessary for an economic systembased on extended accumulation? Or could this accumulation also happen without heirarchical, exploitative gender relations? It was obvious that we could no longer be satisfied with the classical Marxist explanation that this relation was only a secondary contradiction whose solution would come after the primary contradiction — the class antagonism between labour and capital — had been resolved. There was consensus at that time among feminists about this understanding, even among feminists of the left, th Marxist feminists and socialist feminists. No feminist accepted any longer that we women were only a ‘secondary contradiction.’
But we were still left with the question of the intrinsic relationship between partiarchy and capitalism. We all knew, of course, that patriarchy preceded capitalism. Was it then correct to say that it simply continued as a kind of substructure? Why was the great promise of modernity to abolish all feudal, patriarchal, backward relationships not fulfilled when it came to women? After all, feudalism had been abolished, at least in the industrialized world. Why has this not also happened with regard to the patriarchal relationship between the genders.
The more the feminist movement developed, the more we discovered new manifestations of patriarchal structures and ideologies. In particular, the movement against violence against women, against woman-battering, rape, pornography, sexual abuse in the work place, violence agaisnt women in the media and advertising, challenged the prevailing myth that modernity had ‘civilized’ the man-woman relationship, had ‘tamed’ the erstwhile aggressive, anti-women tendencies in men. No, these were not just ‘leftovers’ of a feudal past; this was the flesh and blood of modern, progressive capitalism; this was the heart of capitalism; it was capitalist patriarchy.
It as the analysis of the role of housework under capitalism that provided the first theoretical understanding of the political economy of capitalist patriarchy. This movement had started around 1980. It became clear that women’s unpaid caring and nurturning work in the household was subsidizing notonly the male wage but also capital accumulation. Moreover, by defining women as housewives, a process I call ‘housewifization,’ not only did women’s unpaid work in the household become invisible, unredorded in the GDP, and ‘naturalized’ — that is, treated as a ‘free good’ — but also her waged work was considered to be only supplementary to that of her husband, the so-called breadwinner, and thus devalued. The construction of woman as mother, wife, and housewife was the trick by which 50 per cent of human labor was defined as a free resource. it was female labour.