In 2009, the movement of gender equality logged another milestone with the signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. However, while it advances the rights of women with male counterparts in their profession, it says little about those who are engaged in gendered professions such domestic services.
Regardless of whether they go by the title of live-in nanny, housekeeper or servant, the labour of these women assumes a unique meaning due to the intimate terms of their employment. For some, it is seen as form of servitude, despite the woman’s economic freedom.
Among the more vehement opinions expressed in class, some reminded me strongly of Marx’s theory on labour alienation. For Marx, the capitalist system can be divided into two classes – “property owners and the propertyless workers”. The property owners are those with capital and they are “the masters of labour”. Despite what we commonly believe about the freedom of our labour, for Marx, the exchange of labour for money is an “alienation” and an enslavement of the self. Marx believes that labour is inseparable from the self. Thus, when you contract over your labour, he who owns your labour, owns you. This becomes especially true in the case of the housekeeper, whose labour and duties are seldom separate from her personal life. What freedom she thought she had in entering into the employment is illusory because by contracting over her labour, she has contracted over herself. Her employment is, in fact, oppressive.
Furthermore, given the capitalistic belief that everything can be expressed in money, it is not difficult to see how the meager compensation some of these women receive can be interpreted as a debasement of their persons and a sign of oppression.
Work cited: Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Estranged Labour