Economic Aspects of "Love"

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Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Sun Mar 20, 2011 6:27 pm

Written in a specific time and place, but still relevant in the here and now:

Quotes from The Arcane of Reproduction.

Leopoldina Fortunati


Chapter 3 (p. 28):

"Men and women have never been so irreconcilably divided as they are under capitalism--but never also, has the mode of production itself provided the potential means to destroy the power structure. Going beyond any historical judgement of what capitalism has represented, its continuing existence today means barbarism, not only because it represents the theft of non-waged work from women--who are obliged to live in isolation, semi-dependent on men--but also because it is the theft of non-waged work from the man. Women are forced to work for capital through the individuals they "love." Women's love is in the end the confirmation of both men's and their own negation as individuals. Nowadays, the only possible way of reproducing oneself or others, as individuals and not as commodities, is to dam the stream of capitalist "love"--a "love" which masks the macabre face of exploitation--and transform relationships between men and women, destroying men's mediatory role as the representatives of state and capital in relation to women. The only realistic program for sex equality is one for the non-exploitation of both."

Chapter 5 (pg. 65):

"These struggles of the 1970s have left behind a massive series of changes in the conditions of permanence within the prostitution market. On the one hand, many of today's prostitutes are also housewives and vice versa, to such a degree that passing between the housework and sexwork market--between one productive sector and another--has become very elastic. This elasticity has also come about in consequence of women making more cash-oriented as opposed to goods-oriented agreements with men. Women are tending to ask for more than "love" in their relationships with men. Furthermore chastity--saving of sex--has little meaning today from the working-class perspective; many women now have the power to contract with men without restricting their sexual conduct."

Chapter 6 (pg. 74):

"Non-material use-values are those goods produced within the housework process which have no material basis: affection, sexuality, companionship, "love," and the like. These goods satisfy the individual's non-material needs, which are as important for his/her reproduction as is a grilled steak or an ironed shirt....they are use-values for value."

(pg. 75):

"The fact that men are usually more egotistical in "love" relationships is generally taken as a given, explained either as selfishness or, by more progressive thinkers, as an element of the male/femal power relation which would naturally be reflected in a "love" relationship. But surely the differences between individuals' consumption of non-material use-values have a far more concrete basis. For example, within a couple relationship the adult male can consume, while the adult woman must primarily produce. The man is egotistical because he "consumes" love, and the woman is "generous" because she produces it. She produces it as part of the housework process in order to produce a commodity, labor-power. At first sight it may seem strange, or shocking that love, sex and affection can have so few real, natural elements left in them, however they do not transform themselves mechanically and automatically because of the relations of production of society. The emotions that we work (if we're women) or we consume (if we're men) are denaturalized, not only in their form but in their substance, their substance is a commodity."

Chapter 11 (pg. 126):

"It is common knowlege that family relations are alienated and alienating, that the "love" we have for our fathers, mothers, children and siblings has to be expressed through the work we do for them--work which produces them as commodities. All family members--even within the "love" of the family--are not protected from but remain subject to capital's will and discipline. Children "must" go to school whether they want to or not, for example, and everyone is aware that the family is in reality the pool of labor on which capital draws. It appears as a place of "love," but is in reality a place of alienation, of commoditization, of non-communication."

(pg. 137):

"To make the process of production and reproduction of labor-power function, other exchanges are also necessary. The most important of these "secondary" exchanges is that between the male worker and capital mediated by the female houseworker. This exchange and relation is required because the female houseworker's reproduction cannot only consist of the use-values into which the wage can be transformed; it must also include the consumption of use-values which only the husband can and must produce. For although in this relation this housework is paid for by the wage, it must appear not so. Thus "love" enters the discourse, and the relation can be expressed in other non-money terms. Without love, capital would not be able to make this relation function, nor would it be able to isolate the male and female houseworker within the family."
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Tue Mar 22, 2011 9:12 am

Also written in a specific place at a specific point in history, but still quite valuable:

Excerpted from: Women and the Subversion of the Community, Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1971)

The productivity of passivity

However, the woman’s role in the family is not only that of hidden supplier of social services who does not receive a wage. As we said at the beginning, to imprison women in purely complementary functions and subordinate them to men within the nuclear family has as its premise the stunting of their physical integrity. In Italy, with the successful help of the Catholic Church which has always defined her as an inferior being, a woman is compelled before marriage into sexual abstinence and after marriage into a repressed sexuality destined only to bear children, obliging her to bear children. It has created a female image of “heroic mother and happy wife” whose sexual identity is pure sublimation, whose function is essentially that of receptacle for other people’s emotional expression, who is the cushion of the familial antagonism. What has been defined, then, as female frigidity has to be redefined as an imposed passive receptivity in the sexual function as well.

Now this passivity of the woman in the family is itself “productive”. First it makes her the outlet for all the oppressions that men suffer in the world outside the home and at the same time the object on whom the man can exercise a hunger for power that the domination of the capitalist organization of work implants. In this sense, the woman becomes productive for capitalist organization; she acts as a safety valve for the social tensions caused by it. Secondly, the woman becomes productive inasmuch as the complete denial of her personal autonomy forces her to sublimate her frustration in a series of continuous needs that are always centered in the home, a kind of consumption which is the exact parallel of her compulsive perfectionism in her housework. Clearly, it is not our job to tell women what they should have in their homes. Nobody can define the needs of others. Our interest is to organize the struggle through which this sublimation will be unnecessary.

Dead labour and the agony of sexuality

We use the word “sublimation” advisedly. The frustrations of monotonous and trivial chores and of sexual passivity are only separable in words. Sexual creativity and creativity in labour are both areas where human need demands we give free scope to our “interplaying natural and acquired activities”.* For women (and therefore men) natural and acquired powers are repressed simultaneously. The passive sexual receptivity of women creates the compulsively tidy housewife and can make a monotonous assembly line therapeutic. The trivia of most of housework and the discipline’ which is required to perform the same work over every day, every week, every year, double on holidays, destroys the possibilities of uninhibited sexuality. Our childhood is a preparation for martyrdom: we are taught to derive happiness from clean sex on whiter than white sheets; to sacrifice sexuality and other creative activity at one and the same time.

[*Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Okonomie, Band 1, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1962, p. 512. “Large-scale industry makes it a question of life and death to replace that monstrosity which is a miserable available working population, kept in reserve for the changing needs of exploitation by capital, to replace this with the absolute availability of the individual for changing requisites of work; to replace the partial individual, a mere bearer of a social detail function, with the fully developed individual for whom varied social functions are modes of interplaying natural and acquired activities.”]

So far the women’s movement, most notably by destroying the myth of the vaginal orgasm, has exposed the physical mechanism which allowed women’s sexual potential to be strictly defined and limited by men. Now we can begin to reintegrate sexuality with other aspects of creativity, to see how sexuality will always be constrained unless the work we do does not mutilate us and our individual capacities, and unless the persons with whom we have sexual relations are not our masters and are not also mutilated by their work. To explode the vaginal myth is to demand female autonomy as opposed to subordination and sublimation. But it is not only the clitoris versus the vagina. It is both versus the uterus. Either the vagina is primarily the passage to the reproduction of labour power sold as a commodity, the capitalist function of the uterus, or it is part of our natural powers, our social equipment. Sexuality after all is the most social of expressions, the deepest human communication. It is in that sense the dissolution of autonomy. The working class organizes as a class to transcend itself as a class; within that class we organize autonomously to create the basis to transcend autonomy.
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Wed Mar 23, 2011 12:35 am

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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Thu Mar 24, 2011 11:43 pm

This article provides some much needed context for the first two posts in this thread: ... -labour-vi

Italian feminism, workerism and autonomy in the 1970s: The struggle against unpaid reproductive labour and violence - Patrick Cuninghame

Submitted by Steven. on Oct 25 2010

Article about the autonomous women's movement in Italy in the 1970s, with particular focus on Wages for Housework and Lotta Femminista

We spit on Hegel.
The master-slave dialectic is a settling of accounts among male collectivities:
It does not consider the liberation of woman, the great oppressed of patriarchal civilization.
The class struggle as a revolutionary theory developed from the master-slave dialect, also excludes woman
We question socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Carla Lonzi 1


One of the foremost practitioners of autonomy has been the women’s movement, the meeting of whose needs had historically been postponed by “the revolutionary party “ until after the conquest of State power and the establishment of socialism, the issue of gender being firmly subordinated to that of class. Feminist movements in particular have tended to be autonomous, given that women as a social category have been oppressed by patriarchy in all its social relations, including within left political parties, trade unions, social movements and by revolutionaries. They were among the first in Italy and elsewhere, after the profoundly important but ultimately ambiguous experience of the movements of 1968, to develop a fundamental critique of the political forms and practices of the “ New Left “, which in practice, if not in theory, minimized the needs and differences of women, subordinating them to the demands of the class struggle, in a similar way to the organizations of the older, Institutional Left. This critique caused many women to leave the New Left (NL) parties and groups in the early Seventies to form the first self-managed feminist organizations, so provoking, along with the question of participation in “armed struggle",2 its crisis. This led to its dissolution and the creation, from its fragmented remains, of Autonomia, a radically anti-capitalist social movement, influenced by the feminist organizational critique, but in which relatively few feminists participated.

Operaismo (workerism), originally a tendency within trade unionism and the parties of the Institutional Left, also deeply influenced the Italian feminist movement, especially through the theoretical and political work of Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Leopoldina Fortunati and other women of Lotta Feminista (LF/Feminist Struggle). This organization campaigned for a salary for housework, given its strategic importance to the capitalist economy through the reproduction of the next generation of workers and the care of the current generation with no direct cost to the State or the market. Or as the authors of the pamphlet, “New Feminist Movement” put it:

[...] and all this work that the woman does, an average of 99.6 hours weekly, without the possibility of strikes, nor absenteeism, nor to make any demands, is done for free.3

This campaign, which quickly spread throughout Europe and North America, resulted in the founding of one of the first transnational social movements, Wages for Housework (WfH)4, and prompted a critique of the Welfare State as the protector and guarantor of the sexual division of labour and the reproduction of the labour force. This resulted in the creation, along with other feminist groups ― then in the process of demobilization after a cycle of huge public protests and demonstrations in the mid-1970s for the right to divorce and abortion ― of alternative social services, particularly in the fields of health, birth control, abortion and the prevention of intrafamilial violence. Since the crisis of such movements in the Eighties, feminists have conducted much research and theoretical analysis, often as academics, on women's social status and their struggles within post-Keynesian capitalism, making comparative analyses with the conditions and forms of struggle of contemporary indigenous, environmentalist and anti-war movements.

The relative lack of a “female memory“ on Autonomia as a social movement reflects an historical tendency in all societies for that voice to be silenced or ignored, alienated from or conflated (along social class lines) with male discourse, including within the autonomous, libertarian Left. Feminist methodologies generally criticise the myth of “academic disengagement“, presenting social research instead as a dialogical process which the researcher’s past experiences necessarily both motivate and affect, as do those of the researched.5

Accepting these methodological considerations and in outlining the historical development of Italian feminism during the 1970s, this essay will identify and discuss some of the main differences between Italian workerist feminism and liberal, socialist and separatist feminisms, on the questions of reproductive labour and the role of paid work outside the home in promoting (or not) the economic independence and social emancipation of women. First, it will outline the emergence of the two main workerist feminist organizations, Lotta Feminista and Wages for Housework around the issues of unpaid reproductive and domestic labour and of the capitalist use of physical and sexual violence against women. Second, some of the problems linked to relations between feminism and the Autonomia social movement will be explored. The article concludes by examining the continuity of workeristinfluenced feminism, compared to other Italian feminisms.

Lotta Feminista and Wages for Housework: Struggles against Violence and Unpaid Reproductive Labour

Following the 1969 “Hot Autumn “ wave of wildcat strikes and generalized industrial and social conflict in which Potere Operaio [PO/Workers Power], the main workerist group, played a pivotal role, the factory-based autonomous workers’ movement continued to organize its resistance to capitalist work, exploitation and restructuring through the autonomous assemblies in the factories of the North. Simultaneously, a wider form of autonomy and democratisation spread throughout the entire working class, including unwaged sectors such as homemakers, students, the unemployed and military conscripts, reaching as far as sectors of the middle and professional classes.6 The most significant development was the emergence of Italy’s first mass-mobilised women’s movement, which according to Mariarosa Dalla Costa:

had two souls: one was self-awareness, the other was the operaista feminism of [LF] that eventually turned into the groups and committees of the wages for housework campaigns.7

" Della Porta claims that a significant characteristic of Italian feminism compared to other European countries was its organization of mass mobilization campaigns:

In 1974 10,000 women took part in the national conference at Pinarella di Cervia; between 1975 and 1977, a series of national initiatives ― mostly on the theme of the legalization of abortion ― saw the oscillating participation of between 30 and 50,000 women. [...] On 18th January 1975 there was the first large demonstration in Rome on the theme of abortion with 20,000 participants [...] In April 1976, the UDI (Unione donne italiane,8 linked to the PCI9) and the feminist organizations of other parties agreed to participate in a separatist demonstration which saw 50,000 participate.10

Some ex-PO theorists, active in the feminist movement, concentrated on the category of unpaid reproductive labour, which was seen as vital for the reproduction of living labour and therefore capital, particularly Mariarosa Dalla Costa on women’s unpaid housework,11 while a completely separate workerist-influenced feminist position was represented by Alisa del Re’s critique of the Welfare State.12 According to the former’s theory, there is a hierarchical division between waged/productive labour (the industrial working class) and unwaged/reproductive labour (women, students, the unemployed). Thus, the different sectors of the working class seek autonomy from official working class organisations and from each other.

On the basis of the work of Mariarosa and Giovanna Franca Dalla Costa, Leopoldina Fortunati and others, Lotta Feminista began a campaign known internationally as Wages for Housework, linking up with Selma James’ similar movement in Britain, while in the USA and Canada there were also WfH groups, with Silvia Federici in New York and Judith Ramirez in Toronto. The same network was present also in Germany, and in Switzerland. Mariarosa Dalla Costa describes LF’s political principles and strategy in the following terms:

We wanted money for housework primarily in response to the serious problem of women’s lack of money, but also as a lever of power with respect to services […]. This claim was combined with another for a drastic reduction in external work for all women and men (demanding a working week of 20 hours) so that the time necessary for reproduction could be freed up without always having to look for solutions (very partial anyway) in additional layers of work, as is also happening today through the great migrations. On the other hand, there was the typical emancipationist position that aimed only at working outside [of the home] and called for a strengthening of social services. This was the position of the institutional left but also of other feminist strands.13

However, the demand for wages for housework from the State opened a sharp polemic with other parts of the feminist movement, who saw such a demand as a “renunciation of the objective of the socialization of domestic labour “.14

In June 1974 Rosso,15 as part of a debate between those demanding wages for housework and those who saw this as its “ratification “, published a report by the Paduan Committee for Wages for Housework on three days of discussion with the feminist movement in Mestre.

A large number of homemakers, teachers, shop assistants and secretaries had gathered to denounce their triple exploitation by their employers, their partners and the State, rejecting the misery and appalling conditions of work that all imposed:

Our struggle is against factories, [...] offices, against having to sit at a check-out counter all day [...]. We are not fighting for such an organisation of work, but against it.16

They rejected the view of the political parties and extra-parliamentary groups that women’s emancipation lay in employment, instead demanding that the State, the organizer of capitalist society whose most basic cellular structure was the nuclear family, pay them wages for their unpaid housework since they were “reproducing “ its citizens and workers. Also denounced was the inadequacy of the few social services provided, the lack of crèches and nurseries for housewives as well as for employed women, and the abuse of women’s bodies by the “masculinist “ health system. They called on women to reclaim their bodies and take control of their lives:

We women must reject the conditions of pure survival that the State wants to impose on us, we must always demand more […], reappropriate the wealth removed from our hands everyday to have more money, more power, more free time to be with others, women, old people, children, not as appendages but as social individuals.17

Women were also especially active on the issue of the overcrowded and underfunded State education system, as they were on virtually all social issues in the mid 1970s, the peak of the mass mobilisation phase of the women’s movement, marching on schools, organising pickets, occupying class rooms, setting up road blocks, all with the demand for better schools and day-care facilities.18

These mobilisations were self-organized with the participation of Autonomia, the New Left groups, particularly Lotta Continua (LC/Unceasing Struggle)19 in the South, as well as some of the unions, but were otherwise characterised by their autonomy from and hostility towards political parties.

Similar struggles took place over the community control of reproductive needs (housing, rent, bills, shopping) and later of leisure needs (eating out, cinema and rock concerts). These conflicts were allied to the demands of the emerging women’s movement for control of their own bodies and lives through the defeat of the 1974 referendum to abolish the 1970 divorce law and the concession after many years of hard struggle of the legalisation of abortion through Law 194 in 1978, as well as the democratisation and feminisation of medical and social services.20 Thus, a new conception of autonomy was required to mirror the transition from the industrial factory to the social factory, from traditional working class struggles to those of the new social movements.

Nevertheless, the intensity of the activism of the women’s movement in the early 1970s took a heavy toll on the health and private lives of those involved, despite their previous criticism of the New Left’s obsessive militancy and sacrifice of any kind of private life to political struggle, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa recounts:

[…] we had national and international organizational groups but what was striking was the level of extreme poverty of the means with which all this activity was carried out. The means of communication were mainly the leaflet and the paper, called “Le operaie della casa “ (the houseworkers).21 Such an exasperated and totalizing militancy, that left no room for anything else in our lives, was surely derived from the experience of [PO], but I think that at the time in other groups the situation was similar to ours. This was obviously even harder for those of us who had a leading role. And here it would be important to underline something else... Towards the end of the decade we were exhausted by that kind of life and activism. All our margins of reproduction had been eroded, notoriously narrower than those men, comrades included, enjoyed.22

However, the women of Lotta Feminista and Wages for Housework made some primordial contributions to international feminist theory, particularly concerning the role of male physical and sexual violence against women within the family as a disciplining force, similar to the physical and psychological violence used to discipline workers in the factory. Of particular importance on this question were the works of Leopoldina Fortunati23 and Giovanna F. Dalla Costa, the latter of whom argues that:

Since its origins, the Feminist Movement has charged that the relation between men and women in capitalist society is one based on violence. In fact, this was the first issue around which the movement developed both a wide-ranging debate and a high level of organized struggle […] Male violence against women was certainly not born with capitalism, but rather has a long history behind it. But even if some aspects of this form of violence remain basically unchanged (women were beaten, raped, killed, genitally mutilated, forced to abort pregnancies or bear children, long before capitalism), under capitalism male violence against women has been re-established and endowed with a function […] entirely internal to the work which women are destined to perform: housework.

Such work is the work of the production and reproduction of labour power, its fundamental site of performance is the home and the primary unit in which it is performed is the family.24 […] The extreme violence in the relationship between capital and women is reflected in the violence of the man-woman relationship: a relationship which is necessarily violent on the part of men against women.25

The same author also criticizes the failure of the workers movement, including the operaismo that influenced herself and her sister and other members of Lotta Feminista and Wages for Housework, to listen to and comprehend the novelty of their theory, without conflating the “house worker “ with the factory worker:

[L]ike all women we tangibly feel in our bones […]: we are “house workers “,26 “every woman in the home is an unpaid worker! “ Since we began to define ourselves in this way, those on the Left who wished to charge us with “ old workerism “ raised their voices,27 demonstrating that they confused an absolutely new criteria such as “house worker “ with “worker “, and were equally ready to attribute to us political theories which we had never formulated. […] This tone-deafness on the male front doesn't surprise us: to men who can't see or hear women, nothing exists except “preaching to the converted “.28

Such a closed attitude by the male Left contrasted with the seriousness of the debate within the entire feminist movement over unpaid domestic labour:

The recognition of women as unpaid house workers has […] become a common legacy. Even the sections of the feminist movement that don't agree with the strategy of “wages for housework “, define the condition of women in substantially similar terms […] the comparison between the condition of the house worker and that of the slave can, within our analysis, be of particular importance in enabling us to better define this discourse; one needed more than ever due to the wave of political mobilization that the feminist movement has built in opposition to violence against women […] the rise of this violence is evidently linked to the ever growing rebellion of women today, and to the ever increasing willingness of the State and of those in power to impede it.29

Relations between feminism and Autonomia

While the activism of feminist militants was increasingly demanding on their health and private lives, the situation for those women who chose to keep one foot in the feminist movement and another in the New Left organizations and social movements through an exasperated “double militancy “ made its own demands. Meanwhile, relations between the feminist movement (including the groups rooted in Potere Operaio and operaismo) and Autonomia were as tense as they had been with the NL groups. Autonomous women’s collectives were critical of Workers’ Autonomy’s continuance of some discredited forms of political practice inherited from the NL groups, particularly a macho predisposition for the use of (sometimes armed) violence, although feminism itself was by no means synonymous with pacifism.30 Moreover, operaista and autonomist women were accused of being old-style Marxist revolutionaries by “consciousness-raising “ feminism and often found themselves isolated from the rest of the women’s movement.

These women contributed to the debates on violence and subjectivity both within feminism and Autonomia, from the position that “violence [understood as aggressive self-assertion as an antidote to patriarchal representations of female passivity and subordination] can be a basis for subjectivity“.31 The principal areas of intervention for Lotta Continua’s Women’s Collective were the factory and the practice of the refusal of work, along with the problems of discrimination in the workplace, deregulated labour (lavoro nero), prisons, sexual violence and machismo within the “Movement “ in general, and struggles around the body and health. Action was taken in hospitals, over the unequal doctor-patient relationship and the denunciation of those medical centres that refused to carry out abortions, and of the health service in general which victimised women and did not meet their particular health needs. Another area of intervention was international “solidarism rather than solidarity “, based on the feminist practice of “starting from yourself “. They were also in touch with radical separatist feminists, who used psychoanalysis for “consciousness-raising “ and were close to the Radical Party,32 although relations with the broader feminist movement with its emphasis on the private sphere, consciousness-raising and non-violence, were conflictual. A rare joint action to denounce the Catholic Church’s negative impact on women’s control over their own bodies and lives was the occupation in 1975 of the Duomo, the city’s main cathedral and symbol of its official identity. Other actions were taken to contest the stereotyping of women in patriarchal capitalist society as passive consumerist sex objects, including against wedding dress shops and dating agencies. They also participated in Lea Melandrí’s33 “Free University of Women “, where housewives and intellectuals carried out an interclassist work on the representation of women in capitalist society. The crossover between Rosso and radical feminism produced two magazines itself, Malafemmina and Noi Testarde, making the “politics of the personal “ and the questioning of gender roles part of Autonomia’s collective identity, although conflict with Organized Workers Autonomy’s “workers’ centrality “ position was permanent.34

Del Re, a feminist and former Potere Operaio member, whose theoretical and political practice led her to disagree with Mariarosa Dalla Costa and the Wages for Housework movement despite their common roots in operaismo, did not join Autonomia but accepts that her autonomous activism led her to a converging position. Here, she tackles the thorny question of “double militancy “ by considering the strongly contradictory position of feminists within the PCI:

[It] is a difficult issue because it splits belonging: for instance, I met women active in extra-parliamentary political groups who were also feminist and faced with dramatic decisions, because feminism forced women to make dramatic personal choices. The enemy was often in the home: if a woman was to gain a kind of personal autonomy and have relationships with lovers, friends, husbands, fathers and men who were on the Left and thus shared many of the ideas of changing society, she would feel great discomfort. […] So it was a very complex issue linked to a very personal identity and to a life choice: one could not always let the husband off because some of their positions were right, even if some marriages failed. The decisions were so drastic and violent that I can understand why some were hidden feminists and public comrades. With the [PCI] things get more complicated because some women always thought of [it] as a kind of benevolent father who somehow would have accepted their little babies’ demands, yet there was not one party in Italy that took up the issues of the feminist groups, at least in the ‘70s. Militancy in the [PCI] was largely a question of family tradition; I met many families (mothers, grandmothers and daughters) who were members of the PCI, and this was lacerating, because it was an historical affection and one that was difficult to change. The UDI was ferociously hostile to the feminist movement and the movement for divorce. The UDI disassociated itself from the Communist Party when in 1976 the PCI refused to let its members protest in the streets in favour of abortion rights after the facts of Seveso (the case of dioxin and pregnant women who wanted an abortion for fear of giving birth to monsters). At the time of the separation of the UDI from the PCI, many militants left the party and joined the feminist movement.35

A different perspective on women’s activism is given by an informant from Milan who was a member of Lotta Continua before joining Autonomia in the late 1970s, only becoming a feminist in the 1980s. She recounts how she suffered violence first from her father, opposed to her political activism and later from her partner, also a member of LC, and felt pressurized into denial by the attitude of another woman militant:

I joined [LC] when I was 14 because they seemed to be the liveliest New Left group […] my father was violent and beat me regularly, to “protect “ me from what he considered “dangerous political activity “, so I had to run away from home when I was 16. [...] I was also beaten up several times by my boyfriend, who was also in [LC], in the “ servizio d’ordine “,36 doing something dangerous. Later he beat up another woman and had to go into therapy […]

He was protected by the other women I knew, including my best friend, a woman who had been involved in armed struggle in Argentina and who told me when I asked for help after being beaten: “Well, you fell down the stairs didn’t you? “. All of us protected him from the police by saying I had had a car crash after the beatings to prevent him from getting into trouble […] Not all of the men in the armed struggle were heroes, some were very small people […] At that point [despite the attack on the women’s march in Rome in 1975] I didn’t want women to break the organization […] some of us sprayed on the wall “Uomo donna uniti nella lotta “37 […] Women in LC in general were saying that LC shouldn’t fall apart for feminist reasons.

On the specific identity of the women who chose to be in Autonomia rather than militate in the feminist movement, the same informant spoke of the case of the autonomist women activists in Bergamo, northern Italy in the 1970s:

[T]he movement in every city was different and had its own peculiar identity […] in Bergamo they had a strong anti- State characterization […] they never accepted State funding for the self-managed clinics […] these still exist today thanks to the women of Autonomia […] they were self-financed […] the leadership is still the same people […] they were characterized by their concern for women’s health and a strong antagonism against the State […] in other cities they were more concerned in shutting down pornographic film theatres […] They came from the struggle against rape [and] organized self-defence courses against rape […] then they became an armed vanguard against pornography and pimping […] they didn’t practice armed struggle as such, but they used violent direct action against pornography cinemas, smashing windows etc. […] other groups used more violent methods of struggle, above all those who struggled against lavoro nero […] they burnt down the covi di lavoro nero,39 but they were not armed […] these actions were carried out exclusively by women alone, no men were present.40

On the question of relations between the women of Autonomia and the rest of the feminist movement, the same informant stated:

The moderate area [in the feminist movement] was prevalent […] it was composed of a lot of different groups […] they were not into the question of class […] the more radical Movimento per la Liberazione della Donna was not separatist and they didn’t take class into the picture at all […] and it was a huge movement […] they thought we [autonomist women] were very submissive and they were right, we were. We were very young. […] I discovered feminism much later […] I was going to the feminist demonstrations for contraception and against the exploitation of women in factories, but I didn’t have a feminist consciousness until much later […] I had a strong class consciousness at that time […] I thought that the feminists were dividing the movement […] this was why [LC] and Workers Autonomy attacked the women’s march in Rome in December 197541 because it was seen as a divisive force.42


Italian feminism, workerism and autonomism combined briefly and problematically in the 1970s around the issues of unpaid reproductive labour and sexual and physical violence. Since 1990, ex-workerist and autonomist women have gone different ways: Mariarosa Dalla Costa continued her research in an ecofeminist perspective giving particular attention to the peasant and fishermen movements for food sovereignty, Giovanna F. Dalla Costa now researches on microcredit experiences in different countries, Leopoldina Fortunati has become a renowned expert in communication theory, Laura Corradi has become an academic and is involved in the ecofeminist global movement and Alisa del Re has been a local councillor for the Green Party in Padua. By placing the issue of unpaid domestic work at the heart of discussions within both the broader feminist movement and autonomous social movements since the 1970s, that current of Italian feminism that was strongly influenced by workerism, while always keeping its distance from notions such as “workers’ centrality “, identified and campaigned around an issue which remains unresolved today but which has led to important theoretical and political developments, such as the theory of affective labour43 and the international “basic income network “44 as a solution “from below “ to the gradual disappearance of the Welfare State under neoliberal capitalism. An important recent advance for the WfH movement was the decision by the Veneto regional government in north-eastern Italy to pay care work done in the home, the first time such work has been formally recognized and paid for as a social service.45

Finally, to summarize the differences between workerist-influenced feminism and the other forms of feminism present in the Italian women’s movement of the 1970s, we can say that this differed from liberal feminism by rejecting demands for “equality “ and “emancipation “ as not only an obfuscation of women’s difference from men, but above all a mystification of the class relation between paid men workers and unpaid women house workers. The main disagreement between workerist feminism and socialist feminism has been over the question of “outside “ (nondomestic) employment as a pathway to female emancipation and economic independence. For Lotta Feminista and Wages for Housework, the exploitation of generally low-paid labour outside the home is no solution to the unpaid exploitation of women within the home.

While the Italian network of WfH agreed with separatist feminism over the exclusion of men from feminist organizations and meetings (except as child carers), the English WfH network in which Selma James figured prominently, eventually permitted men to join as members of the Payday network, although by this time the two networks had split, the Italian network dissolved under the effects of the widespread repression of social movement activists between 1978 and 1983.46 As to doubts over the continuing relevance of workerist feminism and the WfH campaign, since 2001 they have been among the organisers of the Global Women’s Strike with its demand for “recognition and payment for all caring work, and the return of military spending to the community starting with women the main carers “ as a response to male-dominated terrorism and war.47

Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico City
pcuninghame at

s: I wish to thank Laura Corradi, Alisa Del Re and the women of the Milanese autonomist movement who agreed to be interviewed.

1. From Sputiamo su Hegel. Lonzi was an activist in Rivolta Femminile [Female Revolt], a separatist group. She was the main exponent of the feminism of difference in Italy. She died in Rome in 1982. [All translations from Italian or Spanish to English are mine unless otherwise indicated.]
2. I prefer not to use the term “terrorism “, which is a highly subjective and politicized, not to say demonized one, particularly after the events of 11th September 2001 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the USA and its allies.
3. Various authors, “Nuovo Movimento Femminista “, May 1973. Movimento Femminista: Documenti Autonomi [website]:; accessed January 9, 2009.
4. “Wages for Housework was the name that that part of Lotta Feminista adopted that wanted to launch initiatives specifically for wages for housework, a part that grew continuously and its first big demonstration was the one in Mestre on the 8th, 9th and 10th March 1974, although already in 1973 the Triveneto Committee of WfH began to act autonomously while LF was still alive.(See Collettivo internazionale femminista (ed. by), 8 Marzo 1974, Marsilio, Venice-Padua, 1975 “ (Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, email message, 4 December 2008).
5. May, Tim, Social Research, Issues, Methods and Process, Buckingham, Open University Press, 1997.
6. Cuninghame, Patrick, “For an Analysis of Autonomia: An Interview with Sergio Bologna “, Left History, Vol. 7, No. 2, Fall 2001, pp. 89-102; “Autonomia in the Seventies: The Refusal of Work, the Party and Politics “, Cultural Studies Review (Special Issue on Contemporary Italian Political Theory), Vol. 11, No. 2, September 2005, pp. 77-94.
7. Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, “The Door to the Garden “, paper given at the “Operaismo a Convegno “ Conference, June 1-2, 2002, Rome. Published in Spanish in Noesis, Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Vol. 15, No. 28, 2005, pp. 79-100. [Available on line in English and Spanish].
8. Union of Italian Women.
9. Partito Comunista Italiana / Italian Communist Party.
10. Della Porta, Donatella, Movimenti Collettivi e Sistema Politico in Italia 1960-1995, Rome, Editori Laterza, 1996, p. 71.
11. Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (with A Woman's Place by Selma James), London, Falling Wall Press 1974 [1972].
12. Semi-structured in-depth interview in Italian with Alisa Del Re, Padua, 2 June 1999, in Gun Cuninghame, Patrick, Autonomia, Movement of Refusals ― Social Movements and Conflict in Italy in the 1970s, unpublished PhD thesis, London, Middlesex University, 2002.
13. Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, email message, 22 September 2005.
14. De Luca, Stefano. “Il Movimento Feminista: Dall'emancipazione all'enfasi per la “diversità”“. Storia, No. 24 , May 2007:; accessed January 9, 2009.
15. A newspaper linked to Autonomia Operaia Organizzata (Organized Workers Autonomy ) in Milan, a neo-Leninist tendency within Autonomia which sought leadership over the movement and clashed with the feminist movement in Rome in 1975.
16. Various authors, “Lavoro domestico e salario “, Rosso, No. 11, (1st ed.), June, 1974, p. 34.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Name of the largest and nationally most extensive New Left organisation and its national daily newspaper. Founded in 1969, it was particularly strong among FIAT car workers in Turin, and a rival organization to Potere Operaio and Autonomia Operaia [AO]. LC dissolved itself in 1976 at its annual conference in Rimini following the decision by its women members to leave en masse in protest at the leadership’s failure to condemn an attack on a women’s march in Rome by Lotta Continua and AO militants the previous year (see footnote 40).
20. See also Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, “Di chi è il corpo di questa donna? “, Foedus, no. 19, 2007.
21. First appeared in 1976, edited by the CWfH (Committee for Wages for Housework) of Padua. The editors defined it as a “newspaper-collage “ formed by words, drawings and photographs. It spread news on struggles by women in their homes, factories and schools against the work and exploitation they were forced to assume. See Moroni, P. & Balestrini, N. La horda de oro 1968-1977. La gran ola revolucionaria y creativa, política y existencial. Madrid: traficantes de sueños, 2006 [1988]. Translated from Italian to Spanish by M.Bogazzi, H.Arbide, P.Iglesias, J.Bonet i Martí, D.Gámez, J.Gual, R.Sánchez Cedillo and A.Méndez. [Available online].
22. Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, 2002, op.cit.
23. Particularly in her classic text, The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labour and Capital, New York, Autonomedia, 1995 [1978].
24. The discourse on the home as a site of production and reproduction of labour power, on the family as the primary unit in which such work is performed, on housework as the specific form of the work of reproduction, and on woman as the subject of this work was first defined by Mariarosa Dalla Costa, op. cit. 1974.
25. Dalla Costa, Giovanna F., Un Lavoro d’Amore, La Violenza Fisica Componente Essenziale del “Trattamento “ Maschile nei confronti delle Donne, Rome, Edizioni delle donne, 1978. My translation. Subsequently translated by Enda Brophy, with a new introduction by Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and published in 2008 by Autonomedia, New York, as The Work of Love. Unpaid Housework, Poverty and Sexual Violence at the Dawn of the 21st Century.
26. This definition appeared for the first time in Italy in Collettivo Internazionale Femminista (eds.) Le operaie della casa, Padova-Venezia, Marsilio, 1974. This has been the title of a bi-monthly new-journal of feminist autonomy since no.0 of 1 May, 1975 (Note by Mariarosa Dalla Costa, 2006).
27. See also: di Paola, Furio, “Per un Dibattito su Militanza e Organizzazione Proletaria in Bisogni, Crisi della Militanza, Organizzazione Proletaria “, Quaderni di Ombre Rosse, No.1, Savelli, Rome 1977, p. 98. (Note by Mariarosa Dalla Costa, 2006).
28. Dalla Costa, Giovanna F., op. cit., p. 9. We have recuperated this definition from the women activists of [LF] who first used it in 1972. See “L'Offensiva “, Quaderni di Lotta Femminista, No.1, Turin, Musolini, 1974 [1972], p. 21. (Note by Mariarosa Dalla Costa, 2006).
29. Ibid.
30. Among the approximately 200 armed groups which proliferated during the “second wave “ of armed conflict in the late 1970s, there were also several feminist organisations which carried out acts of violence against sweatshops where mainly women workers were being exploited and against those doctors who, claiming to be “conscientious objectors “, refused to carry out abortions in the public sector while performing them in their own private clinics. See Ruggiero, Vincenzo, “Sentenced to Normality, The Italian Political Refugees in Paris “, Crime, Law and Social Change, No. 19, 1993, pp. 33-50.
31. Semi-structured in-depth interview with Laura Corradi. Durban, South Africa, 27th July 2006.
32. A libertarian split from the Italian Liberal Party and one of the few parliamentary parties opposed to the emergency laws, mass arrests and drastic increase in the abuse of human rights between 1979 and 1983. A woman member, Giogiana Masi, was shot dead in Rome in May 1977 by police disguised as Autonomia militants during a peaceful protest against the government’s decision to ban all marches for three months.
33. One of the most important feminist intellectuals, co-founder in the 1960s of the counter-cultural magazine L’Erba Voglio [the grass I want] and author of L’ infamia originaria.
34. The information in this paragraph is based on a semi-structured in-depth interview in Italian with three women informants involved in Autonomia, Milan, August 1998, and an article from Rosso (14 February 1976, p. 9).
35. Interview with Alisa Del Re – 26th July 2000, Hwiki Political [web site]: ... LUGLIO2000.
36. Internal self-defence organization, responsible for protecting marches from police and neo-fascist attacks, but sometimes also from rival New Left groups.
37. Man woman united in the struggle.
38. Semi-structured interview with informant from Milan.
39. The sweatshops characteristic of the postfordist decentralized network mode of production which became increasingly widespread in Italy from the mid Seventies onwards, employing mainly non-unionised young adults.
40. Semi-structured interview with informant from Milan.
41. “At a mass demonstration to demand the right to abortion, the first visible expression of a separatism that had already been a political practice for several years, on December 6, 1975, an exponent of the New Left received a slap for having attempted to force his way through the servizio d’ordine [see note 36] which prevented admission to men in the demonstration. This was the first symbolization in the media of an unresolved dispute within the New Left, and of the difficulties of the Left, old and new, to manage what could no longer be presented as just one more variable of the main contradiction between capital and labour “ (Ballestrini & Moroni, op.cit., p.499).
42. Semi-structured interview with informant from Milan.
43. The most typical form of affective labour would be housework or any caring work within the community, although the category includes, extrapolating from Fortunati (op.cit), any form of labour involving an “exchange of immaterial use values “, such as sex work. For an analysis of immaterial and affective labour, see Lazzarato, Maurizio, “ Immaterial Labour “, Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds.), Radical Thought in Italy: a Potential Politics, trans. Paul Colilli and Ed Emory, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 133-147.
44. See
45. Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, “Autonomia della donna e retribuzione del lavoro di cura delle nuove emergenze “, Foedus, No. 19, 2007.
46. Payday is a network of men organising with the International Wages for Housework Campaign around the issues of domestic labour, welfare and childcare: ... nwomen.htm.
47. See
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:56 am

From then to now:

Indecorous and Free! Womyn's protests in Italy

In this latest phase of widespread political and economic crisis, the subject of sexuality has become crucial. In this context the role of women is once again determined and exploited by those in power, within an old traditional ideological perspective. We’ve surely needed a women’s mobilisation against the government and its PM for some time now, and not just because of the sexual scandals.


Italy is ranked amongst the lowest in Europe for freedom and quality of life for women – especially in a context where the government combines the dogmas of unconditional allegiance to Catholic fundamentalism on one hand and unrestrained liberalism on the other. Berlusconi has been the maker of brutal laws that victimise and stigmatise women’s bodies: the law on IVF*, the repealing of the law that made it illegal to “fairly dismiss” pregnant women**, the increase of state pension age. These are just some striking examples of the government’s politics. Other examples are the relentless attacks against the abortion law, the disqualifying and privatisation of the infrastructure (like sexual health centres), the war against the Month-After pill.

All this, in a country that deliberately disowns its youth and therefore its own future, cutting university funds and making work more and more precarious. Women and migrants are the most hard hit by this political system – both are denied fundamental guarantees for a free and dignified existence. Last but not least in this list, the creation of the CIE: proper concentration camps where women are constantly exposed to violence and abuse.***

The recent scandals involving the PM reveal a squalid picture of corruption, in which the woman’s role is defined by the worst possible stereotypes and expressions of an archaic and vulgar sexism. On the other hand though, some of the recent mobilisation address their appeals only to “good” women: mothers, wives, working women. This perspective assumes a separation between respectable and non respectable women, invoking a universal and abstract morality. The danger of this distinction is that it judgementally stigmatises women who “sell their bodies”, but not the sexist discourse and practices that create this twisted dynamic in the first place. Instead of opposing the traditional and regressive vision of sexuality, this kind of divisive morality serves to reinforce it.

We, on the other hand, believe the political questions that need to be asked are of a completely different nature. The redistribution of wealth between profiteers and those who are paying for this crisis, between those who own many buildings and those who don’t even have a house, between those who luxuriate on millionaire wages and those who are jobless: these are the crucial political questions. Above all, we think it’s time for women to speak out for themselves and express their opinions on topics that relate to them. For a long while now, women’s sexuality has been disciplined and controlled, ruled by procreation and male pleasure – in a devious picture where on one hand, prostitutes are being criminalised and marginalised through “security package” laws and moralistic campaigns and on the other, they are being used at men’s leisure in the political palaces.

It’s significant that the most difficult moment of Berlusconi’s government has been caused by a question that has at its heart gender and relationship issues. We have an extraordinary opportunity to incite a women’s revolt – a revolt that calls for a free and aware sexuality, devoid of commodification and imposed rules, and based on the acknowledgment of desires, liberation from sterotypes and self-determination.

* The law restricts the provision of fertility treatments to ‘stable heterosexual couples’ who live together and are of childbearing age, and who are shown to be clinically infertile. A survey carried out by the Reproductive Tourism Observatory in 2006 shows that the number of Italian couples travelling to other countries for such procedures has increased four-fold since the law was passed three years before.
** A common practice that hits pregnant women especially: employees are asked to sign a blank dismissal letter. The employer will then add a date and sack that person whenever they want to, for example, when a female employee gets pregnant. With the repealing of the law against this practice in 2008, women (and employees in general) have one less legal weapon to fight unfair dismissal.
*** Several migrant women locked up in Italian detention centres have denounced the violence, beatings and in some cases, rapes going on inside. For further info check out my previous articles on the blog.

This text was published in the days leading to the women’s demo of 13 February. As I didn’t have time to translate it before I have taken the liberty to adapt it and take out some parts strictly relating to the demo. Original article from Le Malefiche feminist blog. ... -and-free/
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Sun Apr 03, 2011 9:03 pm ... ndspending

The Tory 'big society' relies on women replacing welfare

Families with children will bear the brunt of privatisation and cuts – leaving carers with more unwaged work than ever

Selma James
Thursday 21 October 2010

The welfare state was a legacy of the second world war. After the misery of the great depression and the slaughter that followed, people demanded change: the welfare of people, including working-class people, was to be central. Millions demanded socialism – and the welfare state was what we got. From 1951 to 1979 the Tories were cautious, some even embracing the civilising influence of "entitlement": every human being's right not to starve, at least in the UK.

The cuts announced by George Osborne yesterday aim once again to make market forces rather than human beings the absolute social and economic priority, throwing us back to the inter-war years of deprivation.

One crucial advance had been that universal family allowance (now child benefit) acknowledged mothers as vital workers who produced the human race. As soon as suffrage was won, feminist Eleanor Rathbone, from a Liverpool anti-slavery family, had worked tirelessly to establish that mothers and children were entitled to an income independent of what men earned – or didn't earn. It would recognise the needs of children and the work and financial autonomy of their carers. Family allowance would redress the gross injustice of the penniless mother who had been economically "disinherited". Mothers and children, though unwaged, were, after all, most of the population.

Rathbone fought for that income to be universal: a mother of any class was entitled to payment for caring work; it was a right, not a charity. But Rathbone expected that this would guarantee women's financial independence, and was deeply disappointed.

As women have had to focus on other routes to financial independence over the years, the basic work of the reproduction of the human race has plunged as a social priority. Some feminists did very well out of competing on the market in a man's world. Housework was what their mothers did; they were above that. Their careers could pay for the help of other (lower-waged) women as nannies and cleaners.

Rathbone, on the other hand, knew that: "a people accustomed to measure values in terms of money will persist, even against the evidence of their own eyes, in thinking meanly of any kind of service on which a low price is set and still more meanly of the kind of service which is given for nothing".

Thatcher's "There is no such thing as society" and her hatred for "the culture of entitlement" has determined social policy since 1979. As soon as he came in, Blair called single mothers "workless", and cut one-parent benefit. The job of raising children, it seems, was a time-waster. This framed the recent Welfare Reform Act, which abolished income support, the benefit that recognised mothers' unwaged work, and in crucial respects frames the present cuts. Harriet Harman presented the one-parent cut; Yvette Cooper welfare reform. With what credibility can they oppose Tory cuts?

It has been noted that families with children will bear the brunt of cuts, while the childless two-income family will not. It is the carer who will carry the heaviest load because she has the greater responsibility. And not only for children who will lose education and other allowances, but for relatives with disabilities and pensioner parents whose local services will either be directly cut or contracted out, to be done by workers paid slave wages not to care, but to meet targets.

Mothers had escaped dependence by taking jobs as teachers, librarians, and other public sector jobs. At the same time, 60.3% of the two million single parents had been forced out to jobs (up from 44.7% in 1997) – even breastfeeding mothers are having to submit to work-focused interviews. Indeed the number of stay-at-home mothers has reached an all-time low as families struggled to make ends meet. Most of these women will be sent home by the cuts. Now what?

Their fate and that of children is unrealistically disconnected, and in any case children's wellbeing is never a consideration. There is little concern for what children are eating (ask Jamie Oliver); or for how many leave school illiterate; or how many are forced to be carers for disabled parents or for siblings when parents are out at work. Nor is child poverty addressed as a tragic scandal, which is why the looming increased impoverishment is not the shock it should be.

Structural adjustment policies, that is, the privatisation and cuts which devastated the developing world in the 80s and 90s, were based on women taking on even more unwaged work or going without – even when it meant starvation. In much the same way, the "big society" plans to drive women to replace decimated services with unwaged work. Our work as carers is again counted on, but never counted.

The cuts are premised on the absurd assumption that market forces are beyond human control. What happened to the free time that technology, for which we suffered unemployment and displacement, was to enable? We reject the prevailing ethos that parents spending time, and society spending resources, on caring is an unaffordable luxury, but obscene salaries, bonuses and weapons are not. Will we have to fight this out as they're doing in France?
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Sun Apr 17, 2011 8:44 pm

“Putting feminism back on its feet”

Silvia Federici

Social Text, No. 9/10, The 60′s without Apology (Spring – Summer, 1984), pp. 338-346

Conducted in New York City, summer 1983, by S. Sayres. Questions have been deleted.

Almost fourteen years have passed since I became involved with the women’s
movement. At first it was with a certain distance. I would go to some
meetings but with reservations, since to a “politico” like I was it seemed
difficult to reconcile feminism with a “class perspective.” Or this at least
was the rationale. More likely I was unwilling to accept my identity as a
woman after having for years pinned all my hopes on my ability to pass for
a man. Two experiences were crucial in my becoming a committed feminist.

First my living with Ruth Geller, who has since become a writer and recorded
in her Seed of a Woman the beginning of the movement, and who
in the typical feminist fashion of the time would continually scorn my enslavement
to men. And then my reading Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s The Power
of Women and the Subversion of the Community
(1970), a pamphlet that
was to become one of the most controversial feminist documents. At the
last page I knew that I had found my home, my tribe and my own self, as a
woman and a feminist. From that also stemmed my involvement in the
Wages for Housework campaign that women like Dalla Costa and Selma
James were organizing in Italy and Britain, and my decision to start, in 1972,
Wages for Housework groups also in this country.

Of all the positions that developed in the women’s movement, Wages
for Housework was likely the most controversial and often the most antagonized.
I think that marginalizing the struggle for wages for housework was
a serious mistake that weakened the movement. It seems to me now, more
than ever, that if the women’s movement is to regain its momentum and
not be reduced to yet another pillar of the meritocracy system, it must
confront the material condition of women’s lives.

Today our choices are more defined because we can measure what
we have achieved and see more clearly the limits and possibilities of the
strategies adopted in the past. For example, can we still campaign for
“equal pay for equal work” when wage differentials are being introduced
in what have been traditionally the strongholds of male working class
power? Or can we afford to be confused as to “who is the enemy,” when
the attack on male workers, by technological unemployment and wage
cuts, is used to contain our demands as well? And can we believe that liberation
begins with “getting a job and joining the union,” when the jobs we
get are at the minimum wage and the unions seem only capable of bargaining
over the terms of our defeat?

When the women’s movement started in the late 60s we believed it
was up to us women to turn the world upside down. Sisterhood was a call
to build a society free from power relations where we would learn to
cooperate and share on an equal basis the wealth our work and the work of
other generations before us have produced. Sisterhood also expressed a
massive refusal to be housewives, a position that, we all realized, is the first
cause of the discrimination against us. Like other feminists before us we
discovered that the kitchen is our slaveship, our plantation, and if we want
to liberate ourselves we first have to break with our identification with
housework and, in Marge Piercy’s words, refuse to be a “grand coolie
damn.” We wanted to gain control over our bodies and our sexuality, to
put an end to the slavery of the nuclear family and of our dependence on
men, and explore what kind of human beings we would want to be once
we free ourselves from the scars centuries of exploitations have left on us.

These, despite emerging political differences, were the goals of the
women’s movement and to achieve them we gave battle on every front. No
movement, however, can sustain itself and grow unless it develops a strategic
perspective unifying its struggles and mediating its long term objectives
with the possibilities open in the present. This sense of strategy is what has
been missing in the women’s movement, which has continually shifted between
a utopian dimension posing the need for a total change and a day to
day practice that assumed the unchangeability of the institutional system.

One of the main shortcomings of the women’s movement has been
its tendency to overemphasize the role of consciousness in the context of
social change, as if enslavement were a mental condition and liberation
could be achieved by an act of will. Presumably, if we wanted, we could
stop being exploited by men and employers, raise our children according
to our standards, come out and, starting from the present, revolutionize our
day to day life. Undoubtedly some women already had the power to take
these steps, so that changing their lives could actually appear as an act of
will. But for millions these recommendations could only turn into an imputation
of guilt, short of building the material conditions that would make
them possible. And when the question of the material conditions was
posed, the choice of the movement was to fight for what seemed compatible
with the structure of the economic system, rather than for what would
expand our social basis and provide a new level of power for all women.

Though the “utopian” moment was never completely lost, increasingly,
feminism has operated in a framework in which the system-its goals,
its priorities, its productivity deals-is not questioned and sexual
discrimination can appear as the malfunctioning of an otherwise perfectible
institution. Feminism has become equated with gaining equal opportunity
in the labor market, from the factory to the corporate room, gaining equal
status with men and transforming our lives and personalities to fit our new
productive tasks. That “leaving the home” and “going to work” is a pre-
condition for our liberation is something few feminists, already in the early
70s, ever questioned. For the liberals the job was coated in the glamor of
the career, for the socialists it meant that women would “join the class
struggle” and benefit from the experience of performing “socially useful,
productive labor.” In both cases, what for women was an economic necessity
was elevated into a strategy whereby work itself seemed to be a moment
of liberation. The strategic importance attributed to women’s “entering
the work-place” can be measured by the widespread opposition to our
campaign for wages for housework, which was accused of being economistic
and institutionalizing women in the home. Yet, the demand for wages
for housework was crucial from many viewpoints. First it recognized that
housework is work-the work of producing and reproducing the work
force–and in this way it exposed the enormous amount of unpaid labor
that goes on unchallenged and unseen in this society. It also recognized that
housework is the one problem all of us have in common, thus providing
the possibility of uniting women around a common objective and fighting
on the terrain where our forces are strongest. Finally it seemed to us that
posing “getting a job” as the main condition to becoming independent of
men would alienate those women who do not want to work outside the
home because they work hard enough taking care of their families and if
they “go to work” do it because they need the money and not because
they consider it a liberating experience, particularly since “having a job”
never frees you from housework.

We believed that the women’s movement should not set models to
which women would have to conform, but rather devise strategies to expand
our possibilities. For once getting a job is considered necessary to our
liberation the woman who refuses to exchange her work in a kitchen for
work in a factory is inevitably branded as backward and, beside being ignored,
her problems are turned into her own fault. It is likely that many
women who were later mobilized by the New Moral Majority could have
been won to the movement if it had addressed their needs. Often when an
article appeared about our campaign, or we were invited to talk on a radio
program, we received dozens of letters by women who would tell us about
their lives or at times would simply write: “Dear Sir, tell me what I have to
do to get wages for housework.” Their stories were always the same. They
worked like slaves with no time left and no money of their own. And there
were older women starving on Supplementary Security Income (SSI) who
would ask us whether they could keep a cat, because they were afraid that
if the social worker found out their benefits would be cut. What did the
women’s movement have to offer to these women? Go out and get a job so
that you can join the struggles of the working class? But their problem was
that they already worked too much, and eight hours at a cash register or on
an assembly line is hardly an enticing proposition when you have to juggle
it with a husband and kids at home. As we so often repeated, what we need
is more time, more money, not more work. And we need daycare centers,
but not just to be liberated for more work, but to be able to take a walk,
talk to our friends or go to a women’s meeting.

Wages for housework meant opening a struggle directly on the question
of reproduction, and establishing that raising children and taking care
of people is a social responsibility. In a future society free from exploitation
we will decide how this social responsibility is best absolved and shared
among us. In this society where money governs all our relations, to ask for
social responsibility is to ask that those who benefit from housework
(business and the state as the “collective capitalist”) pay for it. Otherwise
we subscribe to the myth-so costly for us women-that raising children
and servicing those who work is a private, individual matter and that only
“male culture” is to blame for the stifling ways in which we live, love and
congregate with each other. Unfortunately the women’s movement has
largely ignored the question of reproduction, or offered only individual solutions,
like sharing the housework, which do not provide an alternative to
the isolated battles many of us have already been waging. Even during the
struggle for abortion most feminists fought just for the right not to have
children, though this is only one side of control over our bodies and reproductive
choice. What if we want to have children but cannot afford to raise
them, except at the price of not having any time for ourselves and being
continuously plagued by financial worries? For as long as housework goes
unpaid, there will be no incentives to provide the social services necessary
to reduce our work, as proved by the fact that, despite a strong women’s
movement, subsidized day care has been steadily reduced through the 70s.

I should add that wages for housework never meant simply a paycheck. It
also meant more social services and free social services.
Was this a utopian dream? Many women seemed to think so. I know,
however, that in Italy, as a result of the student movement, in several cities
during the hours when students go to school, buses are free; and in Athens,
until 9 A.M., during the time when most people go to work, you do not pay
on the subway. And these are not rich countries. Why, then, in the United
States, where more wealth is accumulated than in the rest of the world,
should it be unrealistic to demand that, e.g., women with children be
entitled to free transportation, since everybody knows that at $3 a trip, no
matter how high your consciousness is raised, you are inevitably confined
to the home. Wages for housework was a reappropriation strategy, expanding
the famous “pie” to which workers in this country are considered
entitled. It would have meant a major redistribution of wealth from the rich
in favor of women and male workers as well, since nothing would so
quickly de-sexualize housework as a paycheck for it. But there was a time
when money was a dirty word for many feminists.

One of the consequences of the rejection of wages for housework is
that almost no attempt was made to mobilize against the attack on welfare
benefits that unfolded since the beginning of the 70s and that the struggles
of welfare mothers were undermined. For if it is true that housework
should not be paid, then women on ADC (Aid to Dependent Children) are
not entitled to the money they receive, and the state is right in trying to
“make them work” for their checks. Most feminists had towards women
on welfare the same attitude many have towards “the poor”: compassion at
best, but not identification with their condition, though it was generally
agreed that we are all “a husband away from a welfare line.”

Another example of the divisions fostered by the politics of the
movement is the history of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Feminists
mobilized when CLUW was formed in 1974, and by the hundreds participated
in the founding conference held in Chicago in March of that year. But
when a group of welfare mothers led by Beulah Sanders and the wives of
the miners on strike at Harlan County asked to participate, claiming they
too were workers, they were turned down (with the promise, however, of
a “solidarity dinner” on that Saturday) because, they were told, the conference
was reserved to card carrying union members.

The history of the last five years has shown the limits of these politics.
As everybody admits, “women” has become synonymous with “poverty,”
as women’s wages have been continuously falling both in absolute terms
and relative to male wages (72% of full-time working women make less
than $14,000, the majority averaging $9,000-$10,000, while women with
two children on welfare make $5,000 at best). Moreover, we have lost most
subsidized forms of child care and many women work on a cottage-industry
basis, at piece work rates, often below the minimum wage, because it is
the only possibility they have to earn some money and take care of their
children at the same time.

Feminists charged that wages for housework would isolate women in
the home. But are you less isolated when you are forced to moonlight and
have no money to go any place, not to mention the time to do political
work? Isolation is also being forced to compete with other women for the
same jobs, so that we see each other as competitors on the labor market
rather than as sisters in a struggle. And isolation is competing with a black
or a white man over who should be fired first. This is not to suggest that we
should not fight to keep our jobs. But a movement that purports to struggle
for liberation should have a broader perspective, particularly in a country
like the United States, where the level of accumulated wealth and technological
development make utopia a concrete possibility.

The women’s movement must realize that work is no liberation; work
in the present system is exploitation and there is no pleasure, pride or
creativity in being exploited. Even the career is an illusion as far as self-fulfillment
is concerned. What is rarely acknowledged is that most career-type
jobs require that you exert power over other people, often other women
and this deepens the divisions between us. We try to escape blue collar or
clerical ghettos in order to have more time and hopefully more satisfaction
only to discover that the price we pay for advancing is the distance that
intervenes between us and other women. Moreover, there is no discipline
we impose on others that we do not at the same time impose on ourselves,
which means that in performing these jobs we actually undermine our own

Even holding a position in the academic world is not a road to becoming
more fulfilled or more creative. In the absence of a strong women’s
movement working in academia can be stifling, because you have to meet
standards you do not have the power to determine and soon begin to speak
a language that is not your own. And from this point of view it does not
make a difference whether you teach Euclidean geometry or women’s history;
though women’s studies still provide an enclave that, relatively speaking,
allows us to be “more free.” But little islands are not enough. It is our
relation to intellectual work and academic institutions that needs to be
changed. Women’s Studies are reserved to those who can pay or are willing
to make a sacrifice, adding a school day to the workday in continuing education
courses. But all women should have free access to school, for as long
as studying is a commodity we have to pay for, or a step in the famous “job
hunt” our relation to intellectual work is nearly impossible.

In Italy in 1973 the metalmechanic workers won as part of their contract
150 hours of school on paid work-time and shortly after many other
workers began to appropriate this possibility, even if it was not in their contract.
More recently in France a school reform proposed by the Mitterand
government opened access to the university to women, independently of
any qualifications. Why hasn’t the women’s movement posed the question
of liberalizing the university, not simply in terms of what subjects should be
studied, but in terms of eliminating the financial cost of studying?

I am interested in building a society where creativity is a mass condition
and not a gift reserved to the happy few, even if half of them are women.
Our story at present is that of thousands of women who are agonizing
over the book, the painting or the music they can never finish, or cannot
even begin, because they have neither the time nor money. We must also
broaden our conception of what it means to be creative. At its best, one of
the most creative activities is being involved in a struggle with other people,
breaking out of our isolation, seeing our relations with others change, discovering
new dimensions in our lives. I will never forget the first time I
found myself in a room with 500 other women, on New Year’s Eve 1970,
watching a feminist theatre group: it was a leap in consciousness few books
had ever produced. In the women’s movement this was a mass experience.
Women who had been unable to say a word in public would learn to give
speeches, others who were convinced they had no artistic skills would
make songs, design banners and posters. It was a powerful collective experience.

Overcoming our sense of powerlessness is indispensable for
creative work. It is truism that you cannot produce anything worthwhile
unless you speak to what matters in your life and are excited about what
you write or draw. Brecht used to say that whatever is produced in boredom
can only generate boredom and he was right. But in order to translate
our pains and pleasures into a page or a song we must have a sense of
power, enough to believe that our words will be heard. This is why the
women’s movement saw a true explosion of creativity. Think of journals
from the early 70s like Notes from the First Year, (1970), No More Fun and
, (1970), or the Furies, (1971), such powerful language, almost all of
a sudden, after we had been mute for so long.

It is power-not power over others but against those who oppress us
- that expands our consciousness, not vice versa as it is mistakenly assumed.
I have often said that our consciousness is very different depending
on whether we are with 10,000 women in the streets, or in small groups or
alone in our bedrooms. This was the strength the women’s movement gave
to us. Women who ten years earlier may perhaps have been subdued suburban
housewives called themselves Witches and sabotaged bridal fairs, dared
to be blasphemous, proposing, as in the SCUM Manifesto (1967), suicidal
centers for men, and from the vantage point of our position at the bottom
declared that we had to shake the entire social system off its foundations.

But it is the moderate soul of the movement that has prevailed. Feminism
now is winning the ERA, as if the objective of women’s struggles were the
universalization of the male condition. Let me emphasize, since criticism of
the ERA is usually taken as a betrayal of the movement, that I am not against
a legislative act stating we are equal to men. I am against concentrating our
energies around a law that at best can have a limited effect on our lives. We
should also decide in what respect we want to be equal to men, unless we
assume that men are already liberated. One type of equality we should refuse
is equality in the military, i.e. women’s right to have a combat role.

This is a goal organizations like NOW have campaigned for for years, so
much so that the defeat of Carter’s proposal to draft women could be represented
as a feminist defeat. But if this is feminism I am not a feminist, because
I don’t want to assist the U.S. imperialistic politics and perhaps die in
the process. To fight for equal rights in this case undermines the struggle
men are waging to refuse the draft. For how can you legitimize your struggle
when what you refuse is presumably considered a privilege by the other
half of the population? Another example is protective legislation. There is
no doubt that protective legislations were always instituted with the sole
purpose of excluding women from certain jobs and certain unions, and not
out of concern for our well-being. But we cannot simply demand that protective
legislation be struck down in a country where every year 14,000
people on an average die in work-related accidents, not to mention those
who remain maimed or die slowly of cancer or chemical intoxication.

Otherwise the equality we gain is the equality of black lungs, the equal right
to die in a mine, as women miners have already done. We need to change
working conditions for both women and men, so that everybody is protected.
The ERA, moreover, does not even begin to address the question of
housework and childraising, though as long as they are our responsibility,
any notion of equality is doomed to remain an illusion.

I am convinced these are the issues the women’s movement must
confront if it wants to be an autonomous political force. Certainly there is
now a widespread awareness of feminist issues. But feminism risks becoming
an institution. There is hardly a politician who dares not to profess
eternal devotion to women’s rights, and wisely so, since what they have in
mind is our “right to work,” for our cheap labor is a true cornucopia for the
system. Meanwhile feminist heroines are no longer Emma Goldman or
Mother Jones, but Sally Ride, the first woman in space, the ideal symbol of
the self-reliant, highly skilled woman capable of conquering the most secluded
male territories, and Mrs. Wilson, the head of the National Caucus
who, despite her pregnancy, decided to run for a second term.

It is also a sign of the crisis in the women’s movement that at the time
when this country is witnessing the most intense attack on working people
since the Depression and a militarization foreboding another world war, the
main debate among feminists is about the vices and virtues of sadomasochism.
Glorifying sado-masochism seems to me a step back with respect to
the “woman-loving-woman” relations we wanted to build in the movement.

I also think that sado-masochistic desires are the product of a society
where sexuality is so emmeshed with power relations that sexual pleasure
and violence, either suffered or inflicted, are difficult to separate. It is good
that we stop feeling guilty for our “perversions,” and what perversion, by
the way, compared with what is daily carried on by this government as the
highest example of morality. Sticking pins in each other’s breasts is an act of
great civilization compared with what takes place daily at the White House.
It is also good that we play out our fantasies at a time when we are continuously
asked to center our lives around church, work, and the heterosexual
couple. But is practising sado-masochism liberating our sexuality? It may
have a therapeutic effect to admit to our secret desires and cease to be
ashamed of what we are. But liberation is being able to fully determine
when, under what conditions, with whom we make love, outside of any
exploitative relation.

The truth of the matter is our sexual lives have become quite boring
because the possibility of experimenting with new social relations has been
drastically reduced. In fact we have become quite boring to each other, for
when we are not on the move we have little to offer our friends except mutual
complaints, hardly a recipe for sexual excitement. So we prick our sensibility,
find new ways of stimulating ourselves. Actually they are old ways,
what is new is that now women are openly practising them. This is a new
area of equality we are opening up, it is like getting a job as a construction
worker. But liberation is being able to go beyond both.

There are signs today that the paralysis the women’s movement has
suffered from may be coming to an end. A turning point has been the
organization of the Seneca Women’s Encampment, which has meant the
beginning of a feminist-lesbian antiwar movement. With this our experiences
are coming full circle. The first feminist groups were formed by
women who had been active in antiwar organizations but had discovered
that their “revolutionary brothers” so sensitive to the needs of the exploited
of the world would blatantly ignore theirs, unless they took their
struggle into their own hands. Now, fourteen years later, women are
building their antiwar movement and starting directly from their needs.
Today the revolt of women against all types of wars is visible all over
the world: from Greenham Common to Seneca Falls, from Argentina,
where the mothers of the desparecidos have been in the forefront of the
resistance to military repression to Ethiopia, where this summer women
have taken to the streets to reclaim their children the government has
drafted. A women’s antiwar movement is particularly crucial in a country
which seems bent on asserting, by the power of its bombers, its domination
over the planet.

In the 60s we were inspired by the struggles of the Vietnamese
women, who showed to us we too can fight and change the course of the
world. Today we should be warned by the despair we see on women’s
faces cast every night on our screens as they crowd into refugee camps, or
wander with their children among the wrecks of their homes destroyed by
the bombs our wage cuts have paid for. For unless we regain our impulse to
change this society from the bottom up, the agony they presently suffer
may soon be our own.
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby Stephen Morgan » Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:01 am

I don't see what you're getting at.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible. -- Lawrence of Arabia
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Tue Apr 19, 2011 4:29 am

My work on compiling this thread was based on reading and exploration that I have been doing independent of this board.

My intention has been to present some specific perspectives on the economic aspects of what might be commonly referred to as "love" (as the title suggests) and to tell a bit of the story of related activity for social change concerning those issues.
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby Pele'sDaughter » Tue Apr 19, 2011 8:40 am

Heard a headline about this on the radio the other day. I think it make sense that more women (and people in general) are seeking financial security at this time. I can also imagine there's "The Real Housewives of ...." effect on some women. ... rrying-up/

More women are marrying men who are better-educated than they are and have more earning potential than they do.

A study by the Centre for Policy Studies, a think tank in England, found that in 1949, 20 percent of women married men with significantly higher levels of eduction (and thus more earning potential) than their own. That figure had jumped to 38 percent by the late '90s. While the data in the study was taken from Great Britain, this same trend of "marrying up" exists in the rest of Europe, Australia and the United States.

Dr. Catherine Hakim, the sociologist who authored the study, also found evidence that, despite this trend, women continue to downplay that they are looking for a higher-income partner. Hakim believes women do this because it's "politically incorrect" for them to give the impression they want to be a housewife.

Bad news for any fellow earning a humble blogger's salary, if we do say so ourselves.
Don't believe anything they say.
And at the same time,
Don't believe that they say anything without a reason.
---Immanuel Kant
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Tue Apr 19, 2011 1:16 pm

Capitalism at its worst takes our highest potentials- those towards love, solidarity, and real intimacy- and distorts things so grossly that we become mere commodities, objects to be manipulated.

We can do better- and I hope that we will- but to do so we must deal with the system that frames and defines our lives.
"If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything."
-Malcolm X
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby Stephen Morgan » Tue Apr 19, 2011 2:32 pm

Pele'sDaughter wrote:A study by the Centre for Policy Studies, a think tank in England, found that in 1949, 20 percent of women married men with significantly higher levels of eduction (and thus more earning potential) than their own. That figure had jumped to 38 percent by the late '90s. While the data in the study was taken from Great Britain, this same trend of "marrying up" exists in the rest of Europe, Australia and the United States.

Doesn't it seem odd that such a trend would establish itself in the period of least economic instability in recorded history?

Anyway this is something of a self-limiting trend, assuming it exists at all and that men aren't also inclined to "marry up", as it were. The average educational attainment of females is currently significantly higher than for males, especially so in that women going to university outnumber men by a significant margin. Now I ain't no fancy-dan mathsematician, but that doesn't add up.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible. -- Lawrence of Arabia
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby Sounder » Wed Apr 20, 2011 7:43 am

AD wrote…
Capitalism at its worst takes our highest potentials- those towards love, solidarity, and real intimacy- and distorts things so grossly that we become mere commodities, objects to be manipulated.

Yes, and it will remain so as long as we submit to a psychical conditioning system that measures success by ones ability to manipulate.

We can do better- and I hope that we will- but to do so we must deal with the system that frames and defines our lives.

I was trying to make the point in opetero’s thread that there are intangible values in all transactions that have little to do with money. It is possible for us to create a psychical conditioning system that points our attention toward these values and away from our apparent but not really inherent drive to acquire.

All people have things to give and things that they need. In a healthy society relations and connections are made that accommodate both. But under a system that rewards takers much more than givers, wants will become needs and parasitism will become the highest form of success.

But if people were really interested in changing this sucky ‘system’, they would do less complaining and more analyzing. (Complaining seems like the same old manipulation game.)
Last edited by Sounder on Wed Apr 20, 2011 5:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
All these things will continue as long as coercion remains a central element of our mentality.
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby Canadian_watcher » Wed Apr 20, 2011 9:43 am

Sounder wrote:
But if people were really interested in changing this sucky ‘system’, they would do less complaining and more analyzing. (Complaining seems like the same old manipulation game.)

Come on now, complaint foments most analysis.
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.-- Jonathan Swift

When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. -- Jonathan Swift
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Re: Economic Aspects of "Love"

Postby American Dream » Wed Apr 20, 2011 10:29 am

I'm going to post this excerpt from the OP because I think it bears repeating:
"Men and women have never been so irreconcilably divided as they are under capitalism--but never also, has the mode of production itself provided the potential means to destroy the power structure. Going beyond any historical judgement of what capitalism has represented, its continuing existence today means barbarism, not only because it represents the theft of non-waged work from women--who are obliged to live in isolation, semi-dependent on men--but also because it is the theft of non-waged work from the man. Women are forced to work for capital through the individuals they "love." Women's love is in the end the confirmation of both men's and their own negation as individuals. Nowadays, the only possible way of reproducing oneself or others, as individuals and not as commodities, is to dam the stream of capitalist "love"--a "love" which masks the macabre face of exploitation--and transform relationships between men and women, destroying men's mediatory role as the representatives of state and capital in relation to women. The only realistic program for sex equality is one for the non-exploitation of both."
[emphasis added]
"If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything."
-Malcolm X
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