Reading Silvia Frederici – Wages for Housework

"Wages for housework" is one of the most revolutionary demands of feminist activists and women rights organizations worldwide. The history behind the Wages for Housework campaign is very powerful, and Silvia Frederici has quite of a lead in it. She reflects some of her activism experience through her book – Wages for Housework -, and the book is indeed, a profound read.


They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.

They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism.

Every miscarriage is a work accident.

Homosexuality and heterosexuality are both working conditions . . . but

homosexuality is workers’ control of production, not the end of work.

More smiles? More money. Nothing will be so powerful in destroying the

healing virtues of a smile.

Neuroses, suicides, desexualisation: occupational diseases of the housewife.

Silvia Frederici, Wages for housework


Silvia Federici is an Italian and American (outstanding) scholar, teacher, and activist from the radical autonomist feminist Marxist tradition. She is a professor emerita and Teaching Fellow at Hofstra University, where she was a social science professor. She was co-founder of the International Feminist Collective, and an organizer with the Wages for housework campaign in 1975.

Her book “Wages against housework” is considered one of the most famous and revolutionary feminist books. It is a book that touches the hearts and daily routines of women worldwide, as they see themselves being portrayed as individuals with multiple roles in a capitalist society, with no recognition.

What Frederici has done through this book, is that it has divided the chapters in such a way, to raise awareness towards our society why housework should be monetary recognized, and how this would help women reclaim their identities. The book is divided in three significant parts:

  • Part I: Theorizing and Politicizing Housework
  • Part II: Globalization and Social Reproduction
  • Part III: Reproducing Commons

The book, as Frederici states, collects more than thirty years of reflection and research on the nature of housework, social reproduction, and women’s struggles on this terrain—to escape it, to better its conditions, to reconstruct it in ways that provide an alternative to capitalist relations.

“It is a book that mixes politics, history, and feminist theory. But it is also one that reflects the trajectory of my political activism in the feminist and antiglobalization movements and the gradual shift in my relation to this work from “refusal” to “valorization” of housework, which I now recognize as expressive of a collective experience.”

The privilage of being housewife
The privilage of being housewife

Through the lines, a reader of any gender, age or other background can understand how housework has been considered as a natural aspect of women for such a long time so that most people now think it is their naturalized attribute. The society we live in tends to think that women should be privileged to have the chance to stay home and commit to a ‘labor of love’, thinking that she is obliged to do all those chores out of the love she feels towards her husband, children, brothers, etc. “Wages for housework” provide readers with a glimpse of reality, on how the literature of women’s movement has shown the devastating effects that this love, care and service have had on women. Frederici calls this labor of love the chains that have tied us to a condition of near-slavery, saying that we should refuse then to retain with us and elevate to a utopia the misery of our mothers and grandmothers and our own misery as children!

Silvia calls out for recognition and realisation of wages for housework, not to make women bound to the house even more, as some tend to think monetizing housework will do. Instead, she states that the difficulties and ambiguities that women express in discussing wages for housework stem from the fact that they reduce wages for housework to a thing, a lump of money, instead of viewing it as a political perspective. By doing so, they’re missing its significance in demystifying and subverting the role to which women have been confined in capitalist society.

Wages for Housework tackles so many different aspects of feminism, and even though it was written in 1975, it is relevant up to this day. Women’s rights have slightly improved, but achieving gender equality remains a utopian thing. The book discusses the lack of solidarity among women. Frederici emphasizes how, unfortunately, many women—particularly single women—are afraid of the perspective of wages for housework because they are afraid of identifying even for a second with the housewife. They know that this is the most powerless position in society and they do not want to realize that they are housewives too. According to her, this is precisely our weakness, as our enslavement is maintained and perpetuated through this lack of self-identification.

We want and must say that we are all housewives, she adds, that we are all prostitutes, and we are all gay, because as long as we accept these divisions, and think that we are something better, something different than a housewife, we accept the logic of the master. We are all housewives because, no matter where we are, they can always count on more work from us, more fear on our side to put forward our demands, and less insistence that they should be met, since presumably our minds are directed elsewhere, to that man in our present or our future who will “take care of us.”

Feminism and womens equality
Feminism and womens equality

If you think this review threw light in your feminist soul, then you should definitely look it up, as it’s also available through this link.

And we finish this article up, with a majestic quote from this book:

Our struggle for the wage opens for the waged and the unwaged alike the question of the real length of the working day. Up to now the working class, male and female, had its working day defined by capital—from punching in to punching out. That defined the time we belonged to capital and the time we belonged to ourselves. But we have never belonged to ourselves, we have always belonged to capital every moment of our lives and it is time that we make capital pay for every moment of it.”

Photos: Shutterstock

Read more reviews here:

A Reader’s Perspective: Interpreting “Kafka on the Shore” 


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