Here’s a depressing thought:

Is it possible that the main reason Feminism in the 1970’s was successful at getting middle-class women out of the home and into the workplace was because corporations realised they could use the extra workers?

Up to that point, society figured it needed it’s middle-class women at home. Of course, poorer women, and especially women of color, have always been expected to work outside the home, but they were easily ignored and forgotten by popular culture. As usual in the United States, it was the middle-class white family who set the standard of measurement, who made up the American narrative of identity.

The narrative went that women were needed at home to care for children and and maintain the home. A middle-class income wasn’t enough to hire servants, so it was necessary to have the wife there in order for the husband to continue working the long hours at the low wages he received. But with the invention of time saving technology like washing machines and pre-packaged food, the powers that be (I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t know who they are) realized that society doesn’t need women to work quite so long and hard at home anymore. And Capitalism – that ever expanding machine – needed more workers.

It worked out great because when they got Reagan to come along and depress wages and weaken the social security system, there wasn’t a revolt or a revolution. At least not among the middle-class. Working-class people started raising the alarm, but middle-class families were still doing fine because now there were two income earners in the family.

Yeah it was exhausting, coming home after a full day of work and still having to cook the meals and do the laundry and clean the house, but it was worth it, right? Mothers were used to working 16 hour days and juggling multiple commitments, so they didn’t complain that they now had to clean and cook and take care of the kids after work, instead of during the day. How could they complain? They’d just won the “right to work,” for god’s sake! It was a privilege to do it all.

They didn’t even notice at first, when in the eighties and nineties, their household income started falling, when adjusted for inflation. Suddenly middle-class women looked around and realized that they weren’t just allowed to work outside the home now, they had no choice! Where 30 years ago, a family could live a comfortable middle-class life on just the husband’s income, now both partners had to work if they wanted to maintain that lifestyle. (And even that is up for question these days.)

It just might have been the biggest con of the century – the 20th century, of course. Don’t get me started on the 21st….

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Tara Loughran

Tara Loughran

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