work, feminism and private life

[From Madeleine Bunting’s ‘Willing Slaves: How the overwork culture is ruling our lives’ (2004, p306-7) after a section on the commercialisation of intimate life – paid therapists for emotional support, paid visitors for your nursing-homed mother, etc:]

Ten years ago, there was still a debate about whether women should be working; young women now regard the idea that they should stay at home as simply absurd. Some debates have been settled, but that only increase the stakes of those questions which remain.

A new and dangerous frontier has been opened up: if women have moved into the workplace only for their traditional caring labour to be abandoned, outsourced or squeezed to the edges, we will all suffer for it. The mission of feminism to achieve equality will hijacked by a capitalism eager for cheap, flexible labour and emotional skills on its terms. What we will reap is exhausted men and women, neglected children, loneliness, relationship breakdown and everyone short-changed of the well-being which is a product of the bonds of care. This threatens a commodification of the emotional life; in parallel developments emotional skills play an ever bigger part in the labour market while private emotional relationships are starved of the time and energy which they need to flourish, and are then outsourced. This would be the final triumph of market capitalism, whereby the separate sphere which once belonged to women, and from which the market was excluded – of the private life, of home and family – is opened up for commercialisation. The pressure bearing down on the reciprocity and commitment of these private relationships is colossal; it’s a tribute to the strength of many individuals that they struggle to hold true to their intuitive understanding of relationship. It would be a tragic betrayal of the grand vision of twentieth-century feminism if it had inadvertently contributed to the market

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