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FEMINISM: BEYOND PATRIARCHY

Hysteria Magazine

Hysterical Feminisms

To politicise the oppressed is to engage them in dialogue, to raise awareness and provide them with the knowledge necessary for them to emancipate themselves and society as a whole. The process of fighting for gender equality is commonly termed feminism. Yet unlike the other freedom movements of caste, race and class, in which the respective populace often agree that they are oppressed, women’s rights movement must contend with dismantling internalized beliefs that women’s subjugation is natural.

Heterosexual and familial relationships often command great social control. The replication of wider gender oppression within these smaller units is rife. Thus women are subjected to a ‘dual-oppression’: one domestic and the other social. This duality leads women to endure intra-antagonisms beyond those experienced by other oppressed groups. Sexism in many heterosexual domestic relationships is so naturalized that many women often dismiss or overlook it. One could even term this situation ‘tamed slavery’. Women are tamed through societal insistence on submissiveness as a desirable feminine trait, a process that privileges men and disempowers women.

Feminist movements have long put forward the theory of patriarchy as a structural method of analyzing gender oppression. The 1980s saw mainstream feminism’s increasing shift from this theory towards the concept of intersectionality. Crenshaw’s theory argues that the systemic oppression of women is multi-layered, interrelated, and influenced by intersecting systems of race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity. Yet often missing from this broader analysis of oppression is an acknowledgement of the role of class. This approach allows for greater structural analysis of the present and provides a stronger framework on which a future egalitarian society might be based.

Oppression operates on both ideological and material levels. Gender, race, religion, caste, ability, nationality, sexuality and cultural oppressions have ideological origins while the roots of class oppression are material. Yet in practice both these categories overlap, as ideology cannot be enforced without material effects. Hegemony, the standardization of ruling class norms and the ensuing entrenchment of ruling class power, comes about through lived experience.

Feminism cannot afford to ignore the material conditions that give rise to the spectrum of gender oppression. A blinkered focus only on ideological factors results in too narrow an approach. Casting feminism as an isolated issue belies its strong links with other freedom movements and results in conflicts and hostility with other liberation struggles.

Let me ask this: would the abolition of patriarchy—the male domination structure—lead to the abolition of racial, religious, caste-based, sexuality-based, and ability-based oppression?

No. Not at all. Furthermore, with an atomized approach we cannot identify the root cause of this social discrimination. If we have to choose to eliminate one oppression after the other, it will again have its own consequences and antagonisms. Moreover, when the base is not altered, different variations of hegemony will manifest and emerge again over a period of time.

Oppression, an agent of hegemony, cannot have existed from time immemorial.  We therefore need to probe into the historical evolution of the issue. In the case of women, we can see from historical studies that human beings lived in groups, as in communes, and, according to some studies, biological paternity was not considered an important issue. “It was long thought – and it still is believed in certain primitive matriarchal societies – that the father plays no part in conception…”[1]

In a matriarchal society women held higher positions to men, gathered food, went hunting, led the clan and people were not subjected to any form of oppression. We may call it primitive communism. “The communistic household implies the supremacy of women in the house… because of the impossibility of determining the natural father with certainty, signifies high esteem for women…”[2]

A study of the past society reveals that production did not happen for the accumulation of wealth; there were no ‘goods’, there was no money and essentially there was no buying of labour. Subsequently there was also no exploitation and no hegemony. “Production at all former stages of society were essentially collective, and, likewise, consumption took place by the direct distribution of the products within larger or smaller communistic communities.”[3]

Production of ‘things’ is necessary for human survival. It requires the use of raw materials, tools and auxiliary materials. Even if these are all available, production is not going to take place just by placing them next to each other: somebody has to work on it. Therefore, we require labour. We need both the means of production and labour in order to produce ‘things’. Developments in the production process led to division of labour and formation of classes. The conditions that contributed to the growth of the prevailing economic system became the social order of the society. Social scientists have codified various types of society as primitive (more or less communal), slave, feudal and capitalist. We shall deal with capitalist production that currently dominates the world economy and the feminist theory advocated by capitalism.

Under capitalism, production for survival turned into production for accumulation of wealth. Profit is not a natural mandate. It is harnessed by capitalists for accumulation of wealth, for which workers are subjected to ruthless working hours, under brutal working conditions. Marxists call this new value created by excess labour power ‘surplus value’ and this is appropriated by capitalists as profit. This appropriation of surplus value is the basis for the hegemonic social relations and its manifestations.

Karl Marx delineates the division of labour in the earlier modes of production and under capitalism, summarized below:

Under capitalism, division of labour is based on private property and thus the owner–wage labourer relationship that emerges in this system is hierarchical. The labour relationship under capitalism saw the emergence of new mode of compensation for the labourer in the form of wages [money]; things became ‘goods’, means of production[4] became capital[5], and the exploitative formula was termed ‘profit’. This system of purchasing labour power by the owner of the means of production and the appropriation of surplus as profit is called exploitation of labour. This mode of production and the economic system based on private property is called capitalism.

Let us first briefly analyse social relations and then probe into personal relations at household level, as the division of labour is visible in both.

We as humans have to produce and consume in order to survive. Production is an economic activity, and a determinant of human life. Thus, human beings on both an individual and social level are subjected to product and labour relations. If labour relations are exploitative and unfair, it is very apparent that the resultant social relations will also be exploitative and unfair.

If a mode of production and the resultant hegemonic social order are materially based, limiting the feminist struggle to only patriarchy or any such ideological forms would be deficient. For argument’s sake, if we agree that by eliminating patriarchy we manage to establish gender equality,

  • how do we stop war and famine?
  • How do we eliminate poverty?
  • How do we eliminate the commodification of women’s bodies?

Manmade social order underpinned by unchecked desire for wealth engenders conflicts and it does not allow fair distribution. Karl Marx defines this as class antagonism in relation to property. He categorizes antagonistic groups as: 1) bourgeoisie (who own the means of production and whose source of income is profit), 2) land owners (whose income is rent from tenancy), 3) proletariat (who own labour and sell it for wages).

With an isolated approach on antagonisms and formation of state we appeal to the state to demand political reforms, ignorant of the fact that state is directly and indirectly ruled by those who control the means of production and that the state apparatuses only exist to support the existing hierarchies of power:

“As the state arose from the need to keep class antagonisms in check, but also arose in the thick of the fight between the classes, it is normally the state of the most powerful, economically ruling class, which by its means becomes also the politically ruling class, and so acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class….”[6]

Engels here demonstrates that the state and its legislative, judiciary, and military apparatuses will only work for the benefit of the ruling classes. Constant struggle may yield piecemeal reform. Yet as long as the economic system remains capitalist, we will not achieve equality: the internal logic of capitalism demands divide and rule to ensure a permanent disadvantaged, low-waged underclass.

To those who may argue that this argument is economically deterministic, and that patriarchy and other forms of oppression existed before class conflict arose, this denies the interrelatedness of social and economic disempowerment. Women, people of colour, LGBT folks, and people with disabilities comprise the lowest-paid members of the workforce, while many others are also homebound, drowning in poverty or pushed into sex work because of unemployment.

From the above discussion, it is clear that the evolution of society from communal living, to slavery, feudalism, and capitalism led to the creation of a modern system intent on producing profit and accumulating private property. The laws of commodity production and increase in wealth by those who possess of means of production further reduced any equality between men and women. The family became an economic unit of the society, in which sexual division of labour developed in line with the tools and mode of production. “According to the division of labor then prevailing in the family, the procuring of food and the implements necessary thereto, and therefore, also the ownership of the latter, fell to the man.”[7]

With developments in stages of production, a third division of labour was introduced in which the means of production were plundered and acquired by groups that took no part in production. “Here a class appears for the first time which, without taking part in production, captures the management of production as a whole and economically subjugates the producers to its rule … and exploits them both.”[8]  Thus it is clear that working men, the owners of the means of production, were denuded of those means, and were subjugated into slave-labour under feudalism and later as wage-labour under capitalism. “The process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process which takes away from the laborer the possession of his means of production; a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage laborers”.[9]

The pursuit of profit by the owners of the means of production established hegemonic dependency through the process of appropriation, enslavement, and institutionalisation of the domesticated women living with the male breadwinners, while increasing the dependency of the breadwinner on the owner of the means of production for their living requirements.

Once again, it becomes evident that economic conditions and the consequent social order form the root cause of enslavement, in this context the enslavement of women, and the consequent ideological-social categorisation. This categorisation—the valuation and devaluation of different categories of labour power—allows for cheap labour and thus for profit accumulation. Further,under manifested power relations as patriarchy and capitalism, Woman, with her reproductive capacity, is devalued as a commodity of labour and is looked upon as a reproductive unit responsible for sustenance of labour power through maintenance of the labourer, as well as the reproduction of new labour power through procreation.

Thus, now that we have examined a root cause, or at least a catalyst, of patriarchy, we must ask, what process will eliminate the hegemony that perpetuates gender discrimination for cheap labour and control over women’s reproductive capacity?

Answer:  The end of capitalism—that which appropriated the means of production, that which enslaved us and subjugated us for the sake of attaining wealth, and made us dependent, even for basic survival; that which estranged labour; that which exploits the entire human race irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and even religion. Capitalism must be overthrown and a new mode of production based upon collective ownership over means of production established.

It is not in my aim to replace feminism with Marxism, yet the Marxist approach aims to liberate far more women than does bourgeois feminism, which is concerned primarily with eliminating patriarchy. The bourgeoisie feminist flock (of any gender and sexuality) that demands economic empowerment based on the female accumulation of private property is not egalitarian. What must be remembered here is that

“The granting of political equality to women does not change the actual balance of power. The proletarian woman ends up in the proletarian, the bourgeois woman in the bourgeois camp. We must not let ourselves be fooled by Socialist trends in the bourgeois women’s movement which last only as long as bourgeois women feel oppressed”.[10]  

However, though the bourgeoisie is the capitalist class,[11] the bourgeoisie feminist ideology, the ideology of the ruling class, often influences and embraces all classes of women, including the proletariat. Working class women, ignorant of the self-interested nature of bourgeois politics, are frequently seduced by its ideology and fall into libertarian camps.

It is from this understanding and position of solidarity on humanitarian basis, Marxists express solidarity to all women’s movements:

“.. this movement also contains a more profound spiritual and moral aspect. The bourgeois woman not only demands her own bread but she also requests spiritual nourishment and wants to develop her individuality… The economic as well as the intellectual and moral endeavors of bourgeois women’s rights advocates are completely justified”.[12]

Furthermore, Marx says:

“In short, the communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these Movements they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time”.[13]

In conclusion, patriarchy, though it may be a quasi-independent, as argued by bourgeoisie, in the present historical condition, it is comprised in or is absorbed by capitalism. Oppression is an exploitative mechanism and thus sex-based oppression is also found in capitalism with the motive providing cheap labour and higher profit. In the Indian context, this is further intensified by caste—another form of division of labour. Thus, patriarchy has become constituent of capitalism. Hence it is obvious that when the exploitation of labour based on private property is abolished and a socialist division of labour is established, patriarchy will also wither away[14] in the state, because under such equitable conditions, relationships between men and women will be more natural, as family will no longer be the economic unity of profit-oriented production.

“Men and women will not be bound together by pre-determined roles and notions of what is or is not ‘natural’, or out of economic necessity. Rather they will be free to enter into relationships which are suited to the emotional needs of the particular individuals concerned”.[15]

It is in this context that Marxist feminists suggest that the feminist struggle should be directed in the line of class struggle, alongside fighting the patriarchy. Such revolutionary struggles will carry the fight for: 1) equal division of household labour, 2) property rights 3) decision-making rights 4) fight for physical, cultural, and economic rights 5) fight for equal social division of labour of all and abolition of private property.

The eruption of the feminist self and of feminist politics if not anchored by class politics, if not brought into dialogue with socialist class struggle, will lose the at the emancipation of proletariat women.  So, if feminism intends to be all-encompassing, then socialism[16] is its guiding light. The new type of socialist society following the dictatorship of the Proletariat will not only be gender balanced, but also free of exploitation of labour, thus eliminating the encumbrance and conflicts arising out of dual labour. Such an existence will truly be a higher form[17] of living.

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Vintage, 1977, pg. 39

[2] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg. 49

[3] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg 170

[4] Simplified and generalized for the sake of briefing, natural resources and labour have been included in it, but labour is autonomous.

[5] Karl Marx explains it in detail in his works.

[6] https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/ch09.htm

[7] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg 55

[8] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg 162

[9] Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, pg.668

[10] Clara Zetkin,  https://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1896/10/women.htm

[11] “Bourgeoisie: Engels described the Bourgeoisie as the class of great Capitalists, who in all developed Countries are now almost exclusively in possession of all the means of Consumption, and of the raw materials and instruments (machines, factories), necessary for their production (Principles of Communism, 1847); and as ‘the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour’…. The Bourgeoisie, as in this sense the Economically dominant class, which also controls the State apparatus and Cultural production, stands in opposition to, and in conflict with, the working class….”, Tom Bottomore, A dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore, A Maya Blackwell book, 2nd edition. P. 36.

[12] Clara Zetkin,  https://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1896/10/women.htm

[13] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, combined edition with Economic and Philosphic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx, translated by Martin Milligan, Prometheus Books, New York, 1988. P. 243

[14] http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlets/women-and-socialism

[15] F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Progress Publishers, pg. 162

[16] As defined by Marx and Lenin, Socialism is essentially a transitional stage on the road to communism.

[17] Being a transitional stage it will be, as called by Marx ‘the higher stage of communist society’, under which the state will wither away, a totally different attitude to work will prevail, and society will be able to inscribe on its banner the motto ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. Tom Bottomore, A dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore, A Maya Blackwell book, 2nd edition. P. 500,501.

Related Links

Originally Published in: http://www.hystericalfeminisms.com/feminism-beyond-patriarchy/

To Read in Tamil: http://tinyurl.com/q9e2o7n

திருமணத்திற்கு கன்னித்தன்மை டெஸ்ட்! – நக்கீரன்

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Chithralekha arrested for filing complaint under SC/ST (PoA) Act against abusive block panchayat official

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M.A.S.E.S strongly condemn this act and requests the intervention of concerned authorities and Government. Pl share widely.

Chithralekha, the Dalit woman auto rickshaw driver from Payannur (who has been fighting the CITU/CPM in her locality for a long time now), and her husband Shreeshkanth, have been picked up by the police and arrested on the non-bailable offense of obstructing a government official in the conduct of his duties. The Government Official who is the Jila Panchayath SC officer ( M B Muralidharan, an upper caste man) had withheld Chithra’s loan, and she had questioned him on this. This happened in the month of January 2013. When Chithra questioned him, he abused her in the most derogatory way. Citing all this, Chithra had complained to the SC/ST commission and they had called her for a meeting about this case in June 2013. The said official was to be summoned under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. However, instead of doing that, the police has instead arrested Chithra and is right now taking her to the magistrate. They arrested her in a most stealthy way. First they booked a non existing traffic offense case against her and took away her autorickshaw by crane. When she went to inquire about this, she was told that there is a case against her, and she was arrested.

We urge dalit activists, women’s groups and concerned citizens to support Chithra in her struggle. Please protest against this gross injustice against a struggling dalit woman.

~~~~~

Please also read What I have to say: Chitralekha when Chitra was attacked by a mob of 30 men in the month of May, 2013 – she writes her account of that horrific incident and the attitude of the police towards her and her family.

 

Source: http://www.dalitweb.org/?p=2024&fb_source=message

Human Interest Story about me and MASES in JFW

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Modern Era Male Dominance – in CMPA

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Universal dominance of men in complex societies forces us to speak for empowering women. Till the end of nineteenth century, women have never occupied a position of higher status or greater political power than men in any society, anywhere, anytime. And, all the religious and mythological systems contain fictions to explain and justify the gender bias. Male domination has always been inherently social and it has not depended on individual characteristics! In India, The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, was enacted with the specific objective of prohibiting indecent representation of women through advertisement, publication, writing and painting or in any other manner.

Due to technology developments, internet, satellite based communication, audio-visual messaging etc constituted a new platform for doing disgrace to women. Hence, the Union Cabinet on October 11, 2012, made forwarding of pornographic multimedia messages from phones and internet liable for stringent punishment – imprisonment up to seven years with a fine upto Rs 5 lakhs. After making the amendments based on the recommendations of National Commission for Women, the Union Government stated “These amendments seek to ensure that more effective protection is provided against indecent representation of women by covering newer forms of communication like internet, multimedia messaging beyond the print and audio-visual media. This would aid in addressing the problem of increased objectification of women, thereby ensuring dignity of women”. More details are available at: www.ncw.nic.in/frmReportLaws04.aspx. In the given social structure, it is necessary for us to analyze every major social condition or process that has maintained women’s subordination at all levels.

Nirmala Kotravai, Founder, MASES – Movement Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexism, clearly emphasizes “In the name of radicalism and freedom, the male dominant ideological sphere of the modern era seems to treat women only as a product of sexual desire. Mass Media plays a very important role in ‘objectification’ of women.  The sexist (characterizing based on sex classification as male and female) ideology in mass media is reflecting in advertisements, item songs in films and in the gender roles. Few magazines who identify themselves as ‘political weeklies’ also engage themselves in this sexual exploitation by publishing ‘exposing’ pictures of actresses in the middle pages or cover pages. The term modernization seem to give justification for such male benefiting, male readership targeted exploitation of women’s body.  For the sake of ‘money’ Men objectify, women lend themselves to it, without realizing that it demeans the ‘self respect’ of women, it denigrates womanhood propagating that a woman is all about ‘flesh’ and ‘only flesh’.  It is proving to be set back in emancipation of woman. These men and women have to realize that while the male dominant ideological sphere grants them freedom to expose does it empower the women in decision making? Does it empower them to enter politics; does it honor the 33% reservation? Do women have rights over their reproductive capacity?  Tell a slave, he is a slave he will revolt, said Dr Ambedkar. Woman, modernization is converting you a modern slave, realize and revolt”. Further, Nirmala Kotravai clearly affirms “While we say Male dominance, one needs to understand that it is not about the dominance of an Individual Male but it is the ‘ideological’ structure which prevails in the society. This means that it is about the social structure built upon at the interest of Men assigning superiority to Men and propagates that Men are stronger and Women are weaker. There is no biological proof for such classification. Difference in characteristics is to be considered different and not as weaker”.

www.cmpaindia.com

Jeannette Rankin Award – – CMPA

Jeannette Rankin Award
For Women Empowerment

 

On November 7, 1916, the first woman ‘Jeannette Pickering Rankin’ was elected to the US Congress. Rankin was born on a ranch near Missoula, Montana Territory on June 11, 1880 and graduated in science at University of Montana. With inborn passion, she moved to New York to become a humanitarian and dedicated supporter of Progressive reforms. She began to advocate for civil rights, women’s rights, and a grassroots democracy that widened its participatory boundaries. She studied social legislation at the University of Washington, where she became involved in the woman suffrage movement. Rankin argued that slum conditions were worsened by women’s inability to vote.


In 1910 she returned to Montana to work for the emancipation of women. She declared that she was suspicious of governmental priorities set without women’s voice and argued that vote-denied women were being taxed without representation, echoing the famous credo from the American Revolution. Her work in the first women’s rights movement is closely linked to her pacifism and dedication to a peaceful foreign policy that would later define her Congressional contributions. She believed, as many women’s suffragists advocated during this period, that the corruption and dysfunction of the United States government was a result of a lack of feminine participation. As she states very clearly at a disarmament conference during the interwar years “The peace problem is a woman’s problem”.

On November 7, 1916 she was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana, becoming the first female member of Congress. She vigorously supported women’s suffrage, child protection laws and prohibition. Rankin turned her attention to work for peace also. Rankin used her fame and notoriety in this “famous first” position to work for peace and women’s rights and against child labor, and to write a weekly newspaper column. Jeannette Rankin said “I’m No Lady; I’m a Member of Congress”. Days after taking office, Jeannette Rankin made history in yet another way by voting against US entry into World War I. She violated protocol by speaking during the roll call before casting her vote, announcing “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war”.  Many people in media and public life attempted to discredit her with charges of Communist intentions.

After the war ended, Rankin continued to work for peace through the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and also began work for the National Consumers’ League. She worked, at the same time, on the staff of the American Civil Liberties Union. Jeannette Rankin passed away at Carmel, California, on  May 18, 1973, after leaving great messages to the women all over the world!

Today, in the world history, Rankin is the most inspiring role models for women empowerment. Rankin remained as active in politics as she could right up until her death. She continued to produce writing promoting women’s rights, peace, child welfare, and civil rights from her home which remained relevant in the civil rights movement of the era. Her career has left behind a legacy of controversy with some viewing her as impossibly idealistic, and others identifying her as an inspiration to be pursued. Her contributions to various feminist movements cannot be ignored, and continue to be relevant today.

In the governing body meeting on November 07, 2012, the Centre for Media & Public Affairs (CMPA) instituted an Award in the name of Jeannette Pickering Rankin which will be presented during January 2013 to professionally accomplished social workers who selflessly campaign for the rights of women.

 
Kindly send your suggestions, inputs and recommendations

V. Venkat Raj

National President

Centre for Media & Public Affairs

via email

Maid of honour – Antara Dev Sen, Deccan Chronicle

There it goes again. Our well meaning but terminally goofy government has come up with yet another curious proposal. Apparently it is now thinking of ways to get husbands to pay wages to their stay-at-home wives. Oh well, not a salary, said Krishna Tirath, Union minister for women and child development (WCD). “What can you call it, may be honorarium or some other name.”

The discomfort is obvious. Do you, the majestic lady of the house, the imagined goddess of your husband’s heart, the awesome superwoman-cum-good-witch to your children, the difficult-but-dutiful daughter-in-law, and the benevolent-but-demanding memsa’ab, wish to be reduced to a salaried domestic employee of your husband? Perhaps not.

But, to be fair, the proposal isn’t really for people like you. It is for the millions of disempowered housewives who dedicate their lives solely to their family, keeping house and raising children, and get nothing in return. Who are neglected when old and infirm, have no savings, nowhere to go, often having gifted their property to the very children who shoo them away.

So yes, financial independence, as we all know by now, goes a long way in empowering women. There have even been attempts in India to establish a housewives’ trade union. But the general demand for salaries for wives is not new. In 1925, the silent Hollywood comedy Wages for Wives showed how much work a housewife does and why demanding half her husband’s salary is quite justified. Besides, for decades women’s rights activists have been demanding salaries for housewives. So why shouldn’t we be delighted with this proposal?

Because instead of empowering women, it may further disempower them. First, because a wife is supposed to be an equal partner in a marriage, reducing her to a paid domestic help is not just insulting, it seriously changes the power relations in the family. Moreover, she does not even have the freedom that a maid has. She is more like bonded labour — who can’t quit, can’t shop around for better options, and whose fate is inextricably entwined with her master’s family.

Second, as an equal partner in a marriage, a wife is entitled to half the earnings and property of her husband, and giving her just a fraction of the husband’s earnings would be cheating.

Third, in India, earnings do not ensure freedom or empowerment for women. Husbands routinely appropriate the wife’s earnings. And the wife still has no decision-making authority even within the home. According to a 2005-06 survey of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), only 20 to 24 per cent of married women control their own earnings. For the rest, that is almost four out of five women, her earnings are controlled either solely or largely by the husband or others.

Fourth, the very idea of getting the husband to pay a part of his earnings to his wife for services rendered is flawed. When the husband retires, the wife’s salary stops, but her work continues. Now she is older, working is that much more difficult. In a salary structure, the wages cannot arbitrarily stop (or dwindle dramatically if you take a fraction of the husband’s pension as her salary) while the expectation of the work continues exactly as before.

Fifth, a market-driven approach to non-marketable commodities is unfair. How does one monetise the dedication, affection, the overwhelming sense of ownership of a wife and mother? Calculating the cost of buying domestic services is hugely flawed, and even opportunity costs for women who have given up jobs to become homemakers would be grossly inadequate. These would not take into account the full scope of her duties. The emotional and mental effort that goes into the physical work that wives and mothers do would never be addressed.

Sixth, by definition the wife would never be able to earn as much or more than her husband, or as much as she would have in say, a corporate job. So while assuming that all is fair and square, we would be actually keeping homemakers forever squished under a low, home-made glass ceiling. She would be forever inferior to her husband, forever underpaid, forever unpaid for the host of intangibles that she offers as a good wife or mother.

Seventh, for financial independence of women their dependence on husbands needs to be reduced, not increased. Elementary, what?

So were the feminists demanding wages for wives all wrong? Let’s get some clarity. The feminists’ hollering about monetisation came out of a desperate need to be recognised as useful contributors to society and the family. The need to be seen, counted and respected. A woman’s work is never done, yet it is never acknowledged either. It was about entitlement, about legitimacy, not about money per se. It was a fight against invisibility, denial of rights and social neglect. It was about money only so far as money gets you dignity and the freedom to make choices that affect yourself and your family.

For financial empowerment of married women we need to ensure that she has equal right — and access — to the husband’s money, investments and property. And the same goes for the husband of an earning wife. Marriage is about equal sharing, where the family earns as a whole, one partner holds up the backend and the other the front office.

The government could help by improving the situation of women in general. By raising awareness of equal rights, by ensuring equal pay for equal work by men and women. By pushing women’s literacy. By ensuring that laws to protect women are used efficiently.

For example, why is it that of the almost 15,000 cases of domestic violence registered in New Delhi, there has not been a single conviction?

For a monetary push, the government could offer tax benefits for joint accounts of spouses, or investments of housewives. It could even suggest that salaries of a married person, man or woman, would be paid into their joint account with their spouse. The focus should be on equal rights and equal access.

But more importantly, we could revive the once accepted “honorarium” for vital unpaid services, like the role of the wife or mother as an enabler and partner in social and economic activity. It was called gratitude. It involved appreciation, respect, honour, dignity and a place among the family’s decisionmakers. In short, we could side-step monetisation and relearn to value stuff that make life worth living.

The writer is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at sen@littlemag.com