It cannot be about this or that group of women’s ability to have careers or about individual moments of empowerment while doing laundry. Feminist movements have long suffered from the disconnect between white middle-class feminism, often focused myopically on certain careers and lifestyle choices, and the goals of working-class women. The “Wages for Housework” demands of 1970s Marxist feminists sought to make women’s uncompensated labor under capitalism visible whether the woman was a bourgeois housewife, a factory worker, or a poor mother. Since capital requires the housewife to reproduce the worker, they argued, this need dictates the role of women up and down the class system.
Those who demanded state wages for housework sought two things. First, to make wifely love visible as productive work. Second, to uncover for women the leverage that workers have in their potential to strike. “To say that we want money for housework is the first step towards refusing to do it,” wrote Italian feminist Silvia Federici, “because the demand for a wage makes our work visible?…?both in its immediate aspect as housework and its more insidious character as femininity.” This was feminism designed not to increase individual compensation, but to reveal and create power while undoing sex roles in all realms of life.