New Barriers and Continuing Constraints
Edited by Jacqueline Scott, Rosemary Crompton and Clare Lyonette
Chapter 13: A Mysterious Commodity: Capitalism and Femininity
13. A mysterious commodity: capitalism and femininity Mary Evans The relationship between gender and capitalism has proved to be fertile ground for discussion and debate. Some of those debates have concerned arguments about the relationship between capitalism and ideological distinctions about gender and sexuality, whilst others have examined the assumption, of both Marx and Engels, that the entry by women into paid production would provide the grounds for our emancipation from familial forms of authority (Merck 2007). The focus of this chapter, however, is the question of the ideology of femininity and of how that ideology is constructed, through ideas about fashion and behaviour appropriate to women (especially in relation to the care of others) in ways which have a central importance to the cultural dynamic of contemporary capitalism. Those assumptions about Marx which consider him primarily as a student of economic systems obscure those moments in his work when he demonstrates his recognition of the cultural. Indeed, in one of the more vivid passages of Volume One of Capital Marx presents an account of a working day in the second half of the nineteenth century which suggests links between the economic and cultural. As becomes clear from the text, the term ‘working day’ is something of a misnomer since many of the people whose hours of work he is describing work both day and night, often with little break. These hours of work are inevitably a cause of illness and death; Marx writes of one case – that of a...
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