i was directed to this article by silvia federici, which discusses the concept of paying wages for housework, and other issues around the structure of society. it's quite dated now, and i think feminists have been grappling with some of the issues she accuses them of ignoring for some time now. it's a pretty long piece, but i do like the points she puts in favour of wages for housework.
anyway, here is an excerpt:
We believed that the women’s movement should not set models to which women would have to conform, but rather devise strategies to expand our possibilities. For once getting a job is considered necessary to our liberation the woman who refuses to exchange her work in a kitchen for work in a factory is inevitably branded as backward and, beside being ignored, her problems are turned into her own fault. It is likely that many women who were later mobilized by the New Moral Majority could have been won to the movement if it had addressed their needs. Often when an article appeared about our campaign, or we were invited to talk on a radio program, we received dozens of letters by women who would tell us about their lives or at times would simply write: “Dear Sir, tell me what I have to do to get wages for housework.” Their stories were always the same. They worked like slaves with no time left and no money of their own. And there were older women starving on Supplementary Security Income (SSI) who would ask us whether they could keep a cat, because they were afraid that if the social worker found out their benefits would be cut. What did the women’s movement have to offer to these women? Go out and get a job so that you can join the struggles of the working class? But their problem was that they already worked too much, and eight hours at a cash register or on an assembly line is hardly an enticing proposition when you have to juggle it with a husband and kids at home. As we so often repeated, what we need is more time, more money, not more work. And we need daycare centers, but not just to be liberated for more work, but to be able to take a walk, talk to our friends or go to a women’s meeting.
Wages for housework meant opening a struggle directly on the question of reproduction, and establishing that raising children and taking care of people is a social responsibility. In a future society free from exploitation we will decide how this social responsibility is best absolved and shared among us. In this society where money governs all our relations, to ask for social responsibility is to ask that those who benefit from housework (business and the state as the “collective capitalist”) pay for it. Otherwise we subscribe to the myth-so costly for us women - that raising children and servicing those who work is a private, individual matter and that only “male culture” is to blame for the stifling ways in which we live, love and congregate with each other. Unfortunately the women’s movement has largely ignored the question of reproduction, or offered only individual solutions, like sharing the housework, which do not provide an alternative to the isolated battles many of us have already been waging. Even during the struggle for abortion most feminists fought just for the right not to have children, though this is only one side of control over our bodies and reproductive choice. What if we want to have children but cannot afford to raise them, except at the price of not having any time for ourselves and being continuously plagued by financial worries? For as long as housework goes unpaid, there will be no incentives to provide the social services necessary to reduce our work, as proved by the fact that, despite a strong women’s movement, subsidized day care has been steadily reduced through the 70s.