This article profiles a remarkable socialist feminist from Burma who advocated for wages for housework and a form of feminism resembling social reproduction theory. The author Hein (Abu Bakr) also offered a firsthand account of how he came to know "wages for housework" of Selma James.
Selma James is a revolutionary Marxist feminist who married C.L.R James, one of the main theoreticians of Johnson–Forest Tendency.
She is popular for one of her most popular socialist feminist movement called "Wages for Housework". Wages for housework was one of the six demands in "Women, the Unions and Work or What Is Not to Be Done" which Selma James presented as a paper to the third National Women's Liberation Conference.
Selma James led the Wages for Housework Campaign since 1970s. In 1975, Silvia Federici, an autonomist marxist feminist started the New York group called the "Wages for Housework Committee" in solidarity with Selma James.
Although most progressive and libertarian groups on the left, including anarchists, libertarian socialists, autonomists, and some marxist-humanists, supported her "Wages for Housework" slogan, it was condemned by most Marxist-Leninists, Maoists and Trotskyists.
Please read "Sex, Race and Class by Selma James" here.
Please read "Wages against housework by Silvia Federici" here.
Please read how International Marxist Tendency, a conservative Trotskyist group attacked Wages for housework campaign here.
Please read how Marxist-Leninist (Stalinists) attacked Selma James and her wages for housework.
I personally support "Wages for Housework" and do my best to implement it in my life as a man, a son, and a partner. I read about women's rights issues because I care about my mother.
My mother rarely failed to drop me to school or pick up from school despite her busy schudle with her small business and houseworks. She never failed me even if I didn't manage to get good score in my high school. So, at least my childhood was not too bad. I can eat whatever I want. I can buy the dolls that I like. She never hestitated to buy the foods and dolls for me with her income. However, all that ends when I turned 18. She stopped working and had to spend all of her time on housework. It was at that time that I remembered hearing my father criticise my mother "You no longer should earn money. You no longer should work. Why did I marry you if you don't want to do the household?".
I had also seen my mother being coerced into accepting my father's religion since my childhood. Because my mother's religious community represents the "majority religious group" in Myanmar whereas my father's community represents the "minority religious group," neither feminists nor social justice activists chose to assist my mother. I could not help but be disappointed in the hypocritical feminists and social justice activists who only engage in virtue signalling out of their guilty conscience for belonging to majority ethnic group or religious group. That reminds me of a quote by James Baldwin where he said
- I cannot believe what you say, because I see what you do.
That's accurate. Even ten years after seeing their hypocrisy, I still couldn't believe them. Most of them speaking perfect English, giving speech about feminism on the TV shows were afraid to be accused as racist. What use is social justice if a victim of oppression is denied the justice they are entitled to because their oppressors are afraid of hearing about it?
Liberal feminists were not interested in forming direct action groups where women from every social group can show solidarity to each other in order to fight back the patriarchal religious teachings and conservative family values.
Nobody wanted to recognise the minority within the minorities. Yeah. Her religious community is indeed majority in Burma. However, she is a minority in the family. Her family had abandoned her for marrying a person from different religion. She had no one but herself. Among the self-identified minorities, she is an actual minority.
There are a lot of women from minority religious community who also faced similar situations when it comes to unwaged labour regarding housework, care work and family matters.
Nobody wanted to look at things from an intersectional perspective. Nobody wanted to support a woman who had been forcibly converted to a different religion and was supposed to be more than just a housekeeper and cook.
There was no one there to protect my mother. No one was willing to fight for her rights to religious freedom. No one was willing to fights for her rights to earn for her unpaid labor she had to commit for the family. Not even feminists at that time.
My acknowledgement of intersectionality therefore did not originate from a university campus or a class. Political science, anthropology, linguistics, or philosophy were not subjects I had the privilege of studying. I had to take courses that would be useful for my 9 to 5 job or at the very least gig-type freelancing.
Minority scholars who dare to look at things from intersectional perspective like C.L.R James, James Baldwin inspired me. Social reformers such as Periyar Ramasamy and Dr.Ambedkar inspired me. Feminists scholars like Nawal El Saadawi and Taslima Nasrin inspired me.
I struggled for my mother while defending my dad's freedom to practise his religion. For my mother, I campaigned for "wages for housekeeping." The very first one who radicalised me for "wages for housework" is an economist called Marilyn Waring. By advocating for "wages for housework" for my mother, she therefore had some financial freedom at least. She managed to utilise her own money in this way and experience a tiny measure of freedom. This is how a random man from a developing nation and his mother benefited from wages for housework. Since the nuclear family as a concept is patriarchal and exploitative, we still have more battles to fight within the family.
This example reflects a struggle of two individuals in a single family. We still have a long way to go before we can transform this battle into a class war that also secures liberty for all moms, women, caregivers, people of color, people from any gender and every individual in general.
Ludu Daw Ahmar - a Burmese socialist feminist
Ludu Daw Ahmar’s article, “An unlisted occupation” was published in "Athway Amyin" magazine in 1987. In the piece, she shared a personal tale of her interactions with a married woman who had a child. It was omitted not because the plot was not significant. I only translated the passage in which she made her strongest case for her unique feminist theory. Simply the most persuasive portion was translated since I only wanted to show how it aligned with modern social reproduction theory and wages for housework campaigns.
(From now on, the texts belongs to the original author "Ludu Daw Ahmar". I only translated them)
Father, mother, and children must all work together to support the family in the urban classes. More than any other group in the world, women and mothers are forced to deal with the negative effects of poor and limited livelihoods.
A conference on women was organised in Nairobi, Kenya in Africa by the United Nations as the Decade of Women came to a conclusion in 1985. According to this conference, women are required to perform two thirds of all labour for society.
Nevertheless, women only get paid for one-tenth of this labour. I suppose that the Nairobi Conference Declaration's measurement was done for the entire planet. In Myanmar, there are several tasks that women must perform for the rest of their lives while not receiving any compensation. And a large portion of that work is not acknowledged as work.
Nevertheless, we Myanmar women have always enjoyed more rights than other people. Women in less developed countries further away and in neighbouring countries, where they do not even have the same rights as us Myanmar women, are in a worse condition.
For instance, there are children in a marriage. We believe that the family is primarily responsible for raising children. Furthermore, people in Myanmar believe that the mother alone is responsible for doing all the effort necessary to raise and care for a child. A lady is not compensated for this. Nobody acknowledges the compensation a woman ought to receive for her labour.
At the end of the 20th century, raising children is a problem that affects more than simply parents in affluent cultures. The problem is getting worse for the entire society. As a result, it is acknowledged [in some other countries] that the entire society must unite in order to solve every issue related to this one.
So, how much time and effort must a mother invest in raising a child? More advanced societies understand that it takes the work of the entire community to raise a child who is intelligent, wise, and able to work.
Governments in those nations give adequate financial assistance to ensure that mothers and children are healthy and do not experience financial hardship while raising children. Despite the fact that each parent raises their own children, this work benefits, sustains, and cares for society. Recognizing that this work is done for society's benefit is important. The idea that a child's behaviour affects the entire society, for better or worse, is widely accepted in those other nations. We have a lot of educated women working here. Several women work as hospital employees. In addition, there are a lot of women working in other departments. These women, who work in the same fields as men, are given three months of paid maternity leave when they decide to start a family. Nobody can claim that is sufficient.
In reality, although performing the same professions, men and women are not paid equally. Women have the right to work at any profession they are qualified for. However, I haven't yet noticed women being assigned to particular jobs. The majority of the work is still done by males in numerous occupations and industries. Even while some women are assigned to positions purely for display, this does not indicate that all women are welcome to enter. Some employers hire women for certain positions. Employers contend that these women are unable to compete on an equal footing with males and so cannot be promoted. Such employers use the justification that menstruation and pregnancy make it impossible for women to compete with them.
The crucial responsibilities traditionally given to women are:
- caring for the family,
- keeping the house in order,
- raising children, and
- caring for one's parents and in-laws.
Women work these jobs for many hours a day without getting paid, so that their marriage will last. The only way civilisation can be sustained is if couples can endure. A society that disregards this labour and believes that every woman is responsible for it is inherently backwards and incapable of becoming contemporary or advanced. The inventiveness of ladies isn't totally used in this circumstance.
A person possesses unfathomable strength and intelligence. However, a person won't be able to maximise the results of their labour as long as tyranny still exists. That is a natural rule, or dhammada. In actuality, Myanmar women are embracing this hopeful new era as several nations begin to offer for the health, happiness, and equality of women (who make up half of society and deserve nothing but respect for the countless tasks they take on).
I am not too knowledgable on social reproduction theory.