By Meredeth Turshen (eds.)
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Extra info for African Women: A Political Ecomony
It is not, however, our intention to review the debate itself, but only to draw out from certain of its assumptions and analyses useful lines of argument for a discussion of domestic service. DOMESTIC WORKERS IN SOUTH AFRICA 41 The domestic labor debate represented an attempt by Marxist feminists in the United States and Europe to provide a materialist analysis of the subordinate position of women under capitalism. The theoretical questions posed within the debate centered on whether the value concepts developed by Marx in Capital are applicable for an analysis of the domestic labor performed by women within the household.
Carby’s comments clearly raise broader questions about whether there is any unity to the concept of gender and about the political boundaries of sisterhood that cannot be gone into here. However we suggest that these kinds of questions are very important in the context of South Africa. An understanding of the historical and material conditions of black women under the racial capitalism of apartheid shows that triple oppression is a very complex condition. Our task is to think through some of these problems in the case of black female domestic service.
At the same time, domestic service tends to have a gender character: it is mostly done by women. This is so despite the fact that it has been, and continues to be, done in part by men. There are three reasons why domestic service is seen as women’s work par excellence. First, the actual tasks associated with it—cooking, cleaning, washing, childcare—have DOMESTIC WORKERS IN SOUTH AFRICA 37 been almost universally assumed to be naturally part of woman’s sphere. Second, it is assumed that such tasks are normally performed in the household.