My notes on
“The Logic of Gender: On the Separation of Spheres and the Process of Abjection,” which is here –

I think what I like best here is that it suggests that the wage is fundamentally a reproductive institution. I think that’s powerful.

“for labour-power to have a value, some of these activities [which produce and reproduce labor power] have to be cut off or dissociated from the sphere of value production.”
I’m not sure that’s true. Rather, it seems to me that in actual capitalism, this has often happened. To use the terms of the article, value production today depends on ‘indirectly market-mediated’ activities. That’s important. But it’s not clear that this *must* be the case for value production. It’s not clear that fully marketized reproduction (where everything takes place via what the article calls ‘directly market-mediated activities’) is impossible.

Two quibbles. One, terminological – I don’t like the language of social validation used exclusively for monetary matters. It’s true that nonwaged activities are “not socially validated” in that sense, but it’s not true that they’re not otherwise socially validated. Contemporary capitalist society is not (yet) devoid of all collective forms of thought than those of capital, different forms co-exists. The article doesn’t say otherwise but I think the terminology here invites that reading. Two, references. There’s a lot of anonymous group references – ‘in feminist theory…’, ‘most feminist accounts’, etc. That’s annoying. If people said this stuff, they could be named, cited, and quoted, which would help to know who the article actually is (and isn’t) talking about. I wondered about this not least because I don’t think some of the work by women’s historians I’ve read fit into these descriptions. That’s not a big deal, no one can read everything, but ‘feminist theory tends to…’ implies a sense of greater compreheniveness than may be warranted.

I’m also unsure about the association of gender with unwaged and indirectly market mediated activity here. Obviously unwaged that activity has been feminized in actually existing capitalism and that’s quite important. But I’m not sure how this relates to gender per se. I don’t think it’s the case that only these feminized activities were/are gendered – historically, the flip side of the feminization of unwaged activity has been the masculinization of waged labor.

I didn’t get much from the public/private section and what I thought was missing that was relevant here was the role of law and maybe other state institutions in organizing both directly market mediated and indirectly market mediated activity. There’s recognition of this in the article in the sense that right and citizenship as abstract categories are treated as preconditions for capital accumulation. But the role of law and the state is much more than that. Marriage is a legal and state-regulated relationship which confers rights and obligations which are continually renegotiated over time via recourse to state institutions. Likewise for parenthood. And for the directly market mediated sphere – law plays a role in the organization institutions and in mediating disputes (in multiple relationships in both individual and collective form – worker to worker, worker to capitalist, capitalist to capitalist).

“What we see at first, when we look at the dawn of this mode of production, is individuals who have different rights, which are defined by the law as two different juridical beings: men and women.”

I’m not sure this is true. I think we probably see a much more complex distribution of rights and privileges at the dawn of capitalism.

“property which individuals own in their persons (…) is necessary to generalised wage-relations because value presupposes formal equality between the owners of commodities so that “free” exchange (capital and labour-power) can occur despite the fact that there is a structural “real” inequality between two different classes: those possessing the means of production and those dispossessed of that form of property.” As the article puts it later, “formal freedom itself was a precondition for value production and exchange.”

I disagree with the bit that says value presupposes formal equality. It doesn’t. For one thing, there’s the example of child labor, waged labor by women in eras of capitalist society when women are legally disqualified/legally unequal, and slavery at least in the 19th century U.S. Also, I agree that ‘free exchange among equals’ is not an accurate description of what is in fact real inequality, but who believes in this free exchange story anyway and why is that apparent freedom supposed to be necessary? (Other than the fact that Marx asserts it without much argument.) In what sense was formal freedom a precondition for value production and exchange? I’m unconvinced here.

“labour markets, if they are to remain markets, must be “sex-blind”.”
I don’t think that makes sense either logically (the point that markets must not take sex into account if they are markets is just asserted) or historically.

“a foreshortened critique of capital (…) contends that use-value is transhistorical rather than historically specific to capitalism. Here, use-value is thought to be that which positively remains after revolution, which is seen as freeing use-value from the integument of exchange-value. (…) exchange-value and use-value will both have to be abolished in the process of communisation.”


“What the female gender signifies (…) is not only an array of “feminine” or gendered characteristics, but essentially a price tag.”

If this means ‘the key role gender plays in the capitalist parts of capitalist society’ then I find it convincing. If the claim is that gender is reducible its functional role in capitalism, though, then I’m not convinced.

“During the era of primitive accumulation, a major problem facing the capitalist class was how to perfectly calibrate the relationship between the IMM [indirectly market mediated] and DMM [directly market mediated] spheres such that workers would, on the one hand, be forced to survive only by selling their labour-power, and on the other, be allotted only enough personal property to continue self-provisioning without bringing up the cost of labour-power.”

I’m not sure if this is true because I’m not sure how conscious the ‘calibration’ was.

“In the course of the transition from the 18th to the 19th century, the family — centred in the home as a unit of production — became the economic unit mediating between the IMM and DMM spheres of labour-power’s reproduction.”

Where, exactly?

“It was (…) with the nuclear family (in a specific period of capitalism, and importantly, in a specific area of the world) that gender became a rigid binary, mapping one to one with the spheres. It became a strict norm, which does not mean everyone fitted into it. (…) From this point on, individuals identified as women were born with different life-destinies than individuals defined as men (…) and were socialised as two distinct kinds of subjects. This distinction cut across all classes.”

When did men and women not have ‘different life-destinies’? This seems to me to say ‘gender difference really began in this time’ (which it identifies with Fordism), since if men and women *began* to have ‘different life-destinies’ in this era then that would mean previously they had basically the same life-destinies. Which would mean gender differences were less important. That all doesn’t make sense to me. I think it’d be more accurate to just say ‘gender roles changed’.

I have a hunch that the discussion of real subsumption understates the mass production of means of subsistence prior to real subsumption. (Like say the introduction of canned meat, or for that matter, the mass production of bread, which Marx has a lot to say about in v1 of Capital.) I also wonder about steam laundries and laundromats, and the rise of home washing machines. That seems to me like a matter of placing the technology in the home rather than the beginning of cheapening reproductive activities under real subsumption.

The discussion of the gender dimensions of austerity measures is good but too short. I think it would be great to see more of that highlighted. I think this piece has some points to make about how those gendered effects are in part the result of forces that are consciously indifferent to gender inequality but still reproduce it. But I think those are not the only forces that create gender inequality.

I didn’t get anything from the stuff on ‘the abject’. Over all, I don’t really get a logic of gender from this piece in the sense of a dynamic to gender relations that is woven into them. Instead I think the piece provides interesting points on some of the dynamics in reproductive and unwaged aspects
of capitalism, which is definitely a worthwhile thing.