"Sexism" in the Economy
Modern individualism in my view grew out of patriarchy and narrowed "father rule" to the nuclear family unit. Patriarchy was made to fit individualism by making the relevant individuals husbands and fathers. The idea is simple: women are linked to the economy through the men they marry; men are free to be individuals so long as they provide; women are to live vicariously through their husbands. The male provider became rational "economic man," and his wife and children became his economic dependents. Thus the economy took care of the "welfare issue" posed by "nonworkers"— that is, women and children not earning in the market economy—
by assigning them to husband-fathers. It has been only since married women began to work in the market economy and to become divorced that we have been able to understand the extent to which the marriage contract has rendered women economic dependents, a form of juvenilization.
Marxists have showed the myriad ways in which these dependent women are in fact doing "work." Housework is necessary work that is unpaid. They have also showed how housewives (whether in the paid labor force or not) as consumers increasingly have had to take on, without pay, tasks that capitalist enterprises and "professionals" themselves could be doing. Christine Delphy, a Marxist, points out, however, that there is not much point in discussing the value of women's work so long as it is not theirs to exchange. She argues convincingly that it is not the nature of women's work that causes it to be unpaid, but rather women's work is not paid for because it is performed within marriage. The nature of women's tasks has no connection to their relations of production because all married women, no matter what they do or do not do, have the same relations of production. Women's work is paid for in goods and upkeep by their husbands. Women's "relations of production," that is, the way they make their living, are very different from those of men. Men are paid in the market; women as wives are paid in goods by men.
Delphy may overstate her case, especially in times when marriage is decreasing in importance, but I believe she is correct to stress the marriage contract itself rather than the more often used "family," or "wife-mother" or "patriarchy." As I have argued throughout, it is not what women do, including women's mothering, that puts women at a disadvantage; it is the way the implicit marriage contract sidelines wives and mainstreams men. Delphy goes on to argue that "the position of women in the labor market and the discrimination that they suffer are the result (and not the cause) of the marriage contract."
In my view, marriage continues to define women's secondary position in the wider society. In a very direct and often explicit way, the expectation that women are married, will be married, or have been married accounts for their disadvantage in the occupational world. In answering the question, why female workers in this country earn considerably less than male workers earn, some
employers may still explicitly state that a woman does not need to be highly paid because it is her husbands job to provide for her. Wives' work is seen as supplementing the husband's income. The extensive job segregation, which acts to defeat the "equal pay for equal work" principle, is also directly related to women as wives. Jobs held predominantly by females are seen as requiring less commitment (and therefore less pay) than men's jobs, because a woman is expected to put her major effort into her marriage. Whereas most analyses of women's secondary status in contemporary society have focused in one way or another on women's work, I am arguing that ultimately in this society women's secondary status is related to the definition of women as wives.
As married women increasingly enter the labor force, however, the older assumption of women's dependency on men is forgotten and the liberal rule of gender blindness prevails. This is important, necessary, and good under some circumstances, but gender blindness can cover over the handicaps under which women operate. Because marriage organizes gender roles and even defines gender difference in terms of women being dependent wives and men being providers, the system is rigged against women at work outside. Assumptions of genderlessness give the appearance that men have won out in the job market in some sort of fair competition, a naturally satisfying view for winners.
An example of what I mean by this last statement is provided by Blood and Wolfe's now-classic study of power in the family. The authors fairly burst with liberal pride when they announce that gender no longer determines who holds the power in the family. Patriarchy is dead because power now belongs to the person who brings home the most resources and "sometimes" that person may be a woman. They find that family power is based on economic power, income, education, occupation, and organizational membership, but they assume that gender no longer determines who does what. and so it is possible for women to "earn" family power in free competition. The implication is, then, that if women do not "choose" to go out and earn as much money as their husbands, then they have no right to resent his power.
In 1971, Dair Gillespie subjected Blood and Wolfe's "personal resource theory" (which I describe above) to a scathing critique. She argues that, in addition to "socialization," the marriage con-
tract itself determines who brings home the bacon. It is not a matter of personal choice; it is a matter of the implicit marriage contract that assumes that men are the breadwinners and are expected to support their wives, who are in turn supposed to care for home and children. Thus, sexism takes over when gender-blind individualism fails to see how marriage rules define gender roles and how these rules handicap women by not taking motherhood into account.
More recently, Lenore Weitzman has reported, from a fifteenyear study of the results of no-fault divorce laws, that the assumption that men and women are individuals whose individual circumstances must be taken into account in making decisions about who gets what in divorce settlements has so far worked to the detriment of women. According to Weitzman, men experience a 42 percent improvement in their post-divorce standard of living, and women experience a 73 percent decline. This disparity results from the inadequacy of court awards, the expanded demands on the wife's resources because she is likely to have the children with her, and the husband's greater earning power. Overall, it is a testament to wives' and children's economic dependence on husbands. Court awards are likely to be inadequate because judges often assume that the divorced wife has the same market opportunities as the divorced husband. She does not, of course, because she has been a wife and has never had the help of a wife, and because the jobs available to women generally pay less than the jobs available to men. Beyond this, husbands tend not to pay the child support assigned to them, and judges and attorneys seem reluctant to enforce the rules on their fellow males.
Gender-blind rules do not work if they are simply written over and above a structure that still disadvantages women in terms of the old "rules," which assume male-headed nuclear families. But the solution is certainly not to do away with no-fault divorce and return to the status quo ante, as Phyllis Schlafly suggests. The old laws assume that women require economic support; the new laws assume women can support themselves. The older view assumes that women are nothing but wives and mothers; the newer view forgets that women are wives—dependent on men for their and their children's livelihood—and gives women responsibility as persons under assumptions of an equality which does not exist.
Certainly, liberal individualism must not be destroyed. As I have noted before, individualism provided the ideological impetus for the feminist protest in the first place. Women, like men, want to be treated as persons. Women cannot have equal opportunity, however, if the implicit marriage contract that makes women into wives and subsumes women's mothering under husband-fathers remains in place. There are no easy solutions. My suggestion is that we become more aware of the unequalizing effect of the wife role as it is currently defined. And beyond the marriage contract, we cannot ignore the sexism that characterizes heterosexual relations in general.