Housework is Labour. Discuss. [2014]

“No I refuse to say that housework is labour.”

“What do you mean? How can you be so naïve? Housework is gendered work, it becomes an expectation of women that unpaid labour is the norm.”

“But why call it labour? Why bring it into the linguistic game of equivalence?”

“You’re talking rubbish. Statistics show that housework is, on the whole, done by women and is unpaid or paid a nominal amount, slave labour essentially.”

“That’s not my point. You can’t solve the problem by creating a linguistic equality. Labour is a term, a word symbolic of a behaviour. In attempting to solve the problem of exploitation by assimilating housework into the language of labour you kill your argument. It is a far better feminist/queer approach to create positive, complex and contradictory roles to subvert the condition of labour. We can quite easily identify the suppression within housework and try to resolve it by identifying its worth within the labour system, valuing it accordingly; housework as labour. However, all this approach does is bring the behaviour of housekeeping into a capital system, rendering it ripe for abuse by and for its applied value. This is what negative equality means now, this is the phenomena made visible by the advent of data technologies – your stats. These show us, not that arguments can be formed using an improved foundation of statistics, but that any argument can be given a net worth with the help of compilable lexemes, and traded accordingly. To wish for equality through value in housework is to wish for the right to abuse, or perhaps the right to make dirt and cleanliness marketable commodities, perfect for oppression. If we bring down a linguistic framework on all arguments we render them all subject to capital.”

“Why? Words are free.”

“They were. Words are now data. Data can only make sense if it’s categorised. Database tables maybe dynamic, but the fields within the table are ordered and dictated by a value system. If I choose to place my argument within that system I must be prepared for that system to decide its value. As we are all aware, the globalisation of our capitalist system did not create positive worth for those it assimilated. By interpreting all it touched by its own value system it could dictate worth based upon its own biased assumptions, and underpaid labour becomes a reality. The value of things is not placed against immediate and regulated communities, but against outlandish claims of correspondence between physically distant systems. There is an argument, like yours, saying that workers should all be brought into line so that everyone’s labour is recognised as having equal value, socialism I guess. But it’s bollocks in practice. Not because the desire is wrong or somehow untenable, but because it makes the assumption that by using the same method of valuation used by the oppression you can re-balance the issue. But how can this be possible? The capital system is given its form as a structure of hierarchical power. You will end up replacing one regime with another ad infinitum. By trying to resolve an inequality you compound it. The word inequality itself works to assimilate all elements into one marketable structure. These acts of assimilation work by creating assumption that the initial object has always been a part of the structure it becomes a part of, that its place within the argument is as subject to the argument and its value is the value dictated by the argument. We see this model most within the Internet, where the assumption that the Internet is a way of stabilising our system of information to create equality is validated. This could not be more wrong. The Internet is a cypher created on the basis of an arbitrary value game. As it grows and appears to assume all elements of political and social behaviour it reinterprets them with an associated value. These ratings are then used for the old game of oppression; oppression by a system. This form of oppression obscures blame and apportions guilt to the user, rendering us powerless against it whilst we are within it. Our actions within the Internet compound its behaviours and make us its enabler. Think of all the websites that have been created with a strong sense of positive purpose. I can’t actually think of any, because all, perhaps unwittingly, are created with a biased code structure that seeks to overcome any competing structure. Here are functional behaviours in their element. By giving priority and power to functional systems we reenforce capitalist doctrine. Function is a great way to defeat people. If I decide that housework is labour I give it value. I turn it from a behaviour – cleanliness and order are part of human behaviour, it stops us coming to harm – I turn it from behaviour to a labour. This may seem a good idea but it can only end in its assignation as a low value task. Meaning that anyone who takes part in it is also of a low value; currently women, migrants and minorities. In recognising its position within the system you have ascribed it a position and value of near worthlessness. You monetise it and reenforce the abuse. And for what? Because you want linguistic equality through linguistic association. Being an academic you must want to confront issues by ascribing everything a coded, literary value in order to expose its inequality and therefore, hopefully, create an algorithm that can solve it. But the world is not set up with such a unified system of recognition, not all things can be named and even those that can cannot be named objectively. Words have power, but the use of them in finite forms only leads to easy manipulation for those with access to their power. Re-appropriation and anti-interpretation are more egalitarian approaches to language. My crass and jumbled comments about the social standing of your education and those you teach was intended as an awareness that to educate through language is to compound a structure that excludes. And my apparent ignorance of the definition of the word ‘anecdotal’ was a poor and drunken attempt to highlight the importance of liquidity in definition. Anecdotal is a perfect word for this as, within its definition, it describes a complex path of behaviour. To me its ambiguity is obvious. You seem to want to enforce the idea that it has no ambiguity. Finite definition is a dictatorship that sits on the core of my argument. By creating finite terms we are back to the corruptible structures we want to avoid. Statistics are also a direct way of supporting and legitimising abusive systems. Statistics are never pure yet the data led system wants us to believe in their authority. But what authority can statistics have when they are so often able to be criticised as anecdotal evidence, limited by scope, interpretation, bias? They are based on the relative position of those that seek to benefit from their use. This is you and although your motivation, to me, is noble, it is misjudged as a method to combat the structure using its own vernacular. I’m patronising you when I point out that Queer theory is often applied using actions of subversion. It’s not subversive to try solving inequality using the very system that generates that inequality, such as the assignation of the linguistic definition labour to behaviours. Gender theory is not predominantly concerned with equality. Progression is rarely achieved by the assumption that new behaviours will be easily assigned to existing values. It is a cynical state of affairs when new behaviours are pre-valuated. This actually happens, the data system controls new behaviour, as well as the prospect of new behaviour, and can bring it into the system of capital at the very point of its conception. This could appear analogous with language, the argument that our realm of experience is essentially linguistic. But even if it is, the role of Queer theory is to undermine this process, offering contrary opinion and exposing weakness. It exposes the opportunities available for subversion within the system itself. With this in mind, being scolded by you for not agreeing to roll over for a statement is galling. Getting someone to confirm your terms of debate only asks them to yield before debate has even begun. This is the abusive nature of language. It never gets us far. Statements such as, ‘All men are equal’ and, ‘Housework is a form of labour’ are only statements, and to subscribe to their peculiar rule system eliminates escape from their perlocutions. That includes the obvious flaws within their constitution – ‘All men?’. The Internet assimilates desire into capital using data. Any behaviour attempted within its environment, no matter how well-intended, becomes directly involved in a valuing and devaluing process. Good-intentions will always be subverted by a marketing tool that has no interest in my definition of my activity, or anyone else’s definition for that matter. It has its own definition system, fluctuating and constantly revaluing using measures and expectations dictated by the desire for power by people I’ve never met. People who do not target me specifically to capitalise on my behaviour, but capitalise on the nature of online behaviours in general, rendering my own intentions meaningless in the environment. Is a statement about inequality worth making if, in its utterance, it benefits parties whose intention is to increase their own status. Perhaps, as a clunky example, a website about equality becomes so popular that the data it produces is able to make some people very rich. Surely that website has failed in its intention? And your declaration that housework is labour is completely antithetical in using the structure of the statement to bring change in its meaning. By asking anyone to acknowledge the sentence you are only asking them to take part in its oppressive game. When all activities are recognised within the capital value system we lose any opportu
nity for counter-debate. Arguments are won and lost by the same agents of an abusive state. By confining statements to finite definition you completely restrict their ability to free themselves through subversion.”

[Published on Pamphlet Magazine]