Women, race and class
It might now be possible, due to their greater presence in the paid workforce, to categorize most women’s class on the basis of their occupation as individuals. However, to do this would be to ignore the effects that their gender has on the wages and status accorded to women’s paid work. In addition such an approach to class does not consider the role played by women’s unpaid work in reproducing gender and class inequalities. In this regard Delphy’s (1984) insistence that class is a relation within the domestic mode of production is a useful one. This can
help us to understand patriarchy as a system in which we are all caught up, but that privileges men more than women. The work women do without payment in loving and caring for others, much as it may have rewards of its own, is exploited in ways that have many implications for how women lead their lives — and what else they are able to achieve. However, to suggest that women are best thought of as a class, exploited by men, also has limitations. It means that class substitutes for gender as a term, because gender is thought to remain too closely tied to notions of a ‘natural’ division between the sexes. But within sociology the term gender was introduced to refer to socially created inequalities between ‘women’ and ‘men’. Seeing women as a class in relation to men makes inequalities within genders difficult to deal with.
Most women, whatever their ethnicity or sexual orientation, share a similar position within the domestic mode of production, but that mode (as Delphy, 1984, acknowledges) does not account for all aspects of women’s oppression. Also necessary is an appreciation of how a global capitalist mode of production emerged, and to what extent or in what ways that is related to the domestic mode. The racial and gendered inequalities arising from that global system, forged by past (and continuing) imperialist ventures have begun to be explored, but the relationship to the domestic has been less so (though see Ehrenrich and Hochschild, 2003; Mies, 1982). The following are tentative suggestions for ways forward in thinking about gender, and they chart a rather different path to the one proposed by most post-structuralist and/or meaning focused accounts of gender.