8 ways that women’s work is misunderstood

Women’s bodies are sold without our consent. Without even being seen. Whether it’s caring
for our children, coddling the egos of men, or selling our minds and bodies to the market.

To achieve the liberation of women, we must redistribute gendered labour and dismantle capitalism. Women perform a disproportionate amount of physical,
emotional and sexual labour on account of their ‘feminine’ caring qualities. This started in the
domestic sphere and has since seeped its way into the paid workforce and personal
relationships. We must abolish socially constructed gender norms as we dismantle the
structure that creates and upholds them. Capitalism.

In order to deconstruct the gendered division of labour, we must view work as a continuum.
Whether paid or unpaid, sex work or non-sex work, free or unfree. We are all selling our
bodies and minds.

The next eight points paint a picture of the subordination of women through the
maintenance of gendered labour, physical, emotional and sexual.

1: the continuum of gendered labour

The social role ascribed to women creates a continuum of emotional, sexual and physical
labour, which serves to uphold capitalism. This gendered division of labour subordinates
women by masking their unpaid labour. In the wake of neoliberalism, this pattern is also
apparent in the paid workforce with the feminisation of labour. There is a lack of concrete boundaries between paid work and unpaid work, sex work and non-sex work.
Gendered labour does not fit into neat little boxes. We are all selling our bodies.

Gender is a social construct; social norms and repeated practices have entrenched a widely
held view of gender as a mere biological fact. This sets a script of appropriate behaviours
depending on your ascribed gender. These norms of expected behaviour are categorised
into a false male/female binary.

Pre-existing social norms shape the labour we perform and the work we do. For women,
labour such as mothering, sex work, housework and hospitality have been naturalised as an essential characteristic of femininity.

To fix this we need collective mobilisation to gain control of labour, paid and unpaid, sex
work and non-sex work. A collaboration and uplifting to overcome the systematic
subordination of women through the gendered division of labour.

I am not arguing for the desexualisation of women because the very process of sexualisation
desexualises us. The reclaiming of our own sexuality is taboo precisely because it is
exploited; taken from us for capital gain. Women’s ownership of their own sexuality and the
unpaid labour they preform, threatens the very fibres of the capitalist system and the
patriarchy. It relies on control and domination.

2: The value of social reproduction.

Social reproduction is the term used by Marxist feminists to explain the unpaid,
undervalued work of creating and sustaining workers emotionally and physically. This
includes housework, emotional nurturance, sex and childrearing – something which all
humans are capable of. This is disproportionately done by women and essentialised into an
inherently feminine trait. One which women are born with and destined to perform. I’m
here to call bullshit.

The system of unpaid social (re)production is upheld by notions of love and care. Something
which women take pleasure in. Not real ‘work’ under a capitalist system. The private sphere
of family life is made invisible by the capitalist pursuit of profit. However capitalism relies

not just on exploitation of labour in a traditional paid role but also how this labour is
reproduced and sustained. This is social reproduction.

In order to liberate women, the burden of social reproduction, the unpaid labour of care
work, childrearing and emotional management needs to be redistributed across all humans.

Devaluation of unpaid social reproductive labour comes with the gendered division of
labour under capitalism. This work being invisible is essential to the surplus value created in
the market. Surplus value is the Marxist concept of additional value produced over what is
needed to survive and it is the at the core of capitalist relations. The primacy of paid labour
is a social value not something which is essential to the character of work. With this unpaid
domestic labour which sustains and creates workers, women’s ability to create surplus, is
minimised into a mere act of love. Something which should not be waged.

In order to liberate women, social reproduction needs to be recognised for the value it has.
This work needs to be redistributed across all humans. This will help to deconstruct the
social gender binary which serves to subordinate women, creating a more egalitarian
division of work.

We cannot forget the role of sex in social reproduction. It is in the name. The creation of
humans requires sex. This is expected of women. An act of love. An act of lust. “They call it
frigidity, We call it absenteeism”. We have to put out.

3: The feminisation of paid labour.

Capitalism undervalues ‘women’s work’ because emotional labour and relationships that
are not monetised are devalued. This extends into the paid labour market. Paid jobs that are
feminised such as social care and hospitality are constructed as menial. This mirrors
historical patterns of women’s unpaid emotional labour in the private sphere.

With the rapid increase of the service industry, care work and emotional management have
become commercialised. The work women have historically always done is now
standardised and mass produced.

For example, the emotional labour performed by flight attendants researched by Arline
Hochschild. This revealed how the workers are trained to manage the emotions of clients
and to put on a performance of a nice, caring worker. This burden falls highly on women
with them making up the majority of this workforce as well as an additional expectation to
maintain a good appearance.

Emotion has been manipulated into a market force. The product is one’s state of mind.
However, men just expect emotional labour from women as a natural part of feminine
attributes. An expectation for women to live life for others. This means that even with a
wage, this skilled management of emotion is deskilled, undervalued and therefore

Women are overrepresented in precarious work that is underpaid and deskilled due to the
devaluing of feminised forms of work. A clear example of this is the work of migrant
nannies. An individual solution to the collective problem of balancing paid labour
participation with care duties – something which as outlined falls onto women. However
despite allowing for one mothers freedom from domestic labour, the nanny is subject to
precarious wages, hours and often visa restrictions. This highlights the double edged sword
of reproductive labour. The mere outsourcing of childcare to marginalised women is not a
solution. We need unity and collective mobilisation.

Many forms of feminised paid labour are also sexualised. For example the tips of service
workers related to sexual attraction. While women are continually sexualised they are also
reprimanded for using this to their advantage to make money. For example NFL
cheerleaders being scrutinised for using their sexuality for monetary gain. As much as we
may try to escape it, sex sells and capitalism loves money.

Feminised forms of paid labour should be valued the same as traditionally masculine work.
Wages, employment conditions and social respectability should also follow suit.

4: Universalise empathy and emotional labour

Emotional labour is the emotional care of others disproportionately performed by women.
This is often dismissed as unimportant. However, being in secure, caring relationships has
been shown to make you live longer. This includes empathy, tending to the emotions of
others and cognitive labour, the ability to anticipate the needs of others. This is something
that is learnt with practice from a young age; women are socialised into this role. It is not an
essential characteristic. All humans are capable of learning.

Social power relations can help explain this inequality. Having less power due to the
patriarchal subjugation of women makes one more in-tune with the minds of others. This is
a survival tactic enabling us to pre-empt abuse or violence.

Emotional labour is often disregarded as an act of love. Something which takes no effort. It
is a vital force in humanity, sustaining workers bodies and minds, despite being constantly
undervalued. It is something always expected of women. A caring performance and the
centring of male emotions. “No longer believing that women by virtue of being a women
owe anything to society – including something as seemly innocuous as a smile”.

In the wake of neoliberalism, public services, including care for the young and elderly, have
been cut. The existing division of labour means that this added burden from austerity is
falling on women, especially minorities. This manifests both in the domestic sphere with the
increase workload for mothers, and in the paid sphere with lowering wages for care
workers, where women are overrepresented.

Emotional labour, the understanding and care of the emotions of others, is a skill which all
humans are capable of. Values of empathy and care need to be redistributed. Break down
the gender binary. It is a vital force for the development of individuals and the cohesion of

The expectation of women to cater to the emotions of men seeps into every aspect of life
including romantic relationships. Management of the mind is management of the body for
we cannot divide bodies and emotions.

5: Sexual labour

Sex is often sold as the antithesis of work. A release after a hard day’s work. A break from
the stresses of everyday life. However it is also part of social reproduction. It is work. It is
labour. It is not discrete from the capitalist system but apart of it. Our “cooking, smiling,
fucking” indirectly generates wealth. It is all connected.

Women are socialised into the primacy of male pleasure; imposing heterosexuality as the
only ‘productive’ option. We are the providers of the sexual satisfaction of men. The
upholding of heterosexuality enables capitalism to continue the relations of social
reproduction: the creation and maintenance of workers. Heterosexual relations are
constructed as a women’s natural destiny. Women’s sexuality is simultaneously taken away
and forced upon us.

The commercialisation of the female body alienates us from our own sexuality. Value-
relations always come into sex, valuing yourself as a price. Don’t be too cheap. Don’t give it
away too easily. Sex is a power given to women but once it’s used becomes powerless. We
make sexual decisions based on this matrix of factors rather than our own desires. We’re
out of touch without our own sexuality.

The social construction of sex and gender is intricately tied to the sexual exploitation of
women. Characteristics portrayed as merely biological facts are in fact the imposition of
norms. Why are some things salient characteristics of sex such as impregnation while others
such as height are not? This plays well into the naturalisation of heterosexual relations and
the demonisation of all others.

Norms of heterosexuality are constantly reproduced in order to uphold it. With every minor
interaction, even misreading a child’s cross-gender friendship as a love interest, the
compulsory nature of heterosexuality is upheld. Sexual labour and relationships are a part
of social reproduction. Heterosexuality is a working condition of capitalism.

To stop this, male pleasure must stop being centred. All humans should have autonomy
over their own sexual choices. We must reclaim our sexuality.

6: Sex work

Feminist theory is plagued by the paradox of liberal feminist sexual empowerment and
more radical views of abolition and separatism. However unfree and free, paid and unpaid,
sexual labour are all on the same continuum in the exploitation of women. This is not to
diminish the unique experiences of sex workers nor to ignore the specific marginalisation
experienced by them.

Sexuality is a key dimension of social life, intertwined with the social construct of gender.
Therefore it cannot be ignored in feminist theory.

We must abandon the binary of free/unfree sex work – they cannot be compartmentalised.
Sex work can be used as a means to escape unpaid domestic labour enabling personal and
economic autonomy. However it can also be a source of violence and precarity such as with
migrant sex workers who face constant threats of criminalisation and deportation.

This also bring attention to the Eurocentric view of sex work. For example in Niger, there is a
much less defined boundary between sex work and marriage. Women are expected to
sexually satisfy their husband in exchange for gifts. They often have informal contracts
which amount to temporary marriages as a form of prostitution. This is even an expected
way of life after being widowed. The boundary of what is paid sex work or unpaid sexual
labour is different in different contexts. We need to deconstruct this binary.

We can never be fully in control of our labour under capitalism. Surplus value we create is
still pocketed by capitalists. Sex work needs to be recognised as work and so should unpaid
sexual labour. It should not be morally demonised. We all sell our bodies in one way or

7: The Commercialisation of Women’s Sexuality

Sex work does not exist in a bubble. There is not a discrete line between the work of a
prostitute and the work of a wife. Sexual labour is a key part of gendered labour.

From an early age women are taught how to manage other people’s sexual thoughts. We
walk on egg shells around the supposed fragility of male sexual desire. We ensure our skirts
are not too short to offend our male teachers. We are careful not to lead men on. We
accept harassment as part of daily life. We let boys be boys.

Separating sex workers from the rest of the women’s liberation movement is both
unproductive and contradictory to our aims. If we consensually go along with this line and
undervalue social reproduction we reproduce gender divisions. All gendered labour is on a
continuum paid or unpaid, sex work or non-sex work.

The commercialisation of the female body means all women’s sexualities are monetised.
We are a product sold on social media. In advertisement. Within the chatter of male friends.
Both sex workers and non-sex workers are preforming the same routine; centring male
pleasure. Only one gets a wage.

In Fern Brady’s ‘Strong Female Character’ she explains how working as a stripper made her
clearly aware of the transactional relationship between men and women. She explained her
frustration with judgmental peers who “need the idea of childbirth to make them change
their surnames to their male owners name”.

Sexuality is work. Women are stuck between a dichotomy of sexual liberation increasing our
work-load and sexual conservativism reprimanding prowess, shaming us and restricting our
choices. Women’s sexuality is forced upon us while it is also taken away.

The marketisation and exploitation of sexuality alienates us from an integral part of our
selves. Separates our soul and our physical self. Robs us of genuine sexuality. Hyper-fixating
on male desires. We are used to selling ourselves, performing for men. We view ourselves
from an external male perspective. We create our own voyeurs.

We need to collectivise not divide. Support each other and liberate each other. End the
conceptual binary between sex work and non-sex work, between paid and unpaid, between
free and unfree. We all sell our bodies. We need to reclaim our sexuality. End the gendered
division of labour that subordinates women and dismantle capitalism and the patriarchy in

8: Reclaiming sexuality

Erotic sensuality of women has been erased by violence and over-sexualisation. We are
raised to be docile and obedient. Restrain our desires. Fear our cravings. Yet allow our
bodies to be a resource for men. Men’s entitlement to our bodies and our emotional labour
is the root of rape culture. They come to expect the availability of women. For their needs
to be met and their feelings coddled.

The erotic is vilified, relegated to the bedroom. It is this shaming, misnaming and hiding that
allows it to be distorted into violence. Ignoring the human need for deep feeling has
distorted pleasure into pornography, violence and objectification. Capitalism measures what
is morally ‘good’ based on profit and not human need. This creates a false dichotomy
between the political self and the inner selves wants and desires. We need to reclaim our
sexuality. Have ownership of our own desires.

The mass commercialisation of sex has removed some taboos and allowed women more
sexual freedom. However, this is only as a method to generate profit leaving structural

misogyny and heterosexism unchallenged. Women are now allowed to have their own
sexuality. But male pleasure is still centred creating a false sense of freedom. It is an
individual solution to a collective problem. In order to be fully free sexuality must be
liberated from consumerism as well as patriarchal power relations.


Capitalism continues to uphold a gendered division of labour which forces women to
perform emotional, physical and sexual gendered labour that happens on a continuum of
paid and unpaid. We cannot escape the intricate ties between domestic work, sex work and
feminized labour. We cannot escape the selling of our own bodies and minds. We are the

This manifesto engages with literature from queer theory to Marxist feminism. It explores
how neoliberalism has co-opted the unpaid work of women into immediate profit. However
it is important to note the narrow scope of this manifesto. And not being a sex worker
myself, will of inevitably missed out important nuances of sex work and it’s gendered
impacts. In order to dismantle the capitalist patriarchy we must be united. Forget no one.

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