[this translation has been made in july 2015 as a preparatory material for the queer camp; the original version in Italian has published on 13th nov 2014 on this blog and on Sciopero Sociale blog in the context of the Social Strike campaign]
What once defined domestic and care work has now become a common feature of payed and unpayed labour in general: 24/7 availability, being subjected to the command and urgency of others, totalizing versatility when tasks are not clearly stipulated, lack of social welfare and regular income, vast incongruity between work performed and wages earned. Two other essential features of domestic and care work traditionally assigned to women have become generalized: no payment and no recognition. The performance of our labour produces profit. At the same time, these performances are not recognized as labor, therefore they are not payed. They tell us that our performances are not payed because they represent the opportunity to show who we are. They tell us that these performances are necessary in order to realize ourselves, to find a payed job one day, to be hired, to keep the job or to gain visibility. In the very same way, women have been told forever that care work is a way for them (the only way) to express their inner selves.
Also, the typically feminized skills of building networks, taking care of others and seduction are now considered the most marketable competencies and everybody has to be ready to perform them. Capital enables different mechanisms to mobilize and subsume gender identities within the market. Work is no longer a matter of simply knowing how to do something concrete, instead it seeks to profit from everything that characterizes our lifestyles, passions, ideas, relational skills, affects and our subjectivities. That’s why we can talk about the valorization of genders, signaling all the ways in which genders––regardless of whether they are codified as straight or queer––are equally, if distinctly, “put to work” by contemporary capitalism .
We constantly produce “gender”: whether we consider it “naturally” connected to one’s sex, or we choose our own gender, we often perceive gender performance as spontaneous and even convenient, when instead it is nothing other than a social obligation. To perform a recognizible gender is a constant quotidian work itself: if you try to have a walk showing an “ambigous” gender identity you’ll certainly discover how violent this obligation is.
Gender is a tool for social production: we make our entry into society incorporating a gender. Hence, all of our social and labour performances require, reinforce, and make us reiterate gender characteristics which are immediately valorized and promoted in specific ways. The market constantly seeks to profit from them: When we construct our gender through consumerism (make up and lifestyle); when we perform it by “sharing” information about ourselves, our preferences, our personalities (on social networks); when our (alleged) gender characteristics are put to work in companies, construction sites, behind the bar, at the university.
Valorization of normative femininity is the most evident example of this phenomenon. Through the naturalization of women‘s bonds with domestic and care work, society continuously defines and promotes two socially recognized genders through the division of labour. Even if parenting seems to be undergoing a process of reconfiguration, the realm of bare domestic work remains feminized. Women who choose to or must find a payed job find themselves dealing both with external labour and domestic/relational unpaid labour. The outcome is represented by a simple fact: In Italy, family-working-time is performed by 71.9% of women, hence they work 1.15 hours more than men eveyday.
In the rethorics of the economic crisis, we are portrayed as sacrificial icons: heroic mothers or docile wives who are able to reconcile production and reproduction. In reality, we are almost crushed by the heavy weight of dismantling the welfare system, which falls entirely on our backs. We are forced to resign from work if we get pregnant. We see the hierierachies between italian women and migrant women in the sphere of care work getting stronger and stronger every day. But, gender roles are more than two. Other gender roles have emerged and it seems that Capital may have been the first to notice. Many women, lesbians, trans* and faggots find themselves in an extremely paradoxical situation in the present economic crisis. While, on the one hand, women, lesbians, trans* and faggots are invisible, discriminated against, or even excluded from the labour market, on the other hand, they are also in-demand and exploited precisely for their being women and queer subjects. As such, precarity, meritocracy, and criteria of selection are not only generalized but are also, first and foremost, gendered.
We are subjected to work, and we willingly subject ourselves to it, because we are thought to be more creative, more sociable, more inclined to listen, to mediate conflicts; because we have been taught how to present ourselves well; we know that we have to smile a lot; and because, possibly, we crave some form of social recognition. As gays, lesbians, transexuals, and queers––people whose relational status remains unclassifiable in any model based on the family––we are supposedly free from any emotional tie which could distract us from our dedication to work. At the same time, we are asked to extract surplus-value from our networks of relationships in order to give it for free to the businesses we work for. As trans* people, we are still excluded from labour or only partially included in it through hyper-sexualized roles.
These mechanisms experiment directly on our bodies. Hence, we know very well how all the nonsense on “womenomics” as a strategy for growth and development or on “diversity management” as a tool for social inclusion do not lead at all to a greater recognition and understanding of differences, but rather to an intensification of the exploitation, marginalization and poverty of 99% of women and queers.
Policies of diversity management offer businesses the possibility of gaining a competitive advantage through the commercial valorization of individual differences. Implementing these measures, the market is in fact able to widen its pool of customers and to increase sales up to 700%. These policies are now starting to spread in Italy, where heteosexism has its phalanx of Sentinels on their Feet, diversity management can be a particularly insidious weapon for co-optation and exploitation. Shouldn‘t we be grateful and loyal to the business which exploits us because, after all, it has graciously granted us that recognition and some of those rights which the homophobic state still has not given us? Does it even matter if, in the process, Capital has gained, at our expense, the image of being a “gay-friendly enterprise” which will tremendously increase its profits?
Anyway, gays, lesbians and bisexuals keep experiencing discrimination at work more than heterosexual people (22.1% vs 12.7%). Moreover, we end up having to deal with the crisis of traditional masculinity, when men’s loss of social and productive centrality immediately translates itself into increasing gender–based violence and homo-lesbo-transphobia.
For all of these reasons, we feel that the time has come for a generalized social strike and a strike of all genders and from all genders! What happens if––from our context of precarity where the difference between labour/non–labour is blurred, of sexual labour, of affects and payed/non–payed care work––we actually start to strike against all the expectations, repetitions, acts and roles through which we diffusely and daily (re)produce the regime of gender and the system itself?
A concrete and free experimentation of our gender(s)––of our bodies and pleasures––is possible when we strive for degen(d)eracy of social work and for the liberation of our life-time. That’s why we reclaim a basic and unconditional income, an income for self-determination!