The Reproduction of Patriarchal Hegemony: Women in Italy Between Paid and Unpaid Work

As long as repro­duc­tive work is deval­ued, as long it is con­sid­ered a pri­vate mat­ter and women’s respon­si­bil­i­ty, women will always con­front cap­i­tal and the state with less pow­er than men, and in con­di­tions of extreme social and eco­nom­ic vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. It is also impor­tant to rec­og­nize that there are seri­ous lim­its to the extent to which repro­duc­tive work can be reduced or reor­ga­nized on a mar­ket basis… As for the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of repro­duc­tive work through its redis­tri­b­u­tion on the shoul­ders of oth­er women, as cur­rent­ly orga­nized this “solu­tion” only extends the house­work cri­sis, now dis­placed to the fam­i­lies of the paid care providers, and cre­ates new inequal­i­ties among women.

– Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “The repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er in the glob­al econ­o­my and the unfin­ished fem­i­nist rev­o­lu­tion” (2008)1

In the sys­tem of gen­der rela­tions, the role played by women in aug­ment­ing the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of the work­force has been and still remains absolute­ly func­tion­al to eco­nom­ic growth. In these terms, the role assigned to women is the out­come of the con­di­tion of sub­or­di­na­tion and depen­dence on the employ­ment sta­tus of the part­ner or hus­band, and also the cause of the repro­duc­tion of this con­di­tion. This process was a struc­tur­al fea­ture of the Fordist regime, but it is also shap­ing the post-Fordist regime – because it is pre­cise­ly through the denial of repro­duc­tive work that the patri­ar­chal sys­tem allows cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion, and state dis­en­gage­ment in pub­lic spend­ing.

Our case study will be Italy, which like all oth­er Mediter­ranean coun­tries has very lim­it­ed state inter­ven­tion to reduce care bur­dens, and which main­tains that the path­way to full eco­nom­ic cit­i­zen­ship nec­es­sar­i­ly fol­lows a male mod­el marked by the demands of the mar­ket based on the exchange val­ue, full-time avail­abil­i­ty, and andro­cen­tric hier­ar­chies that can­not be rec­on­ciled with the con­straints of repro­duc­tive work. The lack of jobs allow­ing work­ers to com­bine life and pro­fes­sion­al prospects, requires Ital­ian women to engage in a deep reori­en­ta­tion of their life. Along these lines, the greater invest­ment in high­er edu­ca­tion by many young women, and the con­se­quent desire by those women to direct their career path far from fam­i­ly tra­di­tions or pre­scrip­tions based on gen­der stereo­types, are lead­ing to a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of fam­i­ly pat­terns both an out­stand­ing reduc­tion in births (one of the high­est among Euro­pean coun­tries) and also the increase in the aver­age age of women who mar­ry and who have their first child, as shown by Euro­stat data on fer­til­i­ty and mar­riage.2

The (hidden) role of women in the Italian economy

babboThe par­tic­i­pa­tion of Ital­ian women in paid work is not a twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry phe­nom­e­non, as tes­ti­fied by data from the cen­sus car­ried out in the post-Uni­fi­ca­tion peri­od. In the late nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­turies, Ital­ian women worked in man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­tries, espe­cial­ly in the tex­tile indus­try, which requires a large work­force with high avail­abil­i­ty, on the basis of peaks of pro­duc­tion and sea­son­al­i­ty. Women’s work then expand­ed dur­ing the war peri­ods: up to 1920s women were employed in mil­i­tary cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, and more gen­er­al­ly in all posi­tions that, before the war, were filled by men. Per­ry Will­son notes that with the advent of fas­cism, the rela­tion­ship between the state and the pri­vate sphere rad­i­cal­ly changed.3 Fas­cist ide­ol­o­gy char­ac­ter­ized moth­er­hood as a “use­ful ser­vice to the coun­try,” embed­ded with­in mil­i­tarism, to the point of estab­lish­ing repro­duc­tion as a real polit­i­cal imper­a­tive.4 Female labor was strong­ly con­demned, while the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women as pro­lif­ic moth­ers was exalt­ed, in line with the imagery of the Catholic Church.5 Vic­to­ria De Grazia high­lights the role of rural­iza­tion and the pol­i­cy of low wages in the dis­per­sion of the work­force, and in main­tain­ing a state of depen­dence of rur­al house­holds on the state, and of women on the heads of house­holds; both these con­di­tions of depen­dence played a key role in the con­struc­tion of the stereo­type of the male bread­win­ner and the wife-moth­er-house­wife. The fas­cist dic­ta­tor­ship invent­ed the mater­nal­is­tic tra­di­tion: in 1933 it announced the cel­e­bra­tion of the “Day of the Moth­er and Child,” but it did not pro­vide any equi­table dis­tri­b­u­tion of funds and resources among indi­gent fam­i­lies, while it intro­duced the “tax on celiba­cy” that required pay­ments from all men aged 25 to 65.6

Dur­ing the fas­cist regime, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the edu­ca­tion­al sec­tor, women were not allowed to gain access to senior posi­tions and to some spe­cif­ic fields: in 1923 women were for­bid­den to oper­ate as prin­ci­pals in state sec­ondary schools, while in 1926 women could not teach Ital­ian lan­guage, his­to­ry, phi­los­o­phy and Latin in high schools. Fur­ther­more, women were pre­vent­ed from obtain­ing top man­age­ment roles at the Min­istry of Postal Ser­vice, and lim­its on the recruit­ment of women were intro­duced in pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion. Will­son empha­sizes that the mea­sures tak­en by the regime intend­ed to main­tain a gen­der bal­ance in order to rein­tro­duce male dom­i­na­tion and gen­dered hier­ar­chies in the work­place.7 These mea­sures played a deci­sive role in the social con­trol of women: they under­mined the pos­si­bil­i­ty of self-deter­mi­na­tion, restrict­ing women to the role of wives and moth­ers, and increas­ing the eco­nom­ic depen­dence of women on the income of men. In this sense, what hap­pened dur­ing the fas­cist regime was a cru­cial step in form­ing the mode of pro­duc­tion that sup­port­ed the “Ital­ian road to Fordism” tak­en after World War II.

In the sec­ond post­war peri­od, rur­al exo­dus and urban­iza­tion were dri­ven by the “eco­nom­ic mir­a­cle,” and the inex­orable decline of the patri­ar­chal fam­i­ly rede­fined the fam­i­ly struc­ture. How­ev­er, these phe­nom­e­na, at least until the 1970s, would not involve the greater par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in paid work or the redraw­ing of bal­ance in the rela­tion­ship between men and women. Unlike most Euro­pean coun­tries dur­ing the eco­nom­ic expan­sion of the sec­ond post-war peri­od, in Italy female employ­ment did not grow, but declined. In 1950 only 32% of Ital­ian women were employed (a com­pared to 40.7% in Unit­ed King­dom, 44.3% in Ger­many, 35.1% in Swe­den, and 49.5% in France), in part a con­se­quence of the entry into force of the law of 1 Octo­ber 1960, n. 1027,8 which rec­og­nized the prin­ci­ple of equal pay between men and women and gen­er­at­ed an increase in labor costs. In order to defend the insti­tu­tion of the fam­i­ly against the “dan­ger” of women’s eman­ci­pa­tion, the Catholic Church opposed birth con­trol prac­tices and attrib­uted respon­si­bil­i­ty for the declin­ing birth rate to the “self­ish­ness” of mod­ern women.9 The growth of the real wages as a result of indus­tri­al­iza­tion, and the increase of the share of income allo­cat­ed to con­sump­tion, allowed many Ital­ians to improve their stan­dard of liv­ing. At the same time, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of resources wors­ened, and pop­u­la­tion growth led to an increased demand for pub­lic ser­vices, such as health­care, hous­ing, edu­ca­tion, and trans­port. The state’s response in pub­lic spend­ing, how­ev­er, was triv­ial com­pared to this demand. Lau­ra Bal­bo points out that the wors­en­ing of the rela­tion­ship between pub­lic resources and social needs caused the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the exploita­tion of women, to the point that the role of full-time house­wife became “a role struc­tural­ly nec­es­sary to real­ize, in the new con­di­tions, the bal­ance between resources and need-sat­is­fac­tion that is con­sid­ered an essen­tial stan­dard.”10

In the late 1960s the Fordist mode of pro­duc­tion, based on the large-scale man­u­fac­tur­ing of stan­dard­ized goods and the cen­tral­i­ty of big firms, was in cri­sis. The Ital­ian pro­duc­tion sys­tem was reor­ga­nized, intro­duc­ing ele­ments of flex­i­bil­i­ty that could pre­serve and also increase the prof­its of big firms. In 1970, the intro­duc­tion of an exten­sive sys­tem of for­mal pro­tec­tions for work­ers with the Work­ers’ Statute accel­er­at­ed the col­lapse of the Fordist mode of pro­duc­tion. The increased rigid­i­ty in the use of the work force became the main argu­ment in sup­port of poli­cies of decen­tral­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion.11 Ital­ian capitalism’s response to the eco­nom­ic cri­sis of the 1970s there­fore con­sist­ed, on the one hand, in the dis­man­tling of big firms through the exten­sive use of ver­ti­cal dis­in­te­gra­tion of the pro­duc­tion process, and on the oth­er, in the spread of small and medi­um firms, where the lim­it­ed num­ber of work­ers and the close rela­tion­ship between employ­ers and employ­ees pre­clud­ed class strug­gles.12

In the 1970s the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the Ital­ian man­u­fac­tur­ing sys­tem passed through the expan­sion of the black mar­ket and ille­gal employ­ment, home­work (piece­work done at home), sec­ond jobs, and a gen­er­al pro­lif­er­a­tion of work­ing activ­i­ties with no con­tract. This labor mar­ket seg­men­ta­tion and the spread of new firms, in indus­tri­al­ized but also espe­cial­ly in rur­al areas, total­ly invis­i­ble for tax­es and nation­al insur­ance, grew to the point that the under­ground econ­o­my began to play a struc­tur­al role with­in the Ital­ian econ­o­my. It should be empha­sized that in ear­ly 1970s Italy the seg­men­ta­tion of the labor mar­ket, as well as occu­pa­tion­al seg­re­ga­tion, were not relat­ed to migrant work­ers, as they were in oth­er indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries, because the migrant flows were still lim­it­ed. Rather, these process­es involved young peo­ple, adults over 40 with few job oppor­tu­ni­ties, and espe­cial­ly women.13 So the female work­force rep­re­sent­ed a cru­cial pool of labor, which could be used in the most flex­i­ble way, through the exploita­tion of the irreg­u­lar work­force and home­work, allow­ing the pro­duc­tion sys­tem to cope with the insta­bil­i­ty result­ing from extreme fluc­tu­a­tions of the econ­o­my with­out affect­ing repro­duc­tive labor.14 In these terms it is the female work­force that ulti­mate­ly bore the bur­den of eco­nom­ic and indus­tri­al restruc­tur­ing. Think, here, of the spread of the prac­tice of “blank res­ig­na­tion let­ters” imposed on female can­di­dates at the time of recruit­ment. In this prac­tice, which still exists today, women are asked to sign their employ­ment con­tract togeth­er with a blank res­ig­na­tion let­ter, which can be enforced at the employer’s will; these let­ters are usu­al­ly brought out when an employ­ee informs her employ­er that she is preg­nant.15

Since the 1970s the strate­gic role pro­gres­sive­ly gained by small-firm man­u­fac­tur­ing has been most­ly due to high pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, the intense pace of work, and the pecu­liar role of exports. The eco­nom­ic sec­tors that, in fact, derived greater ben­e­fit from small­er firm size were cloth­ing, footwear, fur­ni­ture, and small metal­lic man­u­fac­tur­ing. These sec­tors are char­ac­ter­ized by low tech­no­log­i­cal invest­ment and inten­sive exploita­tion of human labor, while the man­u­fac­tur­ing process can be eas­i­ly seg­ment­ed and some of its stages out­sourced to oth­er firms, self-employed work­ers, and home­work­ers. In small-firm areas man­u­fac­tur­ing social­iza­tion has affect­ed entire local com­mu­ni­ties, defin­ing a labor mar­ket, on a ter­ri­to­r­i­al basis, con­sist­ing of men employed in agri­cul­ture and in the fac­to­ries, women and work­ers with low edu­ca­tion­al lev­els employed in dis­con­tin­u­ous work­ing posi­tions, in which the unions and the tra­di­tion­al means of aggre­gat­ing inter­ests are unlike­ly to take root. In these fem­i­nized con­texts, the onset of con­flict is less like­ly.16 The dynam­ic econ­o­my of new man­u­fac­tur­ing areas which expand­ed dur­ing the 1970s and the 1980s, espe­cial­ly in rur­al areas, were main­ly sup­port­ed by fam­i­lies that infor­mal­ly man­aged work­force place­ment, through the acti­va­tion of local net­works; con­tributed to the reduc­tion of labor costs, because of the close­ness between house­holds and work­places; and also orga­nized the repro­duc­tion of the work­force through the infor­mal­iza­tion of social ser­vices.17

Nev­er­the­less, this expla­na­tion does not con­sid­er some impor­tant macro­eco­nom­ic ele­ments relat­ed to the glob­al divi­sion of labor, and its effects on the Ital­ian econ­o­my. It must be observed that in the 1970s the restruc­tur­ing of the Ital­ian man­u­fac­tur­ing sys­tem was close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with exter­nal pres­sures aris­ing from fluc­tu­a­tions in glob­al demand and inter­nal rigidi­ties pro­duced by the new rela­tions between cap­i­tal and labor. There­fore, the exten­sive use of the decen­tral­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion, while estab­lish­ing a new form of devel­op­ment, was in con­ti­nu­ity with the exist­ing eco­nom­ic rela­tions, deeply root­ed in the social struc­ture.18

The eco­nom­ic dynamism of the sys­tem of pro­duc­tion emerg­ing in the sec­ond half of the 1970s was based on the fam­i­ly struc­ture and a pecu­liar social­iza­tion due to the lega­cy of rur­al cul­ture. For a long time the main eco­nom­ic actor in Italy has been the fam­i­ly as a “place of com­po­si­tion, exam­i­na­tion, income dis­tri­b­u­tion, agent con­sump­tion, scope def­i­n­i­tion in labor sup­ply, and actor of the infor­mal econ­o­my.”19 In these man­u­fac­tur­ing areas the cul­ture of the “self-made man” was the result of a social­iza­tion process that occurred with­in the fam­i­ly. In fact, the econ­o­my of these areas asso­ci­at­ed for­mal pro­duc­tion for the mar­ket with infor­mal pro­duc­tion, relat­ed to the ties aris­ing between the employed work­force and the local com­mu­ni­ty.20

In small-firm areas the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of women’s role, total­ly sub­or­di­nat­ed to the expec­ta­tions of social pro­mo­tion of male fam­i­ly mem­bers, has been ful­ly func­tion­al for eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, as showed by the spread of the home­work. Dur­ing the 1960s and 1980s, the expan­sion of home­work in many man­u­fac­tur­ing areas became cru­cial for the nation­al econ­o­my, tes­ti­fy­ing that women work­ing at home have played a piv­otal posi­tion, ful­ly func­tion­al to the needs of eco­nom­ic growth.21 Domes­tic and care work and work­ing activ­i­ty for the mar­ket have coex­ist­ed in the same sub­ject, even if depen­dent on the needs of the fam­i­ly, often result­ing in phys­i­cal­ly detri­men­tal labor con­di­tions. It is suf­fi­cient here to recall, for exam­ple, the fre­quent cas­es of neu­ropathies found among women work­ing at home due to the use of risky sol­vents usu­al­ly employed in the shoe man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try.

Dur­ing the eco­nom­ic mir­a­cle, the paid and unpaid work of Ital­ian women led to a deci­sive reduc­tion of the social costs of pro­duc­tion. In the long run, how­ev­er, this large amount of unpaid domes­tic and care work, and low-paid work for the mar­ket, has rein­forced the gen­dered divi­sion of labor, affect­ing not only the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in paid work but the posi­tion of women in the broad­er social sphere and with­in the struc­tures of polit­i­cal and labor rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The invis­i­bil­i­ty of the work done at home has played a key role in the repro­duc­tion of patri­archy, with the effect of rein­forc­ing gen­der stereo­types and the depen­dence of women on the eco­nom­ic and social posi­tion of the hus­band or part­ner.

Reproductive work without public spending

In Italy, women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in paid work con­tin­ues to suf­fer, more than in oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries, from the steep imbal­ance in the gen­der divi­sion of fam­i­ly and care work and the retrench­ment of the wel­fare state, to the point that Ital­ian women work more hours per day, in domes­tic and care work, than any­where else in Europe. The unavoid­abil­i­ty of fam­i­ly and care work and the cur­rent divi­sion of labor between men and women still force women, rather than both mem­bers of the work­ing cou­ple, to struc­ture their career paths around the “work-life bal­ance.”22 There are, how­ev­er, sig­nif­i­cant social fac­tors that can enhance or reduce the degree of bal­ance: the avail­abil­i­ty of the part­ner to share the bur­den of fam­i­ly work (includ­ing pure­ly domes­tic work) more equal­ly; the num­ber and ages of chil­dren; the edu­ca­tion lev­el of both mem­bers of the cou­ple; job and pro­fes­sion­al sta­tus and the capac­i­ty to find care ser­vices and/or famil­ial net­works. Nev­er­the­less, it should be also be recalled that the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in paid work, along with the work-life bal­ance, are close­ly relat­ed to the struc­ture of labor demand. View­ing the employ­ment dynam­ic on a long-term scale, on the basis of eco­nom­ic sec­tor, it can be observed that in Italy, unlike many oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries, pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion (the Ital­ian state as employ­er) had no par­tic­u­lar role in increas­ing the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in paid work. Nation­al sta­tis­tics data shows that female labor is more con­cen­trat­ed in sec­tors typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with ser­vice and care, high­ly marked by income dis­con­ti­nu­ity, low wages, and rigid work­ing times.23 By con­trast, the very lim­it­ed pres­ence of women in Ital­ian pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion tes­ti­fies that the gen­dered divi­sion of labor and the occu­pa­tion­al seg­re­ga­tion have been nour­ished and repro­duced by the Ital­ian state in order to sup­port the male work­force, along with dis­crim­i­na­tion sup­port­ing the male bread­win­ner mod­el.

Public Spending on Families (Cash Benefits and Benefits in Kind) as % of Gross Domestic Product

 

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2009

Aus­tria

3.1

2.8

2.6

3.1

2.8

2.9

Bel­gium

3

2.6

2.3

2.3

2.6

2.8

Den­mark

2.8

2.6

3.2

3.8

3.5

3.9

Fin­land

1.9

2.6

3.2

4

3

3.3

France

2.4

2.7

2.5

2.7

3

3.2

Ger­many

2

1.5

1.6

2.1

2.1

2.1

Greece

0.3

0.3

0.7

1

1

1.4

Ire­land

1.1

1.4

2

2.1

2

4.1

Italy

1.1

0.9

0.8

0.6

1.1

1.6

Nether­lands

2.5

2.1

1.7

1.3

1.5

1.7

Nor­way

1.8

1.9

2.7

3.5

3

3.2

Por­tu­gal

0.6

0.6

0.7

0.7

1

1.5

Spain

0.5

0.3

0.3

0.4

1

1.5

Swe­den

3.9

4.1

4.4

3.8

3

3.7

Unit­ed King­dom

2.3

2.3

1.9

2.3

2.7

3.8

Source: OECD Sta­tis­tics on Social Expen­di­ture

From the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry to the present, aver­age fam­i­ly size has reduced by half, while one-per­son house­holds (with or with­out chil­dren) have strong­ly increased. In spite of the fact that repro­duc­tive work is unavoid­able, regard­less of house­hold com­po­si­tion, there are many vari­ables to con­sid­er: the pres­ence, num­ber, and age of chil­dren and/or depen­dent adults make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in its inten­si­ty, and explain the degree and con­ti­nu­ity of women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in paid work. The employ­ment rate of moth­ers varies wide­ly, in fact, based on house­hold com­po­si­tion. Euro­stat data shows that for all employed women in Europe between the ages of 25 and 49, the cru­cial dif­fer­ence in par­tic­i­pa­tion in paid work is between women who have no chil­dren and those who have one or more.

The analy­sis of the employ­ment rate of women aged between 15 and 64 years in the last decade shows a high con­ti­nu­ity among coun­tries in some spe­cif­ic areas: the Mediter­ranean coun­tries (Italy, Spain, Greece, and Por­tu­gal), West­ern and Cen­tral Euro­pean coun­tries (France and Ger­many), and the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries. These areas are very dif­fer­ent in sev­er­al respects: wel­fare regimes, eco­nom­ic struc­tures, and sys­tems of gen­der rela­tions. Even if in all coun­tries women car­ry out the main bur­den of fam­i­ly and care work the analy­sis of data on the dis­tri­b­u­tion of this work with­in the cou­ple draws atten­tion to some pecu­liar dif­fer­ences in women’s com­mit­ment. Accord­ing to 2008-9 OECD data, while in Italy women do fam­i­ly and care work for 315 min­utes on aver­age each day (men 104 min­utes), in France women do unpaid work for 233 min­utes (men 143), in Ger­many 269 min­utes (men 164), and in Spain 258 min­utes (men 154).24 The data shows that despite the increased num­ber of dual-earn­er house­holds, the bur­den result­ing from increased repro­duc­tive work still affects women far more heav­i­ly than men. In Mediter­ranean coun­tries the male part­ners’ com­mit­ment to fam­i­ly work is very lim­it­ed, espe­cial­ly com­pared to male part­ners in the coun­tries of Cen­tral and North­ern Europe. The per­sis­tence of these dif­fer­ences tes­ti­fies that patri­ar­chal cul­ture and its cru­cial con­tri­bu­tion to the gen­dered divi­sion of labor are still deeply entrenched. This imbal­ance in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of domes­tic and care work with­in the cou­ple, and the scarci­ty both of pub­lic ser­vices, such as kinder­gartens or care ser­vices for depen­dent adults, and trans­fers to fam­i­lies, has a sig­nif­i­cant effect on the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in paid work, and at the same time must be under­stood as cause and effect of the strat­e­gy of the cap­i­tal­ist state.

The analy­sis of par­tic­i­pa­tion in paid work also shows that the increased bur­den of fam­i­ly care often trans­lates, for women, into pre­car­i­ous employ­ment. From 2000 to 2013, in the Mediter­ranean area—composed of Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal—female part-time employ­ment has grown by 7 per­cent­age points com­pared to the aver­age of 4.6 per­cent­age points in the Euro­pean Union (EU 15).25 How­ev­er, in Italy more than half of women employed as part-timers did not choose this type of employ­ment: 58.6% of women employed in part-time jobs said they had no alter­na­tive employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties.26 The sur­vey results show the pres­ence of a high rigid­i­ty in the work orga­ni­za­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the ser­vice sec­tor, which dri­ves com­pa­nies to pre­fer hir­ing part-time work­ers to ensure the con­tin­u­ous turnover of staff in peak work­load over the adop­tion of mea­sures for increas­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty of work­ing time.27

How­ev­er, as not­ed above, the trans­for­ma­tion of the Ital­ian labor mar­ket can­not be under­stood as a result of the atten­u­at­ing of the asym­me­try with­in the house­hold. The weak­en­ing of parental sup­port net­works and the greater par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in paid work is asso­ci­at­ed, in fact, with the assign­ment of domes­tic and care work to migrant women. INPS data (2013) indi­cates the pres­ence of 748,777 domes­tic work­ers and care­givers (for­mal­ly hired and paid on the basis of the Nation­al Col­lec­tive Bar­gain­ing Agree­ments) of for­eign nation­al­i­ty, most­ly com­ing from East­ern Europe. Accord­ing to ILO esti­mates, Italy, along with Spain and France, has one of largest num­bers of domes­tic work­ers and care­givers in Europe. This dynam­ic shows that increas­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion of Ital­ian women in paid work has not affect­ed the redis­tri­b­u­tion of work­load with­in the house­hold; nei­ther has it com­pelled the inter­ven­tion of the state through wel­fare pro­vi­sions. The greater par­tic­i­pa­tion of Ital­ian women in paid work has, rather, result­ed the assign­ment of part of repro­duc­tive work to oth­er women out­side the fam­i­ly, who in turn are affect­ed by lack of social recog­ni­tion, seg­re­ga­tion, and often abuse.

Nev­er­the­less, the defamiliza­tion of care work through the use of pri­vate assis­tance both for chil­dren and for depen­dent adults can be cho­sen only in par­tic­u­lar con­di­tions; it depends on the income and work­ing hours of the house­hold, which are tied up with the the pro­fes­sion­al sta­tus of both part­ners. It also depends on the prox­im­i­ty of these ser­vices. Cur­rent­ly many work­ing-class women, after dis­missals due to the eco­nom­ic cri­sis and the restruc­tur­ing process­es in many work­places, often give up look­ing for a job, even if they need to work, to devote them­selves full-time to domes­tic and care work, in order to man­age the reduc­tion of the house­hold bud­get pro­duced by the job loss. Such mea­sures for work-life bal­ance clear­ly have a close tie with class con­di­tions, espe­cial­ly in those coun­tries where pub­lic spend­ing in social and fam­i­ly poli­cies is and will be more and more mar­gin­al as a con­se­quence of aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures.

Conclusions

In Italy, women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in paid work has been affect­ed by sev­er­al fac­tors: the rel­a­tive­ly late devel­op­ment of the ter­tiary sec­tor; the assign­ment of the full load of care work by the state to fam­i­lies and famil­ial net­works; and a very pecu­liar, and main­ly frag­ment­ed, eco­nom­ic struc­ture. All of these fac­tors are the result of the deep-root­ed patri­ar­chal cul­ture, and in the long run they have strong­ly con­tributed to the repro­duc­tion of this cul­ture. Gen­der inequal­i­ties pose ques­tions about the role that the Ital­ian state – through the endur­ing dis­en­gage­ment in fam­i­ly and social poli­cies, both in terms of trans­fers and ser­vices – has had in the struc­tur­ing of the sys­tem of gen­der rela­tions and in dis­ci­plin­ing the work­force as a whole.

Along these lines the part­ner­ship between patri­archy and cap­i­tal­ism can be thought as a rela­tion­ship of mutu­al rein­force­ment: the for­mer gains in the sub­ju­ga­tion of women and in the repro­duc­tion of the mas­cu­line dom­i­na­tion, as the lat­ter expands con­trol over the work­force. This pecu­liar part­ner­ship has been sup­port­ed by the state, because of the need to exer­cise con­trol and gain polit­i­cal con­sent while pre­vent­ing the emer­gence of social con­flict. It is also because of the sav­ing that comes from the dis­en­gage­ment in expen­di­ture for fam­i­ly and social poli­cies. It must be observed that the mod­el of the male bread­win­ner played a cru­cial role in post­war cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, both because it made pos­si­ble an extra­or­di­nary reduc­tion in the costs of social repro­duc­tion, and because it allowed for the exploita­tion of women’s invis­i­ble domes­tic and care work in the house­hold. The results of the part­ner­ship between cap­i­tal­ism and the state are marked in many coun­tries, but espe­cial­ly in Italy, where the process of state-build­ing encoun­tered geopo­lit­i­cal dilem­mas it nev­er over­came, and where, at least until the end of the 1960s, the Catholic Church has pre­served a strong hege­mo­ny in moral and polit­i­cal issues. In Italy, patri­ar­chal ide­ol­o­gy has undoubt­ed­ly been repro­duced by the inter­ests of the state, per­fect­ly com­pat­i­ble with those of the Catholic Church, both con­verg­ing in the fem­i­niza­tion of domes­tic and care work and in the rigid divi­sion between pub­lic and pri­vate sphere.

The con­tri­bu­tion of patri­ar­chal ide­ol­o­gy to the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion and state legi­ma­tion has played a cen­tral role in the exer­cise of con­trol and com­mand over the pop­u­la­tion with­out a for­mal con­cen­tra­tion of pow­er. This hege­mo­ny has seen an extra­or­di­nary expan­sion in the neolib­er­al peri­od: the stan­dard­ized rigid­i­ty of work­ing time in the Fordist peri­od has been com­plete­ly sub­sti­tut­ed by a diver­si­fied rigid­i­ty in neolib­er­al time. Today, even if the wors­en­ing of work­ing and liv­ing con­di­tions affects all work­ers, women, espe­cial­ly those who are unskilled and/or alone with chil­dren, suf­fer the most. Aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures and the struc­tur­al con­di­tions of the Ital­ian econ­o­my por­tend that the cuts in social spend­ing and the expand­ing casu­al­iza­tion of work­ing con­di­tions will increase the risk of social exclu­sion of women, lead­ing us back to the past, when the insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the unwaged labor of women and their wage­less depen­dence on men were the dom­i­nant attrib­ut­es of the fam­i­ly.28


  1. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “The repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er in the glob­al econ­o­my and the unfin­ished fem­i­nist rev­o­lu­tion” in Rev­o­lu­tion at Point Zero: House­work, Repro­duc­tion and Fem­i­nist Strug­gle (Com­mon Notions, PM Press, 2012), 110-111. 

  2. See Euro­stat data at: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/population/data/database

  3. Per­ry R. Will­son, Women in Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry Italy (Bas­ingstoke: Pal­grave MacMil­lan, 2010). 

  4. Vic­to­ria De Grazia, How Fas­cism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922-1945 (Oak­land: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 1992). 

  5. It must be observed that the alliance between fas­cism and the Catholic Church was only con­firmed through the sign­ing of the Lat­er­an Pacts in 1929. 

  6. The mea­sures envis­aged by the fas­cist regime turned to heav­i­ly penal­ize large fam­i­lies and many Ital­ian fam­i­lies with chil­dren, deprived of any form of sub­sidy. See Will­son, Women in Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry Italy, 114. 

  7. See Will­son, Women in Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry Italy, 71-78. 

  8. This is the stan­dard that applies to art. 1 of Law 14 July 1959, n. 741: “The Gov­ern­ment has del­e­gat­ed the pow­er to adopt legal rules hav­ing the force of law, to ensure manda­to­ry min­i­mum pay and con­di­tions in respect of all those belong­ing to the same cat­e­go­ry. In issu­ing the rules the gov­ern­ment must abide by all terms of indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive eco­nom­ic agree­ments, includ­ing cross-indus­try, con­clud­ed by trade unions pri­or to the date of entry into force of this Act.” 

  9. Will­son, Women in Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry Italy, 220-222. 

  10. See Lau­ra Bal­bo, Sta­to di famiglia (Milano, ETAS lib­ri, 1976), 83-86. 

  11. Augus­to Graziani, Crisi e ristrut­turazione nell’economia ital­iana (Tori­no: Ein­au­di, 1975). 

  12. Augus­to Graziani, Lo svilup­po dell’economia ital­iana dal­la ricostruzione alla mon­e­ta euro­pea (Tori­no, Bol­lati Bor­inghieri, 1998). 

  13. Lui­gi Frey, Il lavoro a domi­cilio e il decen­tra­men­to dell’attività pro­dut­ti­va nei set­tori tes­sile e dell’abbigliamento in Italia (Milano, Fran­co Angeli, 1975). 

  14. Patrizia David, “Il ruo­lo del­la don­na nell’economia per­ifer­i­ca,” Inchi­es­ta VIII, 34, luglio-agos­to (1978): 54-60.  

  15. Sta­tis­tics sug­gest that over 800,000 preg­nant women were forced to leave their jobs in 2008-2009. See also ISTAT, Rap­por­to annuale. La situ­azione del paese nel 2010 (Roma: Istat), 153-154: http://www3.Istat.it/dati/catalogo/20110523_00/

  16. Aris Accornero, Fab­bri­ca dif­fusa e nuo­va classe opera­ia, in “Inchi­es­ta,” luglio-agos­to (1978): 12-18. 

  17. Achille Ardigò and Pier­pao­lo Donati, Famiglia e indus­tri­al­iz­zazione (Milano: Fran­co Angeli, 1976). 

  18. Brus­co Sebas­tiano “Orga­niz­zazione del lavoro e decen­tra­men­to pro­dut­ti­vo nel set­tore metalmec­ca­ni­co”, in FLM-Berg­amo (a cura di), Sin­da­ca­to e pic­co­la impre­sa: strate­gia del cap­i­tale e azione sin­da­cale nel decen­tra­men­to pro­dut­ti­vo (Bari: De Dona­to, 1975), 7-67 and 203-233. Arnal­do Bag­nasco, Tre Ital­ie: le prob­lem­atiche del­lo svilup­po eco­nom­i­co ital­iano (Bologna: Il Muli­no, 1977). 

  19. See the con­tri­bu­tion of Sara­ceno Chiara, “La famiglia come sogget­to eco­nom­i­co e il pat­ri­mo­nio famil­iare: ovvero del­la divi­sione del lavoro tra i ses­si e delle sue con­seguen­ze per uomi­ni e donne”, in Soci­olo­gia del lavoro 43 (1991): 149-166. 

  20. Mas­si­mo Paci, Famiglia e mer­ca­to del lavoro in un’economia per­ifer­i­ca (Milano: Fran­co Angeli, 1980). 

  21. Tania Tof­fanin, Il lavoro a domi­cilio nell’area calza­turi­era del­la Riv­iera del Brenta, MA Degree the­sis in Soci­ol­o­gy of Work (super­vi­sor prof. Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bi­no), com­plet­ed in March 1999 at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pado­va (Italy), Fac­ul­ty of Polit­i­cal Sci­ence. 

  22. This term is not neu­tral: the result of the work-life bal­ance always comes from strug­gles, loss­es, the reshap­ing of per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al goals, and nego­ti­a­tions with­in cou­ples. 

  23. See ISTAT data on part-time employ­ment in trade, hotels and restau­rants, avail­able at: http://dati.istat.it/?lang=en#.  

  24. See OECD data on time use. It refers to the aver­age min­utes spent per day in dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties (both week­ends and week­days) of women and men aged 15-64. Among the activ­i­ties includ­ed in the unpaid work: rou­tine house­work, shop­ping, care for house­hold mem­bers, child care, adult care, care for non house­hold mem­bers, vol­un­teer­ing, trav­el relat­ed to house­hold activ­i­ties and oth­er unpaid ones.  

  25. See Euro­stat sta­tis­tics on part-time employ­ment avail­able at: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/employment_unemployment_lfs/data/database

  26. Com­pare the Euro­stat data­base. 

  27. Gian Car­lo Cer­ru­ti, Lavo­rare al tem­po del cliente nel post-fordis­mo. Cam­bi­a­men­ti degli orari di lavoro in un iper­me­r­ca­to (Milano: Fran­co Angeli, 2010). 

  28. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci and Nicole Cox, “Coun­ter­plan­ning from the Kitchen (1975),” in Rev­o­lu­tion at Point Zero, 33. 

Author of the article

is an economic sociologist. She has an MA Degree in Political Science at the University of Padua with a thesis in Sociology of Work, on the analysis of homework and the condition of women in an Italian small-scale manufacturing area; and PhD in Labor Studies at the University of Milan. She is research fellow at Ca Foscari University of Venice, after teaching Sociology of Work, and Gender and Work, at the University of Padua.