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.