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How Important It Is For A Woman To Work?

5938 words - 24 pages

When we speak of women’s work we initially think of the work that women do at home, their unpaid domestic labour. The old catchcry ‘women’s work is never done’ refers to the hundreds of household chores for which women are assumed to take total responsibility. However there is also another sort of ‘women’s work’ – the work done by women in the paid workforce, which is characterised by the fact that it tends to be done only by women. Although the work women perform at home is itself invisible because it is always done away from the public eye, women are seen by society as housewives and mothers and not as paid workers. Women’s unpaid domestic work is seen as primary and paramount, and their ...view middle of the document...

The importance of this source of cheap labour to Australian industry is well demonstrated by the conflicts that arose over the question of women’s pay rates during World War II. This crisis exposed social undercurrents that in more stable periods tend to go unnoticed and remain undetectable to future generations. This ‘undetectability’ is especially true of women in the paid workforce, for their very social invisibility ensures that they are frequently absent from contemporary documentation. This then forms an important instrument for the continuation of their suppression and their availability for exploitation. Cultural invisibility is bound up with social condemnation; and for married women to work in such a social climate, they must have a great need. Thus, before World War ii, working women were mostly either single, deserted, or economically disadvantaged. If a married woman worked, it was seen to be a negative reflection of a husband’s ability to support her.

The outbreak of World War ii created a critical need for vast increases in the number of women in the paid workforce. This necessitated a temporary reversal of the relative promotion of women’s two functions, a reversal which highlighted the usually imperceptible participation of women in the paid workforce. The ideological promotion of the working woman gave her a social significance and visibility that enabled her to fight against the exploitation of low wages and poor conditions. The promotional change is shown clearly by Andrée Wright, who has recorded changes in the image of femininity as portrayed in the Australian Women’s Weekly through the war years. The working woman not only became ‘visible’ but attained primacy over her housewife counterpart: ‘During the early war years, up to 1942, homemaking and motherhood remained the most important job.’ As the need for increased supplies of female labour became paramount, the Australian Women’s Weekly began to change the image of its heroine: ‘As long as women were needed in the workforce, magazine propaganda painted an attractive image of the working woman.’ But as soon as the war was over, the ‘working woman’ ceased to exist for the Women’s Weekly, being replaced by ‘the bride’.

Before looking at the wartime situation we should discuss further the means by which women are maintained as a cheap labour force. The apparent social insignificance of women’s work would be threatened if men and women shared the same jobs. Thus, to ensure the continuation of the cheap pool of female labour, women must be confined to particular jobs, which become ‘female occupations’. This sex segregation of the workforce provides further social justification for the economic fact that women receive lower wages. Socially it ensures consistency in the claim that women’s work is less significant and therefore worthy of lower remuneration. And in giving men higher wages it also ensures that they remain the prime breadwinners and that women’s incomes are...

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