On Feminist Theory: Exploitation

How are women exploited in society?

And are women the only ones that are exploited in a patriarchal society? History has shown that although men also suffer from the patriarchal society, in terms of unreasonable expectations and frequent majority figures in suicide statistics, women’s exploitation is a pre-requisite for the continued existence of patriarchy. That is accomplished through a variety of means, but I’ll begin by laying out the main guidelines.

Unpaid Labor

In feminist theory, materialism comes into focus the moment we speak of women’s work in society. That is, the work that they do at their own expense and without any proper monetary compensation. Work that is largely expected of them as a duty enforced by social expectations and tradition. However, when women began to be inserted into the workforce alongside men, this change did not also reflect at home. So, while women WERE allowed to work on similar jobs to men, they remained the sole contributor for household labor in a majority of cases.

2nd-wave feminism went into this and I would advise reading up on Christine Delphy’s theory of exploitation, if you would like to get deeper into this subject.

The unpaid labor results in an accrual of work hours that are not accounted for in the woman’s work. Time spent at home to do chores, cooking, taking care of children (when they are included in the mix) account for sometimes up to 80 hours of work per week for women, whereas men’s household duties extend their total working hours to about 50 a week. Most recent figures regarding this can be found in a study by Graciela Chichilnisky, where she analyzed, via nash equilibrium models, this discrepancy in particular, and found that if we were to be consistent with economic growth, we should desire that men and women share equal amounts of household duties, to permit maximum output.

Now, that is wonderful and everything, but why is working at home while having a job exploitation? Why don’t women simply stay at home until the children are ready to go to school or kindergarten, and then go back to work? Well, if you were to ask the same question of a man, you’d find that they would rather go back to work as soon as the child is born and healthy. Women cannot do that right away due to convalescence and also due to an expectation that they will remain at home for the first few years.

After 2nd-wave feminism, however, this changed. Kindergartens have allowed women with career ambitions to leave their children with a worker in a child care center, to take care of them while they are at work. While this obviously reduced the amount of time women had to take off their work, it did not have the cultural effect of making women less liable to spend more time taking care of household duties.

On the contrary, atop still making women the purveyors of children’s growth (more kindergarteners or babysitters are women than men), it did nothing to change the mindset on a majority of cases. This new notion is now known by feminists as “mental load”.

Mental Load

Mental Load is what can be attributed to the cognitive dissonance between the cultural acceptance of women as equals to men, yet a persisting unequal share of work at home. As a result, men will tend to forego doing things like dishes, tidying up rooms, cleaning the toilet, bathtub, etc… Because of a pre-existing realization that these things are taken care of by the woman in the couple. As a result, women’s requests of men to take care of certain things they normally don’t do will be seen as out of the norm. “You should have asked” will be an appropriate reaction in these situations, because men are unaccustomed to helping women in household duties.

It is thus worthy of note that although we may believe ourselves more egalitarian, our cognitive reactions to chores differs based on our gender expression. Mental Load theory therefore establishes that men should not wait for women to demand of them to carry out everyday household tasks. Mental Load, when not addressed in relationships, leads to women and men ignoring these things as being second-nature. In fact, as the male gaze, patriarchy, heteronormative society, all of these things are socially constructed.

Without an equalized share of the mental load at home, men and women cannot come to an understanding of equality or even equity within their lives. Naturally, the idea that tasks should be separated equally is not as valid as some might think. It might be that some tasks are better carried out by the man or the woman, and each case warranting specific intervention, it may be that to stabilize the equity in household duties would still result in unequal shares of these duties.

The fact remains, however, that as a society, the norm has been oriented toward women having a bigger mental load, and although this might work for some, it is not a “biological” division of tasks but still very well socially and mutually constructed. While the man in general comes home from work and spends his night watching TV or doing his hobbies, the woman is more likely to have to pick up after the man and do chores that the man might very well be capable of doing as well, from time to time.

Sex work and hypersexualization / objectification

Women make up a majority of sex industry workers…

“Reliable information on the number of prostitutes is lacking. In 2003, it was estimated that there were between 20000 and 30000 prostitutes. However, it is believed that the number decreased also as a consequence of the former economic crisis and the closure of a number of brothels. According to TAMPEP, in 2008, there were approximately 10000 to 15000 prostitutes, of which 90% were female. The majority of female prostitutes are migrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, although a downward trend in the number of female migrant prostitutes from 2000 (80%) to 2008 (60%)121 was perceived.”

(Note: This statistic is with regards to Europe, but similar numbers can be found across the globe and within multiple other countries)

They also appear as heterosexual eye-catchers for a primarily (assumed) male audience. (more in the Male Gaze article) In general, women are seen via the male gaze and as such, the colloquialism “women should be seen but not heard” emanates from this preconception of women. As accessories, women are particularly desired from the media, mostly to add to the prestige of a male figure.

I would contend that the knowledge of women being overwhelmingly more present than men in prostitution rings probably has something to do with that, like some kind of subconscious self-realization. We recognize that there is a problem, but our lackluster decision to act against it is reflected in the glorification of men who can “pull ass”. Such a declaration can only be made true if we look at who the clients of such prostitution rings are.

Clients of prostitution have very diverse academic levels, family situations, careers, and revenues. Prostitutes are mostly women, and most studies showed that the great majority of clients are men.”

*Citations provided in the article


Statistics show a variety of men from different backgrounds, but men still overwhelmingly represent clientèles of the sex industry, both for prostitution and pornographic consumption. That is not to say that someone who consumes pornography automatically wishes to undermine women’s place in the world, but this will inevitably build some kind of cognitive signal that women’s sexuality must be hidden, as is men’s, considering that men were more likely to respond to interviews if their anonymity was to be preserved.

This generates a kind of apathy or double-speak with regards to women’s rights. If we were to look at this from a different angle, however, as plenty of feminists do, the sex industry could be made less stigmatizing for women. For example, some people have suggested that sex workers could be unionized and proper regulations could be put into place to protect them from abuses. Certain Dutch brothels requested that a “panic button” be installed in each of the girls’ rooms, indication of frequent attacks against prostitutes.

I am of the mind that prostitution can be made into a positive thing, to empower women, but the statistics I have stated above seem to indicate that women who are part of the sex industry would rather leave it. It is not a career choice, most of the time. Certain studies appear to indicate a causal relation between poverty, homelessness and prostitution. As a survival instinct, in a heteronormative, patriarchal society, women understand that their submition to the “male supremacy” will earn them men’s money if they do little other than surrender their dignity.

It does not have to be this way, however.



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