Sep 20, 2009

Sexism and poverty, II - or how Nick Cohen thinks women should be sent back where they came from, be it Tonga or the kitchen

Nick Cohen over at the Observer hits the perfect anti-progressive sweet spot by finding himself an issue that lends itself to stirring up fear and hatred against the Daily Mail's two favourite villains - immigrants and feminists.

Writing about what the Mail on Friday decided merited its front page - never a good source for material for a Guardian columnist, if you ask me - he lambasts Baroness Scotland for employing a woman who had no legal right to work in the UK, through the attractive medium of taking this one incident as the avatar of a vast, invisible army of illegal immigrants being exploited and abused by "the middle classes" in order to shore up the fragile (because, presumably, undeserved) gains of second wave feminism.

I'd like to be able to address the claim that "the success of women is based on exploitation of women", but frankly it's too much of a whopper to be sensibly deconstructed without making my head explode. It should suffice to point out two facts:

  • Remuneration is not the be all and end all of liberation. Most key components of women's liberation, such as the right to vote, access to health and education etc., are not based on the exploitation of anybody. They are the non-zero-sum result of allowing women to reap some of the benefits of a welfare state. Almost as if they were, like, people, or something. You know what would be liberation? Not talking about domestic service and domestic work as if they are the preserve and responsibility of women alone.

  • The average wage in the UK is £25,000 per annum. That is the average wage - which means that a vast proportion of people earn less than that, and thanks to the pay gap women would tend to earn less still. The simple truth is that most women wouldn't be able to dream of affording full time domestic help, and so if their libearion is based on exploitation, then it is their own exploitation we're talking about, via the second shift.

Speaking of facts, it would be nice to have some from Mr. Cohen, and would support his claim to fearless exposée of the iniquitous Power Couple much better into the bargain. He waves his arms vaguely to outline a shadowy world of exploited domestic labour and cruel, unfeeling, overpaid feminists, but doesn't back his fear finger pointing with any of the following pertinent facts:

  • How many full time domestic workers are there in the UK?
  • What is their average pay?
  • What are their legal rights - be they specific to their situation or the ones available to all British employees?
  • How many of them are non-British?
  • Of those, what is the estimated number of illegals?
  • How many households employ a full time domestic worker?
  • What is the average income of these households?
  • How many of said households are double income, with the woman being in full time high paying employment?

But hey, answering any of those questions would require actual research. Too much like hard work - far easier to bash feminists and wrap it up in a nice bit of immigrant influx paranoia.


  1. And of course, if two people who share a house hire a cleaner to do their housework, the one of them that is exploiting the cleaner is the woman. Because it's HER housework.

  2. There is an interesting issue that the point at which a relationship becomes exploitative is not always easy to determine. It's fairly easy to take pot-shots at a peer employing an illegal immigrant to do her housework, but what is the situation when parents use childcare facilities to enable both partners to go out to work? The system that allows this relies heavily on minimum-waged, predominantly female, childcare assistants with little chance of advancement; without it though, large numbers of women would have found it more difficult to return to their careers.