Pay For Housework?-Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman was an anarcho-communist feminist. Although she moved away from first-wave feminism she, in essence, still played an important role in the expanding rhetoric of feminism and more importantly, communism, atheism and the general idea of freedom in the late 19th to early 20th century. She was a well-rounded and tough Russian woman who basically shaped the way people thought about the hegemony they lived in.

Goldman was born in Imperial Russia, into a standard patriarchal family in which her own wishes were not important, but rather disregarded. She immigrated to the U.S just before she turned 20 where her career as a activist, and spokesman for the rights of women and men began. Interestingly  she would be deported 40 years later for her talents in the arts of agitation.

Interestingly, Goldman combined her feminist and anarchist ideas into new forms of never seen before ideology. She was best known for her arguments that if women were to remain in the private sphere they should be paid for the domestic work they do. So according to Goldman mothers, wives or any women should get paid for the work they do in the house. Do you think this is feasible? I understand that Goldman was trying to promote the equality of women in the public sphere and try to pull them out of the house and into the world where they can contribute. Moreover, it is understandable that women must have the same rights as men in entirety. We all know this, no use on pondering on it so much.

In the time period where women were being subjugated inside the home and not allowed the franchise, it is understandable where all of this rhetoric came from. Also, it is not like Goldman is arguing the same thing as Kollontai. It is obvious she is suggesting that women of a particular family should be paid for her work in the house. By who? The husband? The state? Isn’t that a bit morally wrong? I mean Kollontai argued that while men and women worked together in the public sphere, other men and women would do the housecleaning for them for money. That seems feasible! Yet, Goldman is saying that women need to receive paychecks for the work they perform in their own home, for their own families.And no, this is not like welfare. Goldman was actually proposing wages by the week depending on the severity of the work. This is communalism gone rogue!

Let’s say you chose to stay home as a mother to take care of your children. many women chose to do this, rather then go to work. Which is perfectly fine. Yet, do you honestly want to get paid to take care of your own children and house? Forget the house, they are your children! You should not think about a paycheck when you are taking care of your children! It’s the same with men. They should concentrate all of their power towards raising their children. Both men and women should work equally in the public and private spheres to raise a family, so both the mother and father have jobs that brings in the income.

Thus, both of them should take care of the domestic work equally. I understand Goldman’s radicalism, and its rampant source in the late 19th century. But really? Instead of promoting such ideas, it would be better to educate men and women that their children are the most important things in this world. Goldman had no children. How could she possibly understand that taking care of your family is not something you should be paid for. The children should pay their mother and father for taking care of them.

But seriously, I respect Goldman and a lot of her work. She was a very important Marxist-Feminist and her work was not just about the equality of women, but both genders. She is one of the first to understand that when women and men are equal in a society, that very society will always be better. It seems a bit ludicrous. My own mother should send me and the state a bill for taking care of me and washing my socks for 18 years. Can you imagine what a child would think of such a  system: My mother is getting paid to take care of me?

Read More About Goldman

Further Readings:

Archive of works by Emma Goldman.

PBS-Emma Goldman

Published in The Art of Polemics, Issue 1, on June 18th, 2014.


4 thoughts on “Pay For Housework?-Emma Goldman

  1. I don’t know anything about Goldman so I’m guessing here. But I’d have thought that she was probably suggesting that when men control all of the income of a household then they also control the woman. The one sure way (in a society so heavily based on money) for a woman to have a bit of control over her own life is to have her own income. So how to do that when it’s considered a good thing for a woman to stay at home and bring up her children? Pay her for doing it. It doesn’t seem as unreasonable to me as to you.

    How you do it is a different and more difficult question – but soluble by doing something along the lines of alimony, but without the need for divorce. If after divorce a man is expected to ‘pay’ his ex to bring up the children, then why not have a similar system within marriage. And take gender out of it. If one parent works outside the home and one inside, then 50% of the wages of the outside worker are automatically paid to the inside worker. Then both can contribute to the costs of home and family and neither is a ‘dependant’ of the other.

    Another thought-provoking post – thank you!


  2. This is an interesting topic. In my experience, the best-managed homes run like a co-op. If one partner earns the income and the other is the the primarty caretaker of the house/family, they pool the monetary resources and share them equally bcause they contribute equallt to the family’s success.

    But. As a newlywed still working through conversations about finances, I can see how it might be enticing for the stay-at-home partner to have some money that is solely *theirs,* meaning money that they can save or spend as they wish, without a thought of justifying their choices to their partner. So perhaps in that sense (not being paid for housework by your partner via bi-monthly check, but simply having a private account where you transfer some of the communal pot of cash) the individual could achieve a better sense of ownership and autonomy.

    I mean – one of my grat joys is p;anning surprises for my husband! I can’t do that if he can see every transaction out of the bank account… so our relationship is definitely happier because of individual bank accounts.


  3. Hi. Can someone point me to an essay or book that Goldman makes the case for paid housework? I’d like to find this, but a Google search and look through my books came up short for me.


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