Six: Feminist action in the workplace


Tackling inequality in the workplace remains an important arena for feminist interventions that encourage social and economic developments for women in both waged labour and unpaid caring work. In undertaking this, they tackled both public relational spaces and domestic relational spaces respectively. Feminist social action has exposed the monotony and drudgery characterising housework (Oakley, 1974); highlighted damage to women’s emotional development and careers caused by the gendered division of labour in both domestic (Gavron, 1966) and waged employment (Armstrong, 1984; Coyle and Skinner, 1988); and exposed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in workplaces and violence in the home (Benn and Sedley, 1982). Feminists also identified the compulsion for men to persist in emotionally and physically numbing work to act as economic providers for their families (Dominelli, 1986a).

Feminist action in the workplace has revealed the connections and contradictions between a woman’s experience of herself as a nurturer in the community and employee in paid employment. Feminists have organised within equal opportunities initiatives to promote egalitarian relations at work, in political parties, autonomous feminist groups, trade union movements and boardrooms to secure social justice for women through both male-dominated and women-only groups.

In this chapter, I examine feminist action in creating working environments more conducive to women’s workplace rights and consider the patchy nature of feminist achievements on this front. I highlight the importance of dealing with equal pay, sexual harassment and promotion prospects. I also look at the relationship between waged work, unpaid domestic labour and their impact upon men’s and women’s lives in the home, including the division of domestic caring for children and older dependants.

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