The way the economy was setup in the middle ages resulted in different modes of production than today. The peasant would need to produce all of the things that the peasant needed to survive, without help from others. They needed to make sure there was a roof over their head and that they were producing enough food so they don’t starve to death and to pay off the local king or nobleman. This meant that the peasant would need to make their own buckets, shovels, pitchforks, candles, clothes etc.
In the modern capitalist economy, people don’t create what they need to reproduce themselves individually, such things are now produced collectively. We come together, albeit not necessarily by choice, and manufacture things like brooms, buckets, soap, food etc.
The production of things everyone in society requires to survive is done by everyone in society, the global workforce. This means that we all benefit from having people in society who work. We will ignore the fact that it is actually the capitalist class, the 1%, that benefit most from the labor of workers.
During the years of early capitalism the bosses would force displaced peasants to work morning day in night in deplorable conditions in hazardous conditions. The resulting average life span for an early worker was extremely small, they were being worked to death. This was profitable because the more hours a laborer worked in a day the more profit the bosses would make, a concept that Karl Marx explained with his Labor Theory of Value.
Capitalists worked early proletarians to an early death. This posed a problem for the bosses. The problem of an ever decreasing workforce. This turned out to be against the capitalist’s own interest because of the inherent need for the capitalist to expand production and expand business to be able to compete against other manufacturers on the free market. Expansion is a trait native to the capitalist economic system.
This conundrum, the need for an expanded workforce juxtaposed against the ability of the capitalist to profit more when a worker was forced to toil for long hours, meant that the bosses needed to rationalize their strategy going forward. The need of long work days and the need to expand in order to compete would need to be balanced. In addition, the capitalists now recognized the need for a living wage to be paid to the early proletariat, otherwise their workers would starve for want of food or freeze to death for want of shelter and not be able to come to work the next day.
It was clear that reproducing labor, reproducing the worker, was a fundamental need for the capitalist system. If the worker could not be reproduced, then the capitalist could not profit off of them. Social reproduction was necessary. Social because of the social nature of production we engage in under capitalism compared to earlier modes of production. Reproduction because workers need to feed themselves, shelter themselves and live a healthy life so they can return to work the next day.
One area of social reproduction work that interests this author is child care and household work. These are things that are a necessity for the economic system to continue. When mothers raise children, feed families, wash dirty laundry and all of the peripheral work associated with these jobs, they do it not for themselves but for the good of everyone in society. Everyone benefits from our socialized mode of producing useful commodities when compared to individual modes of production such as the peasant making all their tools from scratch.
In order to pass on the responsibility and the costs for these roles that are fundamental building blocks of the capitalist system, the ruling class have a need to create a narrative of personal responsibility. By creating a narrative that sees women’s place as being in the home, the system uses sexism to pass off the costs of social reproduction squarely on the backs of women. The personal responsibility mantra operating alongside the protestant work ethic that is prevalent in this country serve as a boon to the system’s need to socialize the costs of reproducing workers.
This is the reason for the rise of the ideology that sees mothers with children in public places as a nuisance and not as someone you have a social responsibility to help. One can see the personal responsibility ideology in full effect when you see people offering their opinions to mothers about how they should be raising their children without the slightest inkling of an effort to actually help mothers with their kids. Fallacies of personal responsibility are the reason why mothers are over worked and under appreciated in today’s society. It is why so many mothers are enslaved by the exorbitant amount of work necessary to raise children without any help from the very society that they are doing the work for in the first place.
It still takes a village, unfortunately the village has been indoctrinated with the ideology of personal responsibility to such a degree that they no longer see it as their responsibility, even though it most certainly is.