Why Workers’ Rights Are Not Women’s Rights

TitleWhy Workers’ Rights Are Not Women’s Rights
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsGottfried, Heidi
Pagination139 - 163
Date Published2015///
Keywordscitizenship, gender, labor law, regulation, rights, shared responsibilities, social reproduction

“Why workers’ rights are not women’s rights” is an argument whose purpose isto make clear why workers’ rights rest on a masculine embodiment of the labor subject and it is this masculine embodiment which is at the center of employment contracts and employment relations systems. By excavating the gender subjects implicit to and explicit in regulations of labor, the paper reveals the opposition of paired terms, masculinity and femininity privileging production over reproduction and naturalizing gender-based power relations. The paper identifies various laboring activities associated with differential rights and responsibilities. An examination of the treatment of part-time employment and waged caring labor, framed in labor, welfare, immigration, and citizenship policies and practices, locates exclusions from labor standards and exemptions from entitlements due to eligibility requirements and thresholds that assume the masculine embodiment of the worker-citizen. Gendering the analysis illustrates how contemporary labor laws and conventions grant rights on the basis of, and to, a rather abstract conception of the prototypical worker-citizen. Its origins lie in what classical political economy labeled a capitalist logic, as well as the historical practices in which free class agents entered into contracts for continuous, full-time work free of care responsibilities outside of the wage/labor nexus. Thus, it is this particular abstract construction of the proto-typical worker which instantiates the separation of “rights to” from “responsibilities for”, and it is this separation that allows the masculine embodiment of the labor subject. Modes of regulation privileging rights over responsibilities will valorize the masculine worker-citizen whose rights derive from their participation in wage labor and simultaneously devalue the feminine worker who is directly connected to caring labor.