Antoinette F. Konikow, M.D.

Capital Drives Women
Out of Home to Industry

(6 July 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 27, 6 July 1940, p. 5.
Transcribed by Marty Goodman
Marked up by David Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Machinery in industry or the industrial era caused considerable change in the life of women. All agree that the home of today is not what it used to be. The home is “breaking up,” people say, and of course we socialists are blamed for it. The passing of the present home with its drudgery, worries and uncertainty of income would not grieve me. For such a home I would shed no tears; but neither would I or any socialist accept responsibility for undermining it. Incredible as it may appear, the very people who accuse us, the bosses and their agents, they are the real culprits. They did the job very effectively with their gigantic privately-owned machinery and factories.

Many young women today consider work in the factory or office just a transitory, temporary step for they are certain it will cease with marriage. That is why it is often difficult to organize women workers into the unions. But after marriage (and contrary to the movies they rarely marry the boss or boss’s son) they often discover that it may be better to work a little longer to compensate for the small wages of the husband. Then illness occurs or the husband loses his job, and the wife’s work becomes a necessity. In many industries like textile goods, the whole family must work to cover expenses; even statistics present us with a record of “family wages” instead of individual ones.

Women Changed by Industry

Yet all this had a compensating aspect. The drudgery and monotony of domestic life kept a woman isolated, ignorant of world realities. She was concerned mainly with her own narrow, family interests. Her work outside the home awakened her to a new outlook. It was not the kiss of Prince Charming which stirred her slumber, it was the whistle of the factory and the rumbling of machinery. As she works and mingles with others under modern industrial conditions her very character is altered. At home she was bashful, self-conscious, lacked confidence in her own ability – the so-called “clinging vine.” She soon acquires a backbone, and begins to assert herself. She learns to think and act independently and likes it.

How did this affect the home? Desperately women try to combine work with married life. The wife now has on her slender shoulders a double yoke; work in the office, factory, or profession and the care of he house and often children. When a woman comes home from work, she cleans house, prepares supper and cares for the children. The young husband often wonders why the cheerful, peppy girl he married is now always tired and depressed.

In Recent Social Trends, the report of the President’s Research Committee, 1932, it was revealed that in 1930 there were three million married women engaged in gainful occupation, and that from 1900 to 1930 “the total number of men employed doubled while the number of married women engaged in work quadrupled.” One-third of all women employed in gainful occupations were married. These statistics are ten years old but the trend has not changed.

Lately a movement has started to prevent married women from working, hoping thus to alleviate unemployment. That is what happened to women in Germany. First Hitler ordered all married women to stay at home and attend the three “k’s”: kinder, kuche, kirch, which means children, kitchen, and church. Then as men are needed in the army, he ordered them back into industry again!

Industrialism has created new conditions in woman’s life. Is this change alltogether detrimental to women? By no means! True, women work harder, their health often suffers, their nerves go to pieces-but in the schooling of this new life they have gained in experience, self-reliance, knowledge and if they are workers they learn to defend their rights and become class conscious.

The Promised Land for Women

It is said that when Moses led the Israelites to the promised Land, he took forty years wandering through the deserts because he wanted them to forget the slavery in Egypt so that they would come to the Promised Land with a generation which had never known slavery, I think we women should consider our tramping through the jungles of capitalism in the same way. Despite its hardships, it has a progressive, valuable aspect for women. Involved in the problems of labor, women begin to understand more clearly than can ever be learned from books the crying need of changing this capitalist world of insecurity, suffering and struggle into a new world of socialism. Then the dream of real home building may be realized.

Women envisage a home not of monotonous work and worry but a place where their services as wife and mother will assume the status of labor in the cooperative society and be valued as all other services and paid for and regulated.

Will there be private homes under socialism? An interesting problem which will be solved best by trial and experience under the new system. Some may prefer a form of cooperative home life and others will cherish their privacy even if it may mean a little more work. Experience we have at present seems to prove that children thrive best in private homes, not institutions however perfect, and need the personal interest and love of their parents.

No one can predict details or complete plans of our future homes. That will be an interesting phase of our planning and education after the socialist revolution. Only one thing we can state with assurance – however homes will be planned and home life arranged, the basis will not be the the exploitation of women.

Last updated: 14 July 2018