Mill, Political Economy, and Women's Work

American Political Science Review 102 (2):199-203 (2008)

Nancy J. Hirschmann
University of Pennsylvania
The sexual division of labor and the social and economic value of women’s work in the home has been a problem that scholars have struggled with at least since the advent of the “second wave” women’s movement, but it has never entered into the primary discourses of political science. This paper argues that John Stuart Mill’s Political Economy provides innovative and useful arguments that address this thorny problem. Productive labor is essential to Mill’s conception of property, and property was vital to women’s independence in Mill’s view. Yet since Mill thought most women would choose the “career” of wife and mother rather than working for wages, then granting that work productive status would provide a radical and inventive foundation for women’s equality. Mill, however, is ambiguous about the productive status of domestic labor, and is thereby representative of a crucial failure in political economic thought, as well as in egalitarian liberal thought on gender. But because Mill at the same time develops a conception of production that goes well beyond the narrow limits offered by other prominent political economists, he offers contemporary political scientists and theorists a way to rethink the relationship of reproductive to productive labor, the requirements for gender equality, and the accepted categories of political economy.
Keywords John Stuart Mill  sexual division of labor  feminist political economy  women's labor
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