Double Socialization of Women

The term “double socialization of women” [doppelte Vergesellschaftung von Frauen] was coined by the German sociologist Regina Becker-Schmidt (1991, 2003, 2010) in order to theorize the relation between gender and socialization as well as the discrimination and resistance of women. A former student of Theodor W. Adorno, Becker-Schmidt is strongly anchored within Marxist and critical theory but specifically criticizes the notions of ‘labor’ and ‘socialization’ employed by both theoretical traditions (e.g., Marx 1962, 53) for failing to capture the social significance of private housework (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 11). While Adorno and Horkheimer, for example, did criticize the inadequate social recognition of housework (see Becker-Schmidt 2003, 12) they nevertheless retained the Marxist equation of labor with productive labor and located women in the private sphere of the family (see Becker-Schmidt 1991, 289-390). In a feminist re-interpretation of Marxist and critical theory, Becker-Schmidt exposes not only the social and psychological consequences for women of the gendered division of labor in capitalist society, but also the ideological nature of ruling gender relations.

Becker-Schmidt further developed a number of feminist critiques of, and engagements with, Marxist theory. In Italy these debates were initiated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1972, 159-160), who in contrast to Marx ascribed surplus value to (mainly women’s) housework activities, arguing that the capitalist class could only produce surplus value because work as commodity was reproduced in the private sphere. Other Marxist feminists substantiated Dalla Costa’s manifesto using empirical data. Based on historical research, Silvia Federici (2012; other works on the topic date back into the mid- 1970s) interpreted the gendered division of labor as a (pre-)condition of capitalism. In Germany, the Bielefeld group around Maria Mies coined the term Hausfrauisierung der Arbeit [Housewification of work; trasl. N.R.] in order to theorize the observation that the gendered division of labor is not only a necessary basic condition of capitalist relations of production but also leads to the systematic demotion of reproductive labor (Werlhof, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen 1988).

Becker-Schmidt complemented these more structural Marxist feminist analyses by a psychological perspective that asks how working conditions are reflected in women’s psyches. Her theoretical endeavors were motivated by empirical analyses of the experiences of women employed as factory workers and who furthermore shouldered the majority of childcare and housework responsibilities in their families (Becker-Schmidt 1980). The interviewees insisted on the significance of both forms of work while relating their difficulties of combining and alternating between two incommensurable spheres of work. On top of the time-consuming nature of this double-burden, the women experienced considerable psychological pressure trying to live up to the distinct requirements of these two fundamentally different lines of work. Nevertheless, for their own personal fulfillment the women chose to put up with the consequences: “It is a lack within one domain of practice that is compensated by gratification within the other domain” (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 67; transl. N.R.). Becker-Schmidt (2010, 66-8) developed her social theory on the basis of the experiences of these women and called for a re-interpretation of the Marxist notion of socialization: women, insofar as they partake in both productive and reproductive labor, are subject to ‘double socialization’.

The process in which individuals in capitalist society become members of society is fundamentally mediated by (wage) labor. Along the lines of class, ethnicity, and other social groups, individuals are socialized into concrete relations of labor and gender (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 1-2). The logic of capitalism furthermore infiltrates all domains of social life by increasing rationalization, the logic of exploitation, unification, and ubiquitous commodification. However, the process of socialization is not only achieved by partaking in social life. Becker-Schmidt borrows the term ‘inner socialization’ from Adorno in order to theorize the fact that individuals adjust their inner lives to the demands of objective reality, i.e., drive and personality structures as well as patterns of action and perception are reconfigured in response to social forces. This intrapsychic adjustment does not come without resistance, though (Becker-Schmidt 1991, 36). Defiance arises when the potential of self-determination, i.e., ‘individuation’, is constrained too much in the process of socialization. Individuals can thus never be totally socialized (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 2).

Broadening the androcentric notion of labor in Marxist theory allows for the ideological nature of ruling gender relations to come into view. Becker-Schmidt here addresses the social separation of productive labor and reproductive labor as an artificial division of two social domains that are hierarchically ordered along gender lines, while at the same fundamentally interrelated. In order to understand the ideological nature of this division, she employs Marx’ analysis of commodity fetishism (Marx 1962, 86). Marx proposed that capital and human labor are structurally related. While capital is needed in order to produce machines, it is wage labor that puts them into operation. It is thus only when both capital and labor are combined that commodities can be produced. However, to the workers it seems as if machines produced without their effort. In commodity fetishism commodities appear as natural things, and the social conditions of their production, as well as the human labor necessary to produce them, are obscured. Becker-Schmidt (2010, 72) proposes that a similar mechanism makes the social value of women’s care and housework invisible: while reproductive labor is utterly indispensable in order for productive labor power to be (re-)created and sustained, the mutual interdependence of these two social domains is obscured in capitalist society. It is exactly by rendering the inextricable interrelation of productive and reproductive labor invisible that relations of power and oppression elude criticism and resistance (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 69-72).

Beyond a social-theoretical analysis of women’s exploitation and discrimination, the notion ‘double socialization of women’ also allows to take into view specific potentials for resistance, for both women’s inner and outer socialization are marked by more ruptures than are men’s. In their biographical development, girls tend to identify more strongly with parents of both genders and with their respective gender roles than do their male siblings. Thus, they do not unambivalently internalize their socially-attributed gender role. This mode of inner socialization of women creates specific patterns of perception and thought (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 68-9). Maybe more importantly, however, insofar as they partake in both productive and reproductive labor, women are not totally subject to the logic of rationalization that characterizes wage labor (Becker-Schmidt 1991, 389). It is exactly because women are socialized through both of these social domains that the contradictory nature of social organization can be unveiled. To Becker-Schmidt, this opening for defiance, critique, and resistance carries the enormous potential “of collapsing the entire casing of unreasonableness and unacceptability which houses women’s ambivalent socialization into two halved life-worlds.” (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 72-3; transl. N.R.).