About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

9 Yale J.L. & Feminism 51 (1997)
Spiritual and Menial Housework

handle is hein.journals/yjfem9 and id is 57 raw text is: SPIRITUAL AND MENIAL HouSEWORK

Dorothy E. Robertst
Feminists have demonstrated how the ideological dichotomy between home
and work has helped to subordinate women. This critique is part of a larger
feminist project of shattering the mythical separation of public and private
spheres that has justified women's exclusion from the market, sheltered male
violence from public scrutiny, and disqualified women's needs from public
support. This critique overlooks, however, how work inside the home is itself the
subject of an ideological split. Domestic labor is divided into two aspects-the
spiritual and the menial. Some work in the home is considered spiritual: it is
valued highly because it is thought to be essential to the proper functioning of
the household and the moral upbringing of children. Other domestic work is
considered menial: it is devalued because it is strenuous and unpleasant and is
thought to require little moral or intellectual skill. While the ideological
opposition of home and work distinguishes men from women, the ideological
distinction between spiritual and menial housework fosters inequality among
women. Spiritual housework is associated with privileged white women; menial
housework is associated with minority, immigrant, and working class women.
Recent welfare reform laws, which require poor women to leave home to assume
menial jobs, highlight the importance of identifying and shattering this
dichotomy in women's domestic labor.
This Article explores the relationship between the spiritual/menial dichotomy
and the racialized structure of women's work. I describe the forces that assign
different women to each category, how the distinction between menial and
spiritual housework reflects and supports a racial division of domestic labor, and
how this dichotomy ultimately helps to depress the value of all women's work. In
Part I, I provide background about the gendered separation of work in the home
and work in the market. The public/private dichotomy of all labor and the
spiritual/menial dichotomy of housework overlap and reinforce each other. I
discuss how my focus on spiritual and menial housework relates to the feminist
critique of the distinction made between public and private labor. Part II explains
the fragmentation of domestic labor into its spiritual and menial elements. I
demonstrate how privileged women have delegated their menial household
duties to other women while retaining their roles as spiritual housekeepers and
mothers. Part III argues that this spiritual/menial dichotomy is inextricably
connected to a racialized hierarchy among women workers. I trace the history of
women's domestic labor from its confinement to the home to its
t Professor, Rutgers University School of Law-Newark. Thanks to Risa Lieberwitz, Cameron
Macdonald, and Twila Perry for helpful suggestions and encouragement, and to Regine Dupuy-McCalla,
Bronwen Mantlo, and Theodora McCormick for their research assistance.

Copyright * 1997 by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism

What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing thousands of academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline.

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most