For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Do Working Mothers Oppress Other Women? The Swedish “Maid Debate” and the Welfare State Politics of Gender Equality"

by Bowman, John R; Cole, Alyson M (2009)


In this article, we use a recent controversy concerning a tax policy designed to facilitate the hiring of housecleaners in Sweden as a case study to reconsider the politics of gender equity in contemporary welfare regimes. We identify a frontier of gender politics that is not captured by current comparative scholarship. As the boundary between family and market changes to accommodate the entry of women into the labor market, who will assume these women’s family‐welfare work? Under what terms should the state or market intervene? While research has focused on one dimension—child care—we follow the Swedish debate to shift attention toward other household labor that has been neglected, both in terms of public policy and scholarly analysis. Swedish and American working women live under two very different welfare regimes, yet they seem to face the same dilemma—either work an oppressive double shift, combining paid employment and unpaid housework, or employ help and expose themselves to the charge that they are engaging in a particularly egregious form of exploitation. We argue that cultural proscriptions against commodifying housework not only hamper women’s efforts to achieve labor market parity but also entrench a gendered division of labor in the home. Rather than blaming women who hire housecleaners, progressives should aim instead at elevating the status of this labor.

Key Passage



Womens Work, Female Labour, Gender, Gendered Labour, Domestic Labour, Domestic Worker, Housework, Working Women, Division Of Labour


Women and Work

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