“Women’s work has been invisible since the dawn of time”

The cross : How did you approach the issue of women at work?

Michelle Perrot : When I undertook my thesis on strikes, I obviously found strikes by women and women in strikes, to which I devoted a few chapters. But to reread them today, I find myself very little feminist, after all. I seem to say that these women were coping with their fate. They had weak strike power.

Why ? I did not ask myself the question at the time: they were part of a system of domination that assigned them to their home rather than to the factory. But I didn’t have the tools at the time to raise these questions, which were going to become very important to me.

These questions, you had to summarize them thus in an article of the journal The Social Movement, in 1987: “Women have always worked. They have not always exercised “trades”. “

M. P. : I have never stopped thinking about the work of women in the long term. Hence the “Always worked”. But their work – caring for children and running a home – was not monetized. Women have been “off the market” since the dawn of time and their work has been invisible.

→ CRITICAL. Michelle Perrot in the face of life

Urbanization has enabled them to integrate gradually, for example by running a business: women are thus bakers. What was also for them both resource and subjection was domesticity.

But it was hardly monetarized: they were “fed, housed”, with wages – we did not even speak of wages. Getting recognized as a normal worker was therefore a very long and difficult struggle.

To read you, women were most often intermittent work, depending on the possibilities left by their marital status …

M. P. : There was indeed a life cycle of women at work. In working-class circles, girls entered factories (especially textiles) at the age of 12 and stayed there until their marriage and especially until the birth of their first child. The husband needing a “housewife”, the young women then left the production and refocused on the house.

The ideal worker was a man at work capable of feeding women and children, hence this intermittence, marked by a return to the factory after 40 years, in poor conditions, once the women are widowed or abandoned, once the children have been brought up. .

There was also the possibility of working from home.

M. P. : This was indeed the case with the arrival of the Singer sewing machine from the end of the 19th century.e century. The women saw in this a way of reconciling their domestic work with a paid activity: pedaling, pedaling to make “pieces” – shirt sleeves, and so on. -, so great was the division of labor.

Such enthusiasm of course caused prices to drop, while posing a public health problem: these women were overworked, hardly ate and contracted tuberculosis in confined places, as confirmed by the surveys of the Labor Office, real mines for historians …

When can we talk about gender equality in the labor market? Is it just a question of salaries?

M.P. : Women are still paid on average 12% less than men today, which is not negligible. But there are still obstacles in terms of training. Women are still barred – or exclude themselves -, unconsciously or consciously, from certain fields that are “not made for them”, such as the sciences. We have accustomed women to lack ambition, as well as to always reconcile career and family life – while men hardly ask the question …

→ READ. Women-men: a law for professional equality

However, France is the first country in Europe, with Ireland, for the birth rate, and the first country for the activity rate. French women want more and more to hold both ends of the chain and less and less have to sacrifice the public sphere for the benefit of the private sphere or vice versa, even if many symbolic and mental obstacles remain.


“La Croix” at the “Rendez-vous” in Blois

“Ora et labora: work, the keystone of monastic life”. Great interview with the Cistercian monk Dom Guillaume Jedrzecjzak, around the articulation between work and prayer, resolutely linked in the rule of Saint Benedict. By Christophe Henning, Saturday October 9 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the town hall.

“What ambitions for the French presidency of the European Union? “. Round table with Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs, Sylvie Bermann, diplomat, and Pierre-Yves Monjal, professor of European law at the University of Tours. By Jean-Christophe Ploquin, Friday October 8 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Royal Castle.

“History of prison work”. Round table with Elsa Génard, historian and Didier Jodocius, former CEO of the SME Wattelez. By Nicolas Senèze, Sunday October 10 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the cConseil departmental.



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