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Veltman, Andrea. The Sisyphean Torture of Housework: Simone de Beauvoir and Inequitable Divisions of Domestic Work in Marriage
2004, Hypatia 19 (3):121-143
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas

This paper examines Simone de Beauvoir's account of marriage in The Second Sex and argues that Beauvoir's dichotomy between transcendence and immanence can provide an illuminating critique of continuing gender inequities in marriage and divisions of domestic work. Beauvoir's existentialist ethics not only establishes a moral wrong in marriages in which wives perform the second shift of household labor but also supports the need to transform existing normative expectations surrounding wives and domestic work.

Comment: This paper revisits the contemporary literature on the gendered divisions of household labour and argues for a new ethical framework based on Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of marriage in terms of transcendence and immanence. According to Beauvoir, 'marriage is oppressive and involves a moral wrong when it facilitates the transcendence of one spouse by relegating the other to the round of relatively uncreative chores needed to maintain life in the home.' Veltman also argues that, contrary to a common reading of de Beauvoir's account, de Beauvoir does not reject marriage per se, but in fact leaves open the opportunity for reform, such that a marriage 'has the potential to support equitable unions between free beings.' For this reason, the paper may be useful as specialised or further reading for courses interested in contemporary feminist critiques, the work of Simone de Beauvoir, or more broadly, 20th Century feminism. In addition, it also offers an interesting discussion of housework and domestic labor which may prove useful in the context of courses examining work and gendered divisions of labour. It would also be well paired with the work of Hannah Arendy, and another of Veltman's essays, "Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt on Labor."

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