Soon all female work, if done in the home, was defined as “housekeeping”, and even when done outside the home it was paid less than men’s work, and never enough for women to be able to live by it. Marriage was now seen as a woman’s true career, and
women’s inability to support themselves was taken so much for granted, that when a single woman tried to settle in a village, she was driven away even if she earned a wag
Combined with land dispossession. this loss of power with regard to wage employment led to the massification of prostitution. As Le Roy Ladurie reports, the growth in the number of prostitutes in France was visible everywhere:
From Avignon to Narbonne to Barcelona “sporting women” (femmes de debauche) stationed themselves at the gates of the cities, in streets of red-light districts …and on the bridges … [so that] by 1594 the “shameful traffic” was flourishing as never before (Le RoyLadurie 1 974: 1 12-13).
The situation was similar in England and Spain, where, everyday, in the cities, poor women arriving from the countryside, and even the wives of craftsmen, rounded up the familt income with this work. A proclamation issued by the political authorities in Madrid, in 1631, denounced the problem, complaining that many vagabond women
now wandering among the city’s streets, alleys, and taverns, enticing men to sin with them (Vigil 1986: 1 1 4-5). But no sooner had prostitution become the main form of subsistence for a large female population than the institutional attitude towards it changed. Whereas in the late Middle Ages it had been officially accepted as a necessary evil, and prostitutes had benefited from the high wage regime, in the 16th century, the situation was reversed.
In a climate of intense misogyny. characterized by the advance of the Protestant Reformation and witch-hunting, prostitution was first subjected to new restrictions and then criminalized. Everywhere, between 1 530 and 1 560. town brothels were closed and prostitutes, especially street-walkers, were subjected to severe penalties: banishment, flogging, and other cruel forms of chastisement. Among them was “the ducking stool” or
acabussade – “a piece of grim theatre,” as Nickle Roberts describes it – whereby the victims were tied up, sometimes they were forced into a cage, and then were repeatedly immersed in rivers or ponds, till they almost drowned (Roberts 1992: 16).
Meanwhile, in 16th-century France, the raping of a prostitute ceased to be a crime. In Madrid, as well, it was decided that female vagabonds and prostitutes should not be allowed to stay and sleep in the streets and under the porticos of the town, and if caught should be given a hundred lashes. and then should be banned from the city for six years in addition to having their heads and eyebrows shaved.
What can account for this drastic attack on female workers? And how does the exclusion of women from the sphere of socially recognized work and monetary relations relate to the impositon of forced maternity upon them, and the contemporary massification of the witch-huny?
Looking at these phenomena from the vantage point of the present, after four centuries of capitalist disiplining of women, the answers may seem to impose themselves. Though women’s waged work, housework, and (paid) sexual work are still studied often in isolation from each other, we are now in a better position to see that the discrimination that women have suffered in the waged work-force has been directly rooted in their function as unpaid laborers in the home. We can thus connect the banning of
prostitution and the expulsion of women from the organized workplace with the creation of the housewife and the reconstruction of the family as the locus for the production of labor-power.