A few years ago, I read Revolution at Point Zero (2012), Silvia Federici’s career-spanning collection of essays on reproductive work and domestic labour. The essays articulate, in anger and clarity, what I and other women of my generation have begun, stutteringly, to understand: that the mass introduction of women into the waged workforce has not changed the fact that domestic chores outside of paid work continue to be conducted by women, nor the fact that this work remains invisible, or if seen at all, utterly devalued.
Federici, who was born in Parma, Italy, in 1942, has been writing about these issues for almost 50 years. She was a founding member of the 1970s Wages for Housework campaign, an international effort to draw attention to the unpaid labour of women in the home; after she moved to Brooklyn to teach at Hofstra University on Long Island, she became centrally involved in the New York Wages for Housework Committee. She detailed that organisation’s history in Wages for Housework: The New York Committee 1972-1977: History, Theory, Documents (2017), which also reproduced her 1975 pamphlet, Wages Against Housework, famous for its provocative opening lines, ‘They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.’
I came late to Federici’s theorising, but once I found her, I engaged with as much of her writing as I could. The collection of essays in Revolution at Point Zero encompasses Federici’s early writings on feminism and housework alongside later pieces on the impact of globalisation on social reproduction – that is, the reproduction of everyday life – on the redistribution of housework onto the shoulders of immigrant women, and on the role of the commons in contemporary society.
Federici’s work on capitalism’s war on women’s bodies is encapsulated by two books on witch-hunts, Caliban and the Witch (2004), which argued that the exploitation of women was a central element in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women (2018), which revisited the subject matter following the return of witch-hunting in many parts of the world.
Her recent research on the commons, collected in Re-Enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (2019), suggests, optimistically, that amidst our current economic and ecological collapse, there exist movements that fight to create and maintain communal resources, and a world beyond capitalism.
Our conversation began over email in February 2019 and lasted several months. We spoke once again in April 2021, during the height of the pandemic. During our interviews, she was generous and gracious, as we discussed feminism, housework, the necessity for women to look for structures outside of capitalism, and her own political coming-of-age.