by Macushla Robinson
In his recent book Capitalism in the Web of Life, David W. Moore draws on an old distinction between capitalism’s ‘exploitation’ of paid labour and ‘appropriation’ of unpaid labour. The capitalist system appropriates various forms of unpaid labour and energy that support the employed workforce and make capitalist exploitation possible. Women’s work is appropriated by capitalism to first give birth to, then feed, clothe and otherwise care for the waged workforce. Borrowing from feminist critiques of capitalism, Moore invokes the phrase ‘social reproduction’ and then extends it to the natural world, asking ‘where does the ‘social’ moment of raising children end and the ‘biological’ moment begin?’ Just as capitalism relies on appropriating the socially reproductive capacities of women, it also relies on appropriating the biologically reproductive capacities of non-human agents such as rivers, minerals, oil mined from the earth.
Where men have historically been associated with intellect, logic and technology, women have been associated with nature...Since it is always culture’s project to subsume and transcend nature, if women were considered part of nature, then culture would find it ‘natural’ to subordinate, not to say oppress, them. (Sherry Ornter)
Ecofeminism often attempts to invert a hierarchy, asserting the importance of nature over humankind and our dependence on it, and mobilising the traditional alignment of women with nature as a feminist project. As Sarah Milner-Barry writes, the ubiquitous phrase Mother Nature ‘has come to represent the twinned exploitation of all that patriarchal society considers to be inferior to men. As such, both are expected to be perpetually available to them, and to be accepting and accommodating of their desires’.  The understanding of women as close to nature is behind the fact that women’s work is undervalued.
We justify paying domestic labourers so little because care work is a female dominated industry, and we still think of women as biologically predisposed to love. As Hochschild says, first world employers believe immigrant women ‘to be especially gifted as caregivers: they are thought to embody the traditional feminine qualities of nurturance, docility, and eagerness to please’. The capacity for love, it seems, is cheap.