Suzanne Moore insists that we must discuss the gender implications of automation:
Surely there can be no discussion of neoliberalism, austerity and automation that leaves out gender.
So let us consider the gender implications of automation - it has been the most women liberating, pro-feminist, process of the past few centuries. It is near entirely responsible for the economic equality of women that we all enjoy today. Compared to any time in the past whatever remains of gender inequality is a mere rump, a triviality - perhaps one we should still work on but by comparison it's tiny.
Brave and bold words, yes, but also true in two manners. The first is what Hans Roslin and Ha Joon Chang call the "washing machine," a grab all term for the automation of household tasks. As we've noted before we think these numbers might be a little overcooked but at least one estimate has the time taken to run a household, internally in unpaid labour, falling from 60 hours a week a century ago to 15 now. Roombas, vacuum cleaners instead of carpet beaters, washing machines, microwaves, gas stoves instead of wood or coal that must be blacked and on and on. The largest change in working hours over this past century has been the fall in female unpaid hours inside the household.
We automated much of that household work.
The second largest, and it is only the second largest as leisure time has risen for both sexes over this period of time, change in working hours has been the rise of women into the paid, market, world of work. 250 years back when the world was animal or human muscle powered there was a natural, even if unfair if you like, advantage that men enjoyed. Muscles were what was being hired, men had more of them, men got the work and the higher wages for having more of what was being hired. In more technical jargon men were more productive at the tasks of the day.
We've automated that now, there are very few of us indeed who make our living by sheer grunt, that thing where men have that advantage. Thus that discrimination has, pace whatever rump you'd like to complain about, disappeared.
Domestic automation has led to women having the time to be economically equal, automation of the world of market production has given them the means to be so.
So Huzzah! for the interaction of automation and gender then.
And that's before we even start talking about the Spinning Jenny. As Brad Delong has pointed out to one of us, any women you meet in literature before about 1600 are occupied with spinning thread near constantly, from Penelope (perhaps more weaving there) in the Odyssey onwards. By Jane Austen's time it simply isn't something mentioned, it has been automated. Homespun just isn't a thing any more.
Automation liberated women - let's have some more of it to liberate us all, eh?