Identity of the possible other

The flying prostitute: identity of the possible other

Swati Ghosh

How does one address her–a street walker or an escort woman? Or flying prostitute as she calls herself?.

Whatever the name, there has been an alarming increase in their numbers in recent times. They can be seen anywhere and anytime in the metropolis? Most of them are not permanent dwellers of the city. Unlike brothel prostitutes they keep plying from the rural home to the urban workplace, acquiring the position of a housewife and a whore by turn. The flying woman’s belongingness to this grey and blurred area shapes her being. Instead of loyally subscribing to a specified identity assigned to a prostitute or a housewife, she inhabits a volatile domain that involves quick flights from one position to another. This is what makes her woman position phenomenal and projects her as a subject of unique interest.

Here we explore those dimensions of a flying woman’s multiple identities that are directly in conflict and over-determine each other, thus explicating the implications of belonging to an (im)possible domain. We present a feminist analysis of class in a theoretical framework uncoupled from the gender and sexual identities of a prostitute woman. The aspects of economic exploitation and gender oppression constituting the flying woman are addressed in relation to identity, power and subjectivity. The labour process–loosened from the processes of power and gender and realigned later at the specific site of analysis–has been used as a theoretical tool to decipher the complications of the subject. (2) The language of class that renders economic identity open, multiple and contingent as different from the traditional notion of class as a social group within power or property relations, has constituted the discursive space of this analysis. A gendered reading of the contested identities is then proposed to understand the unintelligibility of the flying woman.

Fusion of Roles

A flying woman is a housewife and a whore in one integrated self. She is a housewife who undertakes part-time prostitution under economic compulsion and is also a (sex-) worker who has a family to tend and a house to keep. She is a housewife and a breadwinner for the family; a workingwoman. A workingwoman with a difference. Her work imbibes her sexuality–selling sexual services for money. She keeps plying between the home and the street, from one woman-position to another, within the zone of social sanction and illegality. For her it is a tightrope walking along the trajectory connecting the two socially distanced sites of homemaking and sex-work.

The flying prostitute performs a private act in a public place such that the public-private binary becomes redundant. In fact, binaries such as moral-immoral, pleasure-procreation, affective-licentious lose their usual connotations with respect to her. She flies at ease through the narrow alleys of rigorous domestic norms in the forbidden land of sexual pleasure with remarkable agility, ceaseless. Within domesticity the role of the housewife is constituted by child-care and housework, whereas at work she is a pleasure-giver, perfecting a job-profile that possesses the ‘dangerous sexuality of the non-mother’.

Yet she does not belong to the brothel. She is an independent streetwalker whose career is marked off with queuing up in the lines of the red light zone and she is no rival to the prostitute. She stands in line waiting for customers in the tropical mid-day sun when the line girls doze off after a busy night and a lousy morning. She is spotted at weird, urban arcana of the city where line girls would not prefer to visit. She operates in the in-between spaces left out by the brothel girls at a price they would hate to accept.

For the flying woman, her work-shifts are closely followed by home-shifts. As a housewife, situated within the bonds of marriage and family, she performs the household chores of cleaning, cooking and looking after children. This daily running of the household is managed single-handedly, with little or no help from her spouse. Her sexuality is related to procreation, and the role of a wife and mother is prioritised as the ‘natural’ demeanour of the woman of family, while the realm of sexual pleasure, unbecoming for the woman of home, characterises her work.

Taking part in productive activity begins as soon as the flying woman takes to the streets for a living. When her male partner, the usual breadwinner of the family, is dumped by the job-market as inefficient or when he is incapable of earning enough, the woman of home steps out to feed the family. With no specialisation for any kind of work apart from homemaking, she has to make the most of her body. She becomes a sex-worker, being paid for the work she performs for a client in exchange for money. Subsequently, her work is contaminated with social stigma for commercialising affective-sex, which is supposed to be performed for one, at home, naturally and out of love.

Again, she does not occupy a space where the two distinct positions merge together. Unlike the woman possessing characteristic elements of both the extreme positions–of the brothel-based sex worker having a family and children or a woman practicing sex with multiple partners as an erotic choice –the flying woman shuttles between a prostitute-at-work and a housewife-at-home. While she is neither full-time prostitute nor housewife, she is both simultaneously. Her position is hazy, undefined and overlapping. Thus for a flying woman, the mother and non-mother roles, the productive and unproductive activities, the reproductive and non-reproductive images defuse into one, conferring a typicality of her own.

Confused Identity

In performing the role of a housewife and a whore alternately, the flying woman dwells in a space that is both moral and immoral. At home she is expected to be affective and caring while at work she is required to be lustful and licentious. She performs a private act in the public place reserving the agenda of procreation for one domain and pleasure for another. The intersection of meanings at various planes imparts a bewildering and elusive identity to the flying woman that is difficult to overlook or overcome. The incongruous roles clash with one another and the incessant performance renders her susceptible–perhaps even to a greater extent than is the housewife or the whore.

Women in conventional careers in production or service sectors are also housewives performing domestic chores at home, for whom one role does not negate the other. The role of the mother and wife is highlighted as sacrosanct and her participation in productive activity positively projected. At least, her hard labour is acknowledged with reluctance, if not with empathy. For a prostitute, a precise libidinal identity marks her; in spite of the derogatory connotations of her work, the commercial exchange of sexual service is recognised as a definite profession. For a flying woman, the earning potentials are not only unrecognised within family and community, the question of morality looms large in having to spell out the nature of her profession. Her plight is to put up with work that cannot be designated as a ‘proper’ profession. The family tries to maintain secrecy in having to accept living off her through a socially ‘immoral’ act while the community wants to discipline the element of debauchery that violates the purity of family norms. Thus for the flying woman non-recognition marks the struggle for survival–for her self and her family. By denying her the status of a worker and concealing the source of her earnings, she is excluded even from the category of a marginal worker.

The flying prostitute has to yield to the power processes that exercise their control on her in different ways. Being imperceptible to civic administration, she has to function within an undetectable space and remain a non-acknowledged worker. The law-keeping authority and the law-abiding citizens take advantage of this dubious position and she has to pay in different coins for practicing what is non-work. The question of rights or rules enforcing justice for all, helps to condition her position as aberrant, rather than act in her favour. In the eyes of the law, incidents of sexual abuse and harassment do not seem to convey any sense of violation towards her, mental or physical, and access to legal protection in her case, remains unheard-of.

The economic condition of her existence is a complex labour process. She is engaged in an activity that is not employment as enumerated in the official information-collecting system of the state. While a brothel prostitute is enlisted by the census within the ‘ungainful employment’ category, a flying prostitute is neither enumerated as a sex-worker nor as a workingwoman. She is an invisible worker but earns a living for her family. Her body is the site of work, and the client who buys a piecemeal ownership over her body dictates the nature of the service she provides. She uses her body to produce another person’s pleasure mediated through the dissipation of sexuality and thus remains different from other kinds of servile labour.

In trying to locate the uniqueness of the flying woman, (3) we find she is the manifestation of several incommensurable positions combined together. She lives with the conflict all by herself, being isolated from other workers, women workers, or even other marginal groups because of her own distinct identity. Her gendered identity of housewife contradicts her class identity as a worker, her identity as a mother clashes with that of the non-mother, her identity as a member of the community of sex-workers stands in contrast to the individual identity of a citizen. Workers’ solidarity emerging from the cross cuttings of class, race, gender or other markers excludes her. She belongs to a narrow edge with bits and pieces of common ground to share with many others, at odds with her stigmatised self.

Vulnerability Explored

But then, how would one understand the specificity of her labour, identity, and subjectivity? And how is one to share her experience across the boundaries of colony, un-tied from particular local contexts and beyond the confines of the experiences of ‘certain’ women? Is she to remain a special ‘case’ of the poor, third world woman marked by her very own sexual experiences?

Feminist politics long since has learnt to negotiate between theory and the ‘historical materiality’ of particular local contexts such that abstract universal categories may be used without losing the richness of specific histories. (4) When theory and context are tied up the analysis becomes nothing more than a ‘narrative sequence’ located in the circumstance it narrates and the category of women’s experience becomes ‘so situation-specific that it has no use any more.’ (5) To overcome this requires a ‘strategic loosening’ of the connection between theory and history.

Thus, without belittling the importance of localised experiences, generalised abstract categories (in this case the class analytic labour process) may be used unmoored from historical connections. This enables the creation of an autonomous space for class analysis, which may be extended beyond economic values to deal with gender and power axes of the social processes reinstated at the social site. The temporary fixing of class as the entry point, extends our analysis to explore discretely the economic aspect of the problem in its abstraction within varied social and historical contexts. How class processes work for the flying woman, and are continuously influenced by gender processes, is revealed in the course of our analysis. An individual such as the flying woman operating outside the capitalist production system may participate in multiple class processes at any one time and throughout her life span, and all contribute to her identity. With a contradictory, fragmented and fractured self, she comes to inhabit an exclusive and imperceptible space of her own.

Therefore, to look at the social process of identity formation of the flying woman as belonging to the overdetermined space of the economic, political and the cultural categories, where all social processes constitute each other and bring each other into existence, we proceed by fixing some vantage point. Following the example of the Rethinking Marxism group, (6) selecting a universal category as class as the entry point, the economic process of labour becomes the focus and enables us to theorise in terms of class, deploying gender processes later in their interaction with the class process. This helps us to understand better the specific histories constituted and contested by several gender processes operating in different contexts of the household and the workplace for a flying woman. From the perspective of overdeterminist theory, ‘any apparent complexity–a person, a relationship, ahistorical occurrence and so forth–can be analysed to reveal a simplicity lying at its core.’ (7) The co-implication of the economic, political, cultural and other processes entailed at every site suggests that any particular analysis will never find the ultimate causes of events but, rather complex interaction of several processes and possibilities. With no preordained hierarchy of causes as necessarily dominant, others less consequential and therefore less historically formative than the economic–the identity/being of the flying woman emerges as open and incomplete with multiple meanings.

In Marxian literature, the term class refers to a group of people and the concept of exploitation is appropriation of surplus labour from the group of direct labourers to the group of ‘parasitic’ non-producers. The Marxist tradition has made visible economic exploitation in analysing the capitalist production system in different socio-economic settings, and has specified different forms of class structure in different historical periods. Traditional theory is inadequate to handle the problematic of the flying woman in its complexities. The ‘noneconomic’ identities and the ‘unproductive’ labour forms of the flying woman, devalued and subordinated to class, have been denied a place in our familiar language of Marxian political economy.

The non-essentialist notion of class, as suggested in the postmodern framework of the Rethinking Marxism group enables us to extend class processes in multiple forms and social sites, not just in capitalist enterprises but in non-capitalist ones as well–in the ‘household, the state, the prison, the community, wherever flow of necessary and surplus labour prevails.’ (8) The epistemological redress of ‘class’ beyond the collective identity of social groups unified by complexities of power, property, and consciousness, being defined in terms of the processes of performing, appropriating and distributing surplus labour, represents a new scheme of ‘classi-fication’. In this scheme, the notion of class explains the exploitative and non-exploitative range of positions that could be potentially inhabited, reaches out to areas where class analysis has seldom been addressed, and illustrates situations where multiple class positions may be acquired simultaneously. And yet this framework seems incomplete without taking into account the gender processes operating in several non-class arenas with profound influence over class identity. The approach helps to locate the identities as occupying different class processes performed by the flying woman at home and at work, but fails to explicate the predicament of the flying woman as more vulnerable than any other labour.

As Marxist-Feminists, we intend to inquire about the class and gender processes working and interacting at our chosen site. Delinking history from theory and realigning it afterwards, we identify class and gender processes that determine the entity of the flying woman. In this ‘strategic use of theory’, we propose a better understanding not only of labour but also of pain and pleasure being enacted on the body in the sexual nature of the work. Thus while pointing out the limits of the analyses mentioned above, we invoke the process of gendering at the level of meaning that constitutes a flying woman and epitomises the contradictions therein.

The language of class that we require should be able to proliferate identities, and to connect gender, race, sexuality and other axes of identities to economic activities as well. If this is not possible within our familiar framework, we need to look across and identify the kinds of class processes occupied by the flying woman in the public as well as the private sphere. The extension of class analysis from the public into the domestic sphere is in itself a feminist gesture. We want to enrich the analysis by extending it further into the intimate sphere where, apart from labour, the production of affect/pleasure and coercion/violence inscribed on the body may be recognised. We intend to look at the ‘affective value-coding’ in relation to the body, that impinges upon subjectivity profoundly and pervasively beyond class identity, in order such that the elusive distinctiveness of the flying may be pinned down.

At Work

The flying woman is an independent worker. She operates as a self-employed woman selling sexual services in every transaction with a client. The implication of the body as the site of work is a significant marker of difference for her. The production of pleasure is not comparable to the production of a commodity in the capitalistic framework, and the flow of ‘surplus value’ from the producer to the non-producing owner does not take place in her case. In traditional Marxist analysis, a flying woman would be designated as ‘unproductive labour’ outside the capitalist production system, neither generating surplus value nor being exploited for unpaid labour. Traditional class analysis focuses on the class position of the surplus producer and the appropriator as two distinct class positions, one generating and the other receiving surplus without paying for it.

We use three conventions of the Marxist tradition–the distinctions between productive and unproductive labour, between necessary and surplus labour, and between fundamental and subsumed labour, in addressing the flying woman’s class position. We need to arrive at a specific productive labour, participating in market exchange and generating surplus labour in the process. In this context, we refer to a different connotation of ‘class’–not as a social group but as an economic process of production, appropriation and distribution of surplus labour. This approach takes account of the flow of surplus labour (not surplus value) from the appropriator to the receiver, connecting the moments of production and appropriation (as fundamental class position) to the moments of distribution and receipt of surplus (as subsumed class position). This typology makes visible the moments of class exploitation and the moments of non-exploitative class relations, distinguished by the way surplus labour is socially embedded.

The flying woman participates in an exchange relation in providing (sexual) pleasure as the end product for one of the partners, generated through a process of sex-work by the other partner. The ‘exclusive service’ produced at the site of the body imbibing sexuality involves instantaneous consumption. The woman, as the service-provider, owns the means of production–her body and the willingness to comply with the client’s desire. There is no distinct employer other than herself. She earns her share from direct and immediate payment made by the customer. The relation with the customer may be oppressive but is not an ‘economically’ exploitative one.

The economic condition of existence for the flying woman involves production and appropriation of surplus labour over and above necessary labour. This implies participating in a non-capitalist system comprising appropriative and distributive moments, where necessary and surplus labour is both appropriated and distributed by her. Here, the moments of production and appropriation of surplus labour (being juxtaposed on one another) are not separable, and the woman becomes instrumental to the process of both production and appropriation of surplus. The self-appropriative gesture makes the system non-exploitative. The class process of the flying woman is thus self-appropriative and distinct from economic exploitation within capitalist enterprises, where unpaid surplus labour is appropriated by someone other than the producer in the form of surplus value. The class process of the flying woman operating as the self-employed individual producer may be termed as ancient or independent class process. (9)

In this self-appropriative, independent class process the flying woman appropriates necessary and surplus labour, where a necessary/surplus distinction of labour-time is located not in the material need of the body but at the level of meaning. (10) The amount of necessary labour provides for the reproduction of her labour power, and the surplus labour provides for that of her family. The surplus labour she performs is received and distributed by her to pay for the rent of the room, to pay cut-offs to pimps and goons and the rest is spent towards her family who did not produce it. There does not exist any clear boundary between necessary and surplus labour, it is relationally determined as being inscribed on the body at the moment of appropriation rather than emerging from it.

The flying woman thus participates in fundamental class process at work in generating and appropriating surplus labour, and also partakes in subsumed class process by distributing and receiving a part of the surplus labour after it has been appropriated. The self-appropriator in this sequence becomes the first distributor of surplus labour and, in the course of distribution, sets up various linkages to processes such as directing, managing and supervising the flow of surplus within the society. Therefore she partakes in more than one class process, and occupies more than one class position at a time in generating and directing the flow of surplus instead of belonging to the fixed class position of the wage worker or self-employed in the conventional sense.

How do the multiple class processes affect the identity formation of the flying woman? Is it in any way different from that of other self-employed workers in rendering the flying woman more vulnerable? The unconfined class identity suggests the possibility of a volatile formation of ‘class becoming’ rather than the ‘class belonging’ of an individual, where other dimensions such as race, age, sexuality or even power relations contribute to shape subjecthood. (11) For a flying woman, too, class relations are constantly enacted upon by other social traits and manifested in various ways. The different manifestations may be binding upon the subject or may come as a choice. This is where the gendered aspect of her work becomes significant in moulding the class identity, and stands out in sharp contrast to that of other women.

The job of the flying woman is obligatory and imposed on her by family. The gender process that she enlives offers her no economic independence, autonomy or agency. She is, rather, pushed into a livelihood where ‘peddling her ass’ is the only way to keep afloat. Choice regarding the use of her body is not hers; she is often compelled into it. Unlike other workers who provide personalised bodily services, the flying woman has to act in compliance with the desire of another. For a nurse or a physiotherapist, the caregiver is in a position to dictate the nature of the service, and the prescribed technicality of the procedure prevents it from developing into an act of giving oneself. A performing artist providing entertainment as service generates pleasure through bodily expression, enacting a preplanned intellectual exercise. Gratification of the consumers is in the appreciation of creative implementation of the idea, not in bodily subjugation.

The often-cited analogy between sex-work and domestic service is particularly illuminating. ‘Domestic servants are caught up in highly exploitative relation to their mistresses and masters, where for a puny wage they have to perform a range of household tasks for others on a daily basis’. (12) The ideological difference in ‘norms of respectability and notions of morality’ attached to sex-work with relatively higher earnings as if to compensate for the victimised image, marks the prostitute. (13) Similarly to a domestic servant, the ‘moral respectability’ of a flying woman is constantly challenged and her economic reward is far from adequate. But unlike a domestic servant she is denied the status of a worker because of her ‘ignoble’ profession, in spite of being oppressed within the work. The double-edged dilemma hurts twice as much. She performs domestic chores at home and sexual services at work within oppressive (technically non-exploitative) structures and at the same time is denounced for the indignity therein.

For a housewife, the gender process that constitutes her may or may not impart autonomy and agency regarding the distribution of the surplus, but her toil and economic contributions are recognised. The prostitute employed as hired labour is exploited and the gender process that controls her is presumed to be immensely oppressive, but it does not foreclose her; rather, loud pronouncements mark her entity. The flying woman is distinct by non-recognition for non-work, a double foreclosure, where participation in economic activity is denied and therefore oppression within the profession is non-existent.

The flying woman has to carry this contradiction all along. When she is a worker she has to bear in mind that she is a housewife; within the family, she has to endure the imprint of indignity associated with her profession. Does the ‘wife-prostitute’ role fetch a greater number of customers for her? The cultural oppression at the level of meaning and political domination in terms of power is acutely at work in her relation with the client.

Sex work is in no way a ‘pleasure’ for the flying woman. She produces a determinate form of pleasure in a limited period of time according to the desire shaped by purchasing power of the customer. Sex-work involves the female body being used as an object for producing sexual stimulation, for her client. Since, she is forced to act in compliance with the desire of the other, withholding herself, the act is coercive. This coercion is less a physically abusive act, than a violation of selfhood for the woman. The control of the male customer over the female body of the service-provider need not be aggressive and cruel in every performance, the pain and coercion resulting from the domination and control on part of the client over the female self implicates a violation of the intimate sphere of personhood, that bleeds into the violence of non-recognition. The prevalent gender process that locates a woman in/out side the family helps to fashion the violence in its present form and to foreclose the violence as it is operative on the flying woman.

At Home

The flying woman is a housewife within domesticity. At home she performs the task of transforming raw materials into processed meals, clean rooms and washed clothes. She produces use-value. Her work at home helps to reproduce labour power to be sold outside the household as wage work. She also reproduces future labour power in rearing up her children. The use value that she produces in the form of prepared food, cleaned rooms, washed clothes and so on, is consumed by her and by other members of the family. Thus she performs necessary labour for her own, and surplus labour for others’ consumption. The surplus labour produced at home has no exchange value and the market does not enter directly into the household economy.

The non-monetary exchange and the absence of market marks the relation within the household. The wife performs surplus labour and the husband appropriates her surplus labour in the form of household use-values that she produces. The husband does not buy her labour power by paying her wages, no commodities are exchanged between them and the husband does not earn any profit in the process. The relation can be termed as a ‘feudal’ class process with a serf-landiord type of relation between the two where the producer of the surplus directly hands over her surplus labour to the appropriator. (14)

The flying woman as the wife having to take up both roles–productive and reproductive–leaves the husband formally with the options of taking up productive, reproductive, both, or no roles. In all four cases, the husband enjoys the earnings and outcome of household labour through the process of appropriating surplus labour performed by his wife, at home and at work. In appropriating surplus labour and as recipient of the surplus, the husband takes part in fundamental and subsumed class process. The wife as producer and recipient of surplus also occupies both fundamental and subsumed class processes, although differently from her husband. Among the other recipients of surplus labour are the dependent members of the family within the household and a few others outside.

Distribution of surplus connects the different recipients from those who supervise, manage or even provide credit to the household, which may not be a class process always. Different positions of subsumed class process include non-class processes, such as religious, traditional and community norms that ensure that such feudal class processes exist and reproduce.

A relation of power exists within the household with respect to participation in reproductive work which is conventionally considered a ‘woman’s job’. The power process is slanted against the wife in her performance of household duties, whereas her husband is not an active participant bound by social norms. The process would surface as egalitarian if surplus labour could be collectively produced, appropriated and distributed both by husband and wife. The political conditions reinforcing feudal class process are such that, within the perspective of family based on marriage, the rights of women at home are different from the rights of citizens outside the household. Gender, as a component of ideology, influences (and is influenced by) the feudal class process in the household, and the multiple class positions of the husband and the wife are differently implicated by gender meanings. Behaviour, expectations and aspirations within the family are shaped by gender processes just as cultural and ideological ties of religion, loyalty and tradition bind husband and wife in their corresponding social roles.

The gender process that works in the household provides the conditions of existence for the feudal class processes within the family. The housewife participates in surplus labour production as the ‘natural’ outgrowth of love towards the family. Expertise and dedication towards the household duties of a wife are glorified, and the ‘natural’ role is projected as the core essence of womanhood. Housework and childrearing is conceived of as a preferred vocation of the good wife who internalises a social and moral dependence on the husband as the custodian of ‘good women’. Participating in the outside world to earn a living is a risky activity, and the woman needs to be protected. Thus, a woman of the family willingly takes part in household work and surplus appropriation by the husband. The husband gets the privilege of not participating in reproductive domestic chores as the traditional social convention practiced in such types of household. The fact that she is forced into it is becomes irrelevant to others and to herself so long as the family custodian safeguards her housewife image.

The woman’s role as wife also surfaces within arguments about participation in sexual activity. The sexual relation within conjugality of the couple at home implies a submissive and passive role of the wife, controlled and dominated by the husband, as an expression of natural right. Reproduction and child rearing being the major objectives of family, women evolve as the primary care-takers with their reproductive role prioritised over and above sexual pleasure. Women internalise prescribed social norms and even discipline themselves. Cultural norms also include domestic violence, the threat of the use of physical force inside households to control the behaviour of the wife. The formal equality of all before the law is not practiced within the household, and not sanctioned socially. In spite of economic independence and earnings of their own, women continue to be oppressed within the type of household structure that includes a flying woman.

A flying woman therefore, is a housewife provoked to take up a job to supplement family income and she readily performs the dual role of earning and housekeeping. Her compliant and subservient position is conditioned by the economic and cultural processes ensuring the rationale for remaining tied to such a situation. The gendered dimensions of work-domesticity, compliance-consent and coercion-compulsion, implicit in the social role assigned to her, function within a specific non-choice perspective. The multiple class processes at different sites remain oppressive for her. In spite of belonging to a noncapitalist, non-exploitative class position, and taking part in the processes of production and appropriation of surplus labour in various ways, she remains a recipient of necessary labour. Her subjectivity is framed from within such interactions, and she internalises the conventional gender norms that foreclose her. She bears the foreclosure at home and carries on through it at work. Meanwhile, with a contradictory and fractured self, the flying woman remains isolated, dominated and oppressed. She bears the brunt both as a homemaker and as a whore.


(1) The part-time prostitutes of Calcutta (Kolkata), India are referred to here. These women simply call themselves flying, and have a class position somewhat different from that of the brothel-based prostitutes. Here we depict the specific position of a woman who is rooted in family and en-routes the streets to earn her living. The local term of half-gerastha, a hybrid word, implying ‘half-domestic’ is commonly used to describe her.

(2) This strategy enables abstract universal categories delinked from historical context to be realigned so as ‘to reach out to other marginal sites of analysis which do not apparently form objects of theorising or sympathetic action’ (Anirban Das, margins 1999 p. 45). Several other scholars have explained the application and advantage of this strategy, including Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in the Introduction to Harriet Fraad, Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, Bringing it All Back Home: Class, Gender and Power in the Modern Household London: Pluto, x994; Julie Stephens, ‘Feminist Fictions: A Critique of the Category Non-western Woman in Feminist Writings on India’, Subaltern Studies VI, ed Ranajit Guha, OUP, 1989.

(3) attempted a preliminary exercise of analysing the class position of the flying woman in margins 1999. This is a more elaborate and differently worked-out version with a few major differences. The analysis of the class position in the earlier version was presumed to be operative within a capitalist system. Moving away from this stance to a non-capitalist framework operative for the flying prostitutes, and introducing the concepts of non-class processes and overdetermination of the economic, cultural and political processes were not included in the initial version of the essay.

(4) The strategic loosening of the connection between history and theory, of one category from another, class from gender and power, can be used to bring out their ‘negotiations in concrete experiences’ as explained and elaborated by Spivak in the Introduction to Fraad, et al. Bringing It All Back Home.

(5) Spivak has explained the analytical separation of abstract universal categories of class offering a better understanding of gender and power process working at the same site, in Introduction to ‘Bringing It All Back Home; Julie Stephens in the context of understanding the specificity of ‘women’s experience’ questions the locatedness of women in history, a much debated feminist issue, and the valorisation of the objective category of experience; Anirban Das, ‘In Search of a Feminist Theory for Men: The Impossibility of Women’, margins 1999: 38-53, has focused on the formation of gender identities in the realm of meaning (here, science) to point out the problems of feminism lacking a substantive agenda for men.

(6) The concept of class has been defined not as a social group with consciousness, power and property relations, but as a process of performing, appropriating and distributing surplus labour and, thus, relating it to individual and collective identities. See S. Resnick and R. Wolff, Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987: 2-3.

(7) “Toward a Poststructuralist Political Economy’, in J.K. Gibson-Graham, S. Resnick., R. Wolff (eds.) Re-presenting Class: Essays in Postmodern Marxism, Duke University Press, Durham 2001:4.

(8) In Introduction to J.K. Gibson-Graham, S. Resnick, R. Wolff, (eds.) Class and its Others, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000: 10.

(9) Independent or ancient class process refers to self-employment in which the individual producer appropriates and distributes her/his own surplus labour. While the capitalist class process (like feudal and slave) is exploitative, non-labourers appropriating surplus of labourers independent class process (and communal class process) is not, although it may be oppressive. Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff 1987: 20.

(10) The Marxist discourse of exploitation based on the distinction of surplus and necessary labour within capitalist and non-capitalist class processes is an important tool for our discussion. The notion of the surplus as beyond and above what is necessary for reproduction is the proportion appropriated by the non-producer as unpaid or unremunerated surplus labour in the form of ‘surplus value’ within a capitalist framework.

(11) The two terms have been used to point out the difference between traditional and postmodern Marxist class analysis. In traditional analysis, the term ‘class belonging’ implies a ‘class in itself (as that of the worker or the capitalist) whereas in postmodern analysis the definition of class is more open and a person may belong to a number of class positions at a time. Therefore ‘class becoming’ denotes the process through which formation of class position is revealed. Introduction to Class and its Others: 11.

(12) Mary E. John in ‘Response’, from the margins, February 2002: 244, presents a specific analogy between the domestic servant and sex worker which she considers particularly illuminating ‘for trying to get at some of the more intractable elements that constitute prostitution.’ This article was a response to the initial attempt at analysis of the flying woman by Swati Ghosh in ‘A Shuttle Cock Between the Whore and the Madonna’, in margins 1999.

(13) John in ‘Response’, from the margins, February 2002: 243-247, focuses on the ‘stigma, morality and threat’ around the subject of sex in relation to the domestic servant and the sex-worker, and highlights the ideological difference in terms of ‘norms of respectability’ and threat imposed on housewives. She selects the ‘analytically useful’ analogy of the freely-chosen profession of call girl or prostitute, ‘closer to the world of’ the flying woman’, without proceeding with the analysis any further.

(14) The economic class process of the housewife being termed ‘feudal’ is not the same as feudalism as a stage of development in Marxist literature; rather it refers to the particular form of class process that befits the household. The name ‘feudal’ is appropriate because it requires no intermediary role for markets, prices, profits or wages in the relation between the producer and the appropriator of surplus labour, in the way the wife delivers her surplus to her husband.

Swati Ghosh teaches economics at Rabinda Bharati University and her publications broadly include identity, sexuality and worker-status of women in colonial and postcolonial settings.

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