The Lockdown Showed How the Economy Exploits Women. She Already Knew.
February 18, 2021 12:32 PM   Subscribe

As a scholar and activist, [Silvia] Federici is one of a cohort of thinkers who have, for decades, critiqued the way capitalist societies fail to acknowledge or support what she calls “reproductive labor.” She uses this term not simply to refer to having children and raising them; it indicates all the work we do that is sustaining — keeping ourselves and others around us well, fed, safe, clean, cared for, thriving. It’s weeding your garden or making breakfast or helping your elderly grandmother bathe — work that you have to do over and over again, work that seems to erase itself. It is essential work that our economy tends not to acknowledge or compensate. This disregard for reproductive labor, Federici writes, is unjust and unsustainable.

These ideas weren’t exactly obscure before the pandemic. But mainstream feminism — not to mention mainstream economics or politics — has mostly ignored domestic labor. Instead, it has measured women’s empowerment by their presence and influence in the workplace, which is attained by outsourcing housework and child care to less economically advantaged women for a low wage. Even so, women remain mired in housework. It’s common now to hear the term “the second shift” (coined in 1989 by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild), which describes how the work of maintaining a home and caring for children still falls disproportionately to women, even if they have full-time jobs and pay for help. What’s more, people who are paid to do domestic labor or care work (like elder care or house cleaning) are, as a group, badly compensated and denied workplace protections or benefits. These jobs are held mostly by women of color and immigrants. The arrangement is hardly a success for women at large.

Silvia Federici previously (1, 2)
posted by jshttnbm (66 comments total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wonderful article. Thank you.
posted by Alex404 at 2:55 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I was too busy doing dishes to reply.

I like domestic tasks, and I have always resented a long commute because I get so much more done at home, especially when regaining the 2.5+ hours a day of GETTING to work, and my usually long working lunches (I fundraise, it's a treat for them, and an opportunity for me to understand their philanthropy goals). All of that said, this is my single woman with no care in the world feeling. My friends are in agony. Frustrated, overwhelmed. I'm here for hugs. And I don't know how you all do it.
posted by lextex at 3:05 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Alas, I suspect that "reproductive labor", like "emotional labor", is a term destined to be misunderstood.

But it's a really useful concept.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:19 PM on February 18 [12 favorites]


Bookmarking for later. I've noticed that these types of posts on Metafilter in the last year garner significantly less commentary than other pandemic-relates posts. It's hard not to think that women just don't have the time anymore, and men don't care.
posted by stowaway at 3:21 PM on February 18 [46 favorites]


This feels like a good way of separating out concepts because I remember a lot of these concepts being discussed under the heading of emotional labor which was then criticized bc that was not the intended purpose of that term. It's good to find the right words for things so we can think about them & spot them in the wild.
posted by bleep at 3:32 PM on February 18 [12 favorites]


I have the time, and I loved the article, but I'm just so tired.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:34 PM on February 18 [26 favorites]


I remember the phrase "reproduction of labor" covering both bearing and raising new workers, and doing everything between work-shifts to make it possible for one worker to go back to work.

(on a little googling, the phrase may have shifted to make a trichotomy out of "productive labor" and "unproductive labor"?)
posted by clew at 3:44 PM on February 18


Making breakfast? Wiping your butt? Weeding your garden—you don’t have to do this, unless you want a harvest or flowers. How would our economy compensate anyone for feeding themselves or washing their own clothes?
posted by Ideefixe at 4:05 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


It’s more that the absence of their consideration makes it a vulnerable area - and when it’s vulnerable, somebody will take advantage. Think of how your well-paid friends are making sourdough, and how your friends with multiple jobs are grabbing food on the way out the door.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:10 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


ideefixe, turn the question around -- what happens if the labor force is *not* paid enough to take care of itself?

Awful things, many of which can be observed now or in history. So we'd better think of a way to do it.
posted by clew at 4:15 PM on February 18 [21 favorites]


How would our economy compensate anyone for feeding themselves or washing their own clothes?

If everyone was feeding themselves or washing their own clothes it might not be such a problem. But its her feeding them, and her washing his clothes, and her doing the bulk of other tasks for them. The necessary tasks, the daily hygiene of the repeated task, falls to women out of proportion. And generally with little compensation or consideration.
posted by biffa at 4:19 PM on February 18 [66 favorites]


I appreciate the article and the discussion and would contribute but what free time I have from work and children, I hoard for respite. I have paid childcare which makes a huge difference but is outsourcing at a lower cost to another woman which directly impacts her family and it all feels like a hideous pass the hot potato game where you win by dying or being male and not having to play.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:34 PM on February 18 [37 favorites]


This is a huge area of interest for me and I argue for it all the time but the people around me act like I’m proposing some utopia because “they benefit from their own labor so why pay them” but this is the third article I’ve seen along these lines today so I’m extremely excited. Thank you
posted by shesdeadimalive at 4:35 PM on February 18 [9 favorites]


Making breakfast? Wiping your butt? Weeding your garden—you don’t have to do this, unless you want a harvest or flowers. How would our economy compensate anyone for feeding themselves or washing their own clothes?

Turn this question around: why is the economy constituted in such a way that doing all these things and keeping up with the household/domestic labor, even as a single person who's only responsible for oneself, is genuinely difficult to the point where a lot of people fall behind?

It was a real revelation to me when I read a tweet or tumblr post that pointed out: the 40-hour work week was intended to cover a two-parent household, where one person is the breadwinner, and the other handles most of the domestic and/or reproductive labor, and it's not a failing if you find you don't have the time or energy to juggle all the balls of cooking, cleaning, commuting, working out, working, personal care, maintenance, etc. in the air all on your own. The economy doesn't necessarily need to compensate everybody for the work of feeding themselves and keeping a tidy household, but it should function in such a way that people can do those things without effectively giving up most of their very limited leisure time to do so.

Some of us are privileged enough that we can buy our way out of some of this by getting a cleaning service, a laundry service, meal kits, etc. But that still doesn't help the women who are saddled with 40-hour work weeks, plus children, plus partners who don't pull their weight during the "second shift".

And if anyone is about to say something along the lines of "no one is owed leisure", miss me with that. Life should not be about some relentless productivity grind, and it's straight up capitalism damage if you think it should be. We deserve leisure and rest, and there is something deeply wrong with the economy and society as currently constituted if those things are viewed as optional.
posted by yasaman at 4:40 PM on February 18 [135 favorites]


clew, Marx coined the term ‘reproductive labour’ to describe the labour required to reproduce labour power, as you (almost) remember :)
posted by thedamnbees at 4:45 PM on February 18 [8 favorites]


... as opposed to productive labour, which produces surplus value.
posted by thedamnbees at 4:48 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


For me it's less about "how can we pay people to take out trash," and more "how can we change the focus of our economy from exploiting to sustaining?" Caretaking work has been ignored because of sexism but also because it's so personal and intimate. You can't compare knowing how to care for a particular person, with all their idiosyncrasies and unique needs, to stamping out a widget.
posted by emjaybee at 5:01 PM on February 18 [25 favorites]


Caretaking work has been ignored because of sexism

IIRC Federici suggests the opposite - that sexism emerges (in its particular form under capitalism) in order to compel the unpaid reproductive labour without which capitalism literally cannot function.
posted by thedamnbees at 5:34 PM on February 18 [26 favorites]


another previously :P
posted by kliuless at 5:41 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


From "Three Poems for a Woman" by Susan Griffin:

This is a poem for a woman doing dishes.
This is a poem for a woman doing dishes.
It must be repeated.
It must be repeated,
again and again,
again and again,
because the woman doing dishes
because the woman doing dishes
has trouble hearing
has trouble hearing.
posted by rogerroger at 6:05 PM on February 18 [20 favorites]


"How would our economy compensate anyone for feeding themselves or washing their own clothes?"

Yeah, stupid baby, feed yourself and do your OWN laundry! Being three days old is no excuse!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:09 PM on February 18 [47 favorites]


Yes, I agree - it useful to have both emotional labor (including the managing of the household) as one idea and Federici parsing out the idea of the repetitive care/labor as a distinct acts of unsustainable sexism/capitalism.
This comes at the perfect time for me as I am getting exhausted by the winter care of house and kids - both the management of the household (I have to think about and manage questions like: Are there enough gloves? Please come in from your morning recess as it is time to start zoom school. Is the heater working? etc) and the all day every day care/reproductive labor (sweeping up salt and dirt, lotion on cold frost bit hands, the chickens are needing more water watching because it is so cold, etc). Both are work, both take work and time, both are by default mine.
For me, the emotional labor threads were useful to put a name on things and also to allow me to say, "You know what, I organized breakfast, lunch and every snack, I am now done with all dinners a week but one." I look forward to what I learn from this.
And the other thing that I have always felt uncomfortable with and Federici is great at pointing out is that my exchange (please clean my house or watch my kids or care for my grandma), because of capitalism, makes me have to pay the helper less. I am currently trading for help with cleaning - and it is an hour for an hour - but for child care that is unsustainable.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 6:26 PM on February 18 [10 favorites]


I remember when I first read Federici's famous wages-for-housework article. It wasn't all that long ago, and the article IIRC was written in the late 70s, and it blew my mind with its enduring insight.
posted by praemunire at 6:53 PM on February 18 [9 favorites]


After I had my kid I quit my job -- which I never would have expected -- and coming to terms with the idea that I was still valuable and contributing to my household and society was really radicalizing. I really thought I was alone with all of these ideas of paying for domestic work and I'm honestly in tears of relief and joy that someone has been making these arguments so well and so clearly for 50 years. And there was a whole movement!! Let's do that again!

Related to this but underrated and I haven't seen it on the Blue so I must recommend More Work for Mother by Ruth Schwartz Cowan. It tells the story of the development in the US of domestic work from relatively equal but still gendered work on a homestead to the modern (1984) day. It goes kind of like this:
The division of labor was along (presumed true at the time) physiologic capabilities but men and women contributed equally to the necessary work of the household. Neither received wages for their work, only its direct benefits. As technology improved, men's responsibilities were replaced and men began selling their labor outside the home for wages. A flour mill gets a man off the hook for milling flour at his own home and now he can go sell his labor to someone else. He uses those wages to buy more new labor-saving technology, rinse, repeat. Meanwhile all this labor is now available for factories, which produce things for people to buy with their wages -- and because they're selling their labor they can't help at home and so they must sell their labor to buy things, but selling their labor is only possible because someone is at home wiping butts and washing clothes and weeding the garden and it isn't them.
Technology did affect women's work but did not replace their work in the home the same way (because it is much hard to mechanize butt wiping or garden weeding or laundry doing). The standards for women's work increased apace technology and the help available for women's work decreased apace, thus women spend the same number of hours doing domestic work regardless of technological improvement. The industrial flour mill her husband works at now (instead of milling their own corn) sells refined wheat flour, which they must buy with cash, and now instead of a quickbread for dinner which takes 15 minutes and her husband was equally responsible for the production of, she has to make a kneaded bread which takes hours and manage shopping lists and recipes and tools.

Domestic work got trapped in a gendered bubble as the economy changed to require cash for everything. The work still had to be done, but because only the direct family visibly benefited from the work (obviously everyone benefits from the continued reproduction of the species and in the improvements in hygiene, etc), who would pay? At least men used to be paid enough to sustain a family, but then the bubbles get broken down a bit and we find ourselves in the Two Income Trap.
The obvious solution here is to pay for domestic work and to pay it to whomever in the household chooses to do it. Maybe if we actually show that we value the work by paying for it, men will step up and do their share.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 8:32 PM on February 18 [21 favorites]


I think this is the Capitalist expression of an imperative much deeper than economics and older than monetary systems.

Larger social systems cannot pay or otherwise compensate women for the labor of reproduction without freeing them to choose the fathers of their children—if they choose to have any—without regard to the father's ability and willingness to hang around and support them and the children, and that would be pure anathema to the Patriarchy in any of its manifold embodiments.
posted by jamjam at 8:34 PM on February 18 [9 favorites]


A group of wealthy female actors and executives (including Julianne Moore, Charlize Theron and the leaders of Birchbox, ClassPass and Rent the Runway) are calling for a “Marshall Plan for Moms,” including monthly government payments to mothers.

real economies have paid child care, paid child education, paid parental leave, living wages, free medical care....US elites have to couch a push for a real economy in the nostalgic terms of its former position as a world leader, it's weird.

it feels like it's backwards from the MOTHER manifesto, just 15 years ago:
https://www.momsrising.org/the-motherhood-manifesto/film

but i think that group is still kicking around DC, yeah? definitely too real for the New York Times, this organizing effort is context woefully missing from this article:
https://www.momsrising.org/wins/

also, here's my fav video on federici's caliban and the witch and here's a podcast

it was in mobile, alabama where i learned, durind a kind of water ceremony downtown, from an american woman with both american (creek) and swedish ancestors, that she considered the line to her swedish ancestors to have been a bit broken by the witch hunts. specifically, she considered european americans to have "lost their medicine" during the witch hunts. that one knocked me for a loop.
posted by eustatic at 8:50 PM on February 18 [13 favorites]


also, metafilter should love that the momsrising.org womyn have a kick ass blog like it's 1997

also, check out the wings.org audio archive, since 1986.

i think they have to have some interview with federici somewhere...
posted by eustatic at 9:18 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I've noticed that these types of posts on Metafilter in the last year garner significantly less commentary than other pandemic-relates posts. It's hard not to think that women just don't have the time anymore, and men don't care.

QFT. As a long-time feminist, I appreciate posts like this greatly. I love Silvia Federici's work, and once upon a time I would have commented in a thread like this thoughtfully and at length (as I did in the emotional labor thread, back in the day). But honestly, the main reason I don't contribute to discussions like this on MeFi anymore is that I no longer write for free. I'm now a self-employed professional freelance editor and copywriter. My clients pay me good money to write and edit, and I'm good at it, so I'm given as much paid work as I can possibly handle.

Every hour that I spend doing unpaid writing/editing costs me double these days: not only in lost income (because I could spend that time working on a paid gig instead), but in reduced future income (social security). Given that I'm 53, single, and trying to finally gain some ground after a lifetime of meager earnings, it's very unwise for me to spend any time writing for free. In a world with economic justice for women, I'd be happy to keep contributing here. But I don't live in that world.

I still read MeFi semi-regularly, but this may very well be the last comment I make here.

Which probably ties in with the article somehow. But I haven't yet RTFA because I'm too tired after my long workday, so...
posted by velvet winter at 9:32 PM on February 18 [48 favorites]


Yeah, I've also written entire essays in undergrad around Federici's ideas, bless my wonderful Asian American Studies professor for assigning it. I hope people found this as enlightening as it was for me -- it makes misogyny around gendered labor even more gross.
posted by yueliang at 9:54 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


This article is so amazing and depressing at once. Ugh!

I recently read a Washington Post article on how people are spending their extra free time during the pandemic. Basically, parents -- especially moms -- are doing more childcare while non-parents are watching more TV.

I'm a public schoolteacher who's a single woman living alone. We had a snow day today so I spent it sleeping in, making waffles, watching videos, tending to my plants, taking an evening Spanish class online, drinking wine, and then reading Metafilter. All things considered, I live a very privileged and "easy" life compared to most. I even get paid to be nurturing, unlike parents who have to pay for it! My mom was born in the 1940s, a big feminist who had a fancy career and then chose to be a stay-at-home mother of many kids. She feels good about her choices but also is super real and super critical of the world We have been discussing COVID's effect on women in particular, how women especially are losing their jobs, financial security, etc. and it's going to have a lifelong consequences. She thinks it's really good that I don't have kids in this difficult world because it's so hard for moms and my life is pretty rad. We've made it so far in terms of equality but we're still so far behind, like it's depressing for her to see how little true progress there's been.

Yes to how much of our feminism as of late has been privileged, white, capitalist bullshit. I studied sociology and this topic in particular. bell hooks is my favorite author! This is nothing new yet remains out of mainstream discourse because, of course, addressing it and truly making change hurts those who are benefiting most. I mean, I certainly am benefiting from it. I had a discussion with a rich friend who doesn't consider themselves rich -- fine but it's all relative -- of how being a public school teacher is a middle class job. It doesn't pay great but it pays so much more and has benefits, unlike most "essential workers" who are getting minimum wage, no benefits, and delayed vaccine access.

Technically, I want to get married and have biological kids one day -- although I'm running out of time for the latter, which is fine. However, I'm also so fucking grateful I don't have kids now and have endless compassion for all the parents and kids right now. I think of how hard it is to find a good relationship these days, how so many of my fellow female friends of all ages are also single. I think of how hard it is to find not just a good match but also a truly equitable relationship and it feels almost impossible, although of course there are always exceptions. When I read this, I'm like "Wait, being single and living on my own is pretty damn amazing: I just spent all day being my own housewife and caretaker and had a blast!" Today I feel lucky to be single and not have children but it shouldn't have to be that way!!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:57 PM on February 18 [25 favorites]


When I became a lone parent I had to take an immediate 30% pay cut and effectively end any career progression due to the demands of raising my child.
The lifetime "cost" I estimated to be mid 6 figures.
Whilst I am an outlier it is women who almost uniformly pay this cost.

Obviously, it was worth it.
The joy and happiness I get from raising my daughter is worth any amount of money.
But it's not incalculable.

Some would say I chose to have a child and therefore society/the state doesn't owe me compensation.
To them I say their "cost" is the effect this had on my child and millions of her generational cohort.
GenZ don't play.
posted by fullerine at 12:03 AM on February 19 [10 favorites]


My wife and I both have full-time jobs, and a foundation of our marriage is that we share reproductive labour 50/50. This has meant, for example, that I did my best (who knows what's fair here) to undertake the majority of housework while she was pregnant with our first and then second child.

It never fails to shock me that this isn't the default. Most of my male friends try to be good partners, but I've been in situations where women are practically sprinting from chore to chore in the background, while the men are gabbing away in the living room. Of course, sometimes the man is enjoying a well-earned (and well-negotiated) break, but other times it's just... "what the hell are you doing? Get the hell off your ass and help!"

The sad thing is, like for most subjects of feminism, this disparity costs men more than its worth. My wife and I are lucky enough that we can indeed pay others to do much of our reproductive labour, and once we realized this was all going to vanish as soon as the pandemic set in, we very quickly, together, started planning and solving a lot of logistical problems. We were living in New York City at the time, and we decided to sublet and move to a house in my hometown of Toronto for a couple months before the borders shut. Every day was an underslept sprint, and we maintained very tight schedules to ensure we both had time to work. It was hard but... our kids were happy. For several weeks there, every day proceeded like clockwork, and my wife and I acted as a single well-oiled machine, dashing up and down the stairs... and in retrospect, it was one of the happiest periods of my life.

Of course that mode wasn't sustainable for the length of the pandemic, and things have been (very) up and down since then. But we aren't suffering like other families we know, and it's been heartbreaking to watch. I don't mean to judge any family for how they run things, and our relatively good financial situation has played an incalculable role in easing our burden. But I would still say that recognizing each other as equals in all things has been the key to our survival and hapiness. It has made our marriage greater than the sum of its parts.
posted by Alex404 at 12:38 AM on February 19 [11 favorites]


Note that "Wages for Housework" was a more nuanced idea than simply adding reproductive labor to the paid labor side of capitalism. In particular, Federici is not pro-capitalism. The fpp pull quote at previously link 2 describes this a little bit:
“Wages for Housework was misunderstood as saying, Give us money so we can stay home, doing the same domestic work. We actually saw wages for housework as a strategy of refusal, as a strategy giving us more options, more power to decide how to organize our lives. We were accused of “institutionalizing women in the home.” But many women we met would tell us that they were already institutionalized in the home because, without any money of their own, they could not go anywhere or they could not leave their husbands even if they wanted to.” An interview with feminist scholar, author, and activist Silvia Federici Every Woman Is A Working Woman.
posted by eviemath at 4:16 AM on February 19 [13 favorites]


OMG I just recently read her book Caliban and the Witch; Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation and it was SOOOO GOOOOD - highly recommended!!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:11 AM on February 19 [8 favorites]


My favorite thing ever to recommend on this topic is Boston University feminist economist Nancy Folbre's lecture titled, "Women's Work and the Limits of Capitalism" (YouTube). For those of us who don't have 90 minutes on hand to listen to the whole thing, this essay summarizes the highlights of her lecture.

To me the most powerful argument in her talk is when she contrasts how capitalism has worked against patriarchy to empower women, but capitalism works with patriarchy to double down on the oppression mothers experience. Such a valuable distinction to make.
“[Under capitalism,] the position of women improves but the position of mothers deteriorates – pauperization of motherhood or “motherization of poverty,” Folbre explains as the next step which occurred in the evolution of the patriarchy. Why is it that women have gained in status in comparison to men, but mothers have remained so vulnerable?

... In general, women’s unpaid work has been pretty much of a similar value across women. ... Every married man used to get an unpaid house-keeper and child-carer – and the services provided to him were roughly of the same value regardless of the income of the man.

... While all of women's unpaid work has been of a similar value, women's paid work has not been. Some women are highly paid and highly educated (thanks to feminism) and others are not, and what we've seen in economies like America, is that overall living standards have become much more unequal now that more women are in paid work. In a way, the patriarchy was equalising.

... Folbre makes the rather devastating case that it is this [feminism's success under capitalism] which has undermined efforts to seek change [i.e. equality and status for unpaid labor]. “Higher paid women benefit from their ability to hire low-wage women to provide child care and elder care in the market". This is the success of feminism in a capitalist system: it works for women, but not for mothers.
posted by MiraK at 6:12 AM on February 19 [14 favorites]


emotional labor (including the managing of the household) as one idea

This is a boulder there is no point rolling uphill any more, but "emotional labor" as conceived by Arlie Hochschild specifically meant the work of producing emotional responses for paid wages - the kind of work waitstaff, stewardesses, nurses, caregivers, baristas, etc., are expected to do to meet employers' and clients' expectations, in addition to their physical labors.

Almost all of what was discussed here in the "emotional labor" thread was either the burden of care associated with reproductive labor, reproductive labor itself, or relationship-sustaining labor.

Once these things take on their own colloquial life the nuance is lost, but to me, the distinctions are important if theorizing about it is going to matter.
posted by Miko at 6:32 AM on February 19 [32 favorites]


I recently read Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by by Caroline Criado Perez which touches on this. Since reproductive labor isn't paid labor, it is ignored in so many areas, like urban planning. Women aren't consulted about their daily tasks when decisions are made regarding how to get around, how to allocate resources, where to put places women need to get to on a daily basis. I remember in one story, she discusses the breaking up of favelas before the World Cup in Brazil and how families were moved and women suffered because they were no longer able to get to their work because their short walks had turned into long bus rides and, more importantly, they no longer had a community to rely on--the other women who helped watch their kids, swapped tasks with, who took care of the elderly. No one bothered to ask them what they needed, and this continues to happen even in places with laws requiring data gender-specific data.
posted by ceejaytee at 8:38 AM on February 19 [12 favorites]


yasaman totally beat me to like every point I wanted to make on this topic.
And if anyone is about to say something along the lines of "no one is owed leisure", miss me with that.
On the contrary, no one is owed the unjust enrichment that comes from tens, hundreds or thousands of other people neglecting their own well being for decades on end because two (or more) full-time jobs of undervalued labor isn’t reliably enough to provide for their basic needs.

We need to destroy the idea that working oneself into an early grave is so virtuous that many Americans have historically attached the word “Christian” to it for no coherent reason. Saying “no one is owed leisure” is like telling someone wrapped in a boa constrictor that no one is owed his next breath, especially when (as the OP makes clear), time for “leisure” (however necessary) Is a gross mischaracterization of the situation when people don’t even reliably have time for essential personal maintenance tasks.
posted by gelfin at 8:51 AM on February 19 [8 favorites]


This is a boulder there is no point rolling uphill any more, but "emotional labor" as conceived by Arlie Hochschild specifically meant the work of producing emotional responses for paid wages - the kind of work waitstaff, stewardesses, nurses, caregivers, baristas, etc., are expected to do to meet employers' and clients' expectations, in addition to their physical labors.

Almost all of what was discussed here in the "emotional labor" thread was either the burden of care associated with reproductive labor, reproductive labor itself, or relationship-sustaining labor.


Yeah, it seems to me there is:

- Emotional labor, which includes the work of inhibiting/cloaking/managing our own emotions to an unequal degree (e.g. not being able to tell assholes to fuck off because they're customers or children in your care or a patient or a cop); taking responsibility for managing other people's emotions to preserve safety and/or a calm environment for self and others (e.g. soothing irate relatives, customers, toddlers, bosses, cops, etc.); facilitating other people's emotional awareness to an unequal degree (e.g. helping teenagers cope with life, or helping your partner recognize he's only yelling at you about XYZ because he's hangry, and pointing this out in a way that does not further offend him while he is moody).

- Maintenance labor, which includes the repetitive work of cooking, cleaning, supplying, mending and repairs, tracking statuses and progress, ensuring proper disposal of objects that have reached the end of their usefulness, etc.

- Relational labor, which includes the work of building community, tending to relationships, strengthening bonds, noticing subtle signs of strife and addressing the issue before it causes a big rift, reaching out to excluded members and helping them integrate into your group, making people feel individually valued in relationships, creating family identity, facilitating mutual aid and reciprocity within relationships and groups, etc.

- Reproductive labor, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, infant-care, and raising children.

- Caregiving labor, which includes caring for the sick, disabled, and elderly within the family and community.

All of these include a "noticing, planning, and managing" component in addition to actually doing the work described, the thing often described as "mental load", which involves being the person who is taking responsibility & ownership for the work in question. Almost always, this is a woman for all the forms of unpaid labor listed above.
posted by MiraK at 8:59 AM on February 19 [28 favorites]


And it's often very hard to separate out those forms of labor into non-overlapping categories. Caregiving labor, for instance, is also often relational labor and maintenance labor.
posted by Miko at 9:23 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Its crazy to me that the definition of society has changed from "the people who are living and their workings to continue living" to "commerce/infrastructure that aid commerce". "why should society pay for this kind of labor?". That's what society is. Everything else, the stores and jobs and such are ill-maneuvered add-ons. Reminds me of the thread about amazon HQ possibly moving to NY, and some people saying there was no obligation to hire resident new yorkers. New York isn't a bunch of glued-together bricks, and society isn't the ability to produce and retain a dollar.

We evolved as a species to make living easier. We needed safety from outsiders, and easier access to food. A bit (lol) after that came medical care and leisure. As far as i'm concerned, those should still be the main goals of civilization. Protect people, keep them healthy, and give the access to humanity by way of recreation and leisure. Who is doing that work? Women are. And we're not getting paid for it. And neither are we getting recognized for providing society with itself.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:49 AM on February 19 [13 favorites]


It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest....

In response to this quote from Adam Smith, the Swedish journalist Katrine Marçal wrote this very interesting book called Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?...

She is asking, “Ok, Mr. Adam Smith; You say it’s because of all this self-seeking behavior of Brewer, Butcher, and Baker that you have your dinner, but actually who cooked your dinner? You didn’t cook it.”

In his case, it turns out to be his mother, because he was never married. And when his mother passed away, one of his cousins came and cooked for him. So Marçal is saying household work has been completely written out of economics.
Ha-Joon Chang, Economics for People #4: Conceptualizing The Individual
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:10 AM on February 19 [13 favorites]


“ Later, as a graduate student studying phenomenology in Buffalo, she ate uncooked hot dogs right out of the package”. Stunning and brave.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:17 AM on February 19


In a 2019 speech, Marilyn Waring, a public-policy scholar and longtime advocate of revising economic measures of “productivity,” noted the absurdity of defining activities like caring for elderly relatives or newborns, shopping and cooking, as having no value, or as leisure. “You cannot make good policy if the single largest sector of your nation’s economy is not visible,” she said. “You can’t presume to know where the needs are.”

Waring's 1988 book If Women Counted is excellent and has been called "the founding document of the discipline of feminist economics".
posted by Lexica at 10:42 AM on February 19 [8 favorites]


uncooked hot dogs right out of the package

That was a normal snack when I was a little kid. They're pre-cooked.
posted by Miko at 10:47 AM on February 19 [6 favorites]


One of the theses of More Work for Mother was how increasing automation resulted not just in the growing volume of work that an individual homemaker was expected to do, but the elimination of the jobs that used to be done by an army of women. Cook, cleaner, laundress, a host of old job descriptions now mostly replaced by machines.

Not just that she was expected to do so much, but that she was expected to do it, alone.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:29 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Cook, cleaner, laundress

Tbf the last two were often really terrible, life-shortening jobs, especially before the beginnings of automation around WWI.
posted by clew at 12:42 PM on February 19


Regarding the “Two-Income Trap,” I’ve always had complicated feelings about that situation. As Warren anticipated, it’s hard to address the subject at all without people assuming you mean women need to exit the workforce. Anecdotally, just as a matter of disposition, if we had to choose, my wife would be the much better “breadwinner” and I’d be much better in the domestic role. If we could afford it, I’d jump ship in a heartbeat. But of course we can’t.

I’m a bit skeptical of the claim that a homebound spouse can serve as an economic backstop against unemployment, because it seems like the same sort of argument can be made about dual-incomes: if one spouse loses their job, half(-ish) of the household income is still coming in as opposed to zero(-ish). But on the other hand the real issue from an Econ-101 standpoint seems to be that doubling the workforce just massively devalues labor across the board. Assuming that more labor automatically means more economic growth is just a variation of supply-side fallacy: if the entrepreneurialism needed to increase labor demand were as bottomless as supply-siders like to pretend, wages wouldn’t have stagnated. So on the other side, if the working spouse loses a single job that was enough to cover a whole family, there’s still a scramble to replace the lost income, but you’ve got twice as many people looking, doubling your chances of recovering with a single job that’s enough to support a family. Both situations have extremely wide cracks to fall through, though. My sense is, in a job-loss situation, it might be a wash. But that’s before you consider that the two-income family is often paying for child care, house cleaning, vehicle registration and other circumstances that are difficult to drop and restart on demand.

I’ve never felt confident I could get my head around all the angles here, but I do know that, excluding the depression era, post-boomers consistently feel stretched much thinner than their parents or grandparents did.
posted by gelfin at 2:15 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


> a homebound spouse

A homebound spouse would be one who couldn't leave the house because of illness or similar problems, as I read it. I'm a homemaker or a housewife or a full-time parent, but I'm not homebound.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:17 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Fair enough. I wasn’t sure about that word choice, but “housewife” is gendered, and (perhaps on point for the thread) “homemaker” always sounded vaguely condescending to me in a way I have trouble putting my finger on. Apologies for not having the right word at hand.
posted by gelfin at 3:20 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Oh, it's not you: there isn't a good word, as far as I know.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:07 PM on February 19


The two income trap isn't just about job loss, though. It's about when a family member is sick -- who has the capacity to give the necessary care, or does that become yet another additional cost paid out of the dual income?

And I don't think anyone serious suggests that only women leave the external workforce to resolve the two income trap. Housework shouldn't be gendered and whoever feels better suited in a partnership or who wants to do it should take it on that role.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 5:18 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


There’s also been a fair amount of reporting in recent years that indicates that women, at least in some classes or subgroups, are taking on the burden of chief breadwinner more frequently. They are earning more college degrees than men now and out-competing for certain job sectors. This does not seem to mean less work for them - instead, it’s now the emotional and structural burdens carried by the major breadwinner added onto the emotional and pragmatic burden of what is going on at home.
posted by Miko at 9:13 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


I like 'housekeeper' because it has usually referred to a job, even when unpaid (eg Adam Smith’s relative keeping house for him).
posted by clew at 12:26 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


I know plenty of couples where both people love their work and find it meaningful--for example, married college professors. Are we really saying that in every couple, one person should be expected to stay home? Some people just honestly enjoy their jobs and have no interest in having a clean house or fancy cooked meals. Is that allowed?
posted by hydropsyche at 6:26 AM on February 20


And some people really appreciate the freedom of being in business for yourself as a housecleaner, setting your own hours, selecting your own clients, etc. This should be fine as long as it's a fair exchange of labor for compensation and that work is properly valued. Too often it's undervalued and in some cases, for those unable to or uninterested in heading their own businesses, exploitive. See also nanny, assistants, etc.

I don't think the problem is in hiring out the work in and of itself; it's that (a) too few people can afford these needed services and are trying to do it all themselves without actually wanting to, and (b) the work that is hired out is often done exploitively.

In the wealthy countries where there are more social supports for childcare, schooling, health, etc., the caregiving work often comes with a good public sector salary.
posted by Miko at 6:56 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


@RepKatiePorter: "Childcare is infrastructure. It doesn't just help people with kids; it creates a stronger American workforce by allowing parents to participate fully in our economy. That's why I reintroduced a bill to make childcare more affordable..."

@RepKatiePorter: "Childcare costs were skyrocketing long before the pandemic, but the mass exodus of women from the workforce—many of whom are citing childcare responsibilities—has made reducing the cost even more urgent. I spoke with @19thnews about what we can do."

@RepKatiePorter: "Are you a single parent struggling to pay for childcare? Congress needs to hear from you. The COVID relief bill makes it *harder* for single parents to get help. @RepPressley and I are pushing back, and we want to amplify your voices. Tag your story with #SingleParentPenalty."
posted by kliuless at 8:26 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I love Katie Porter and I’m fully in support of public childcare but that is not the same as valuing the unpaid labor of parents and homemakers and it buys into the capitalist lie that women’s value is held back by caring for children and thus we must outsource childcare to enable women to earn a wage.

And to address the above question — no, anyone is allowed to have any job they want/are qualified for. The structure of work is certainly crafted around the assumption while one is working outside the home, someone else caring for the home/children. If both partners are working that’s still true, there’s just more people in the equation. If that someone is outside the household, they get paid. If they are inside the household they aren’t, which sucks. The point here is that caregiving/homemaking is a job that plenty find meaningful and want to do but are not valued for doing it.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 9:06 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


R.e. a name for the person who stays at home running shit, how about we reverse the US tax designation and call that person “head of household”? Currently that’s whoever earns more money and who paradoxically is probably less often IN the house and doing direct upkeep of it and the people and pets in it.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:25 AM on February 20 [14 favorites]


Are we really saying that in every couple, one person should be expected to stay home? Some people just honestly enjoy their jobs and have no interest in having a clean house or fancy cooked meals. Is that allowed?

Before making a comment of this particular tenor, it...really wouldn't kill you to read the article first.
posted by praemunire at 10:48 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


fwiw...
The Romney Family Plan Sees the True Value of Parenting - "There is dignity in work, but we should support more than just work done for wages."[1,2,3,4]
Mr. Romney’s plan (like the Family Fun Pack from Matt Bruenig, the president of the People’s Policy Project, a think tank) would allow families to be flexible. (President Biden has also released a plan for a similar benefit, which would be less generous to families with younger children and would be limited to a single year of payments as part of Covid-19 relief.) Mr. Romney and Mr. Bruenig would put money directly and unconditionally into families’ hands. They would not issue child care vouchers or otherwise dictate a single, “right” way to balance work and parenting...

Mr. Romney’s benefits would be tailored to parents, but they would serve everyone if they shifted our expectations of what work should look like and what counts as valuable labor. And his proposal should be followed by a similar package for anyone doing care work at home for a parent or other relative.

Call the Romney plan a capital investment, not a child allowance. It supports the work that statistics like gross domestic product don’t count but that is the foundation for strong families and communities.
posted by kliuless at 11:42 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I first encountered Federeci's work about ten years ago at when I attended a talk that she gave. A woman I was seeeing basically dragged me to it. Although I didn't really think much of it at the time, over the years I've come to thnk that Federeci gets the big stuff right -- that capitalism wouldn't be possible without the enclosure of womens' domestic labor/care work. If you're a straight cis male, take Federeci's work seriously, please, I wish I had done so sooner.
posted by wuwei at 11:54 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Before making a comment of this particular tenor, it...really wouldn't kill you to read the article first.

I read the article. I wasn't responding to the article. I was responding to the commenters here who all seem determined that the only way to make things work is to have one person stay home. I thought the article was about a whole lot more than that.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:34 PM on February 20


"I’m a bit skeptical of the claim that a homebound spouse can serve as an economic backstop against unemployment, because it seems like the same sort of argument can be made about dual-incomes: if one spouse loses their job, half(-ish) of the household income is still coming in as opposed to zero(-ish)."

Additionally, the job market is not particularly welcoming or remunerative for people with what appears to be an extended stint of recent unemployment, which is another hit taken by full-time unpaid caregivers to children, elderly and/or sick relatives.
posted by Selena777 at 5:22 PM on February 20


I'm pro whatever can keep women in the workforce. Linda Hirshman and Leslie Bennetts were warning about this 20 years ago.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 5:51 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Silvia Federici is my favorite author who connects marxist concerns to feminist concerns. If you're a marxist or socialist, please check her out; if you're a feminist, please check her out as well. I cannot recommend her book Caliban and the Witch highly enough.
posted by davedave at 4:16 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


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