Is Housework Work?

There is some quip along the lines of, “Think housework isn’t economically productive labor? Try running a business with a staff that isn’t toilet trained.”

Yeah, I couldn’t find the real quote. It’s actually a lot funnier.  Anywho,  I did find an essay in which Joseph de la Torre Dwyer argues that “Gender Equity Still Requires a Focus on the ‘Second Shift.’  By “second shift,” Dwyer refers to the domestic responsibilities that one partner–in an inegalitarian relationship–performs in addition to their “real” job. Often, in heterosexual relationships, the “second shift” is a burden borne by women due to the gendered division of domestic labor. Such labor, like raising children, is frequently based on caring for others. In this context, Dwyer emphasizes the economic and theoretical shortcomings of not recognizing care as work (emphasis added).

In our world today… no one pays the workers who produce the principal economic endowments that make all of us human: our bodies, our reason, and the gifts of language, culture, and the social organization of the world they give rise to.  We are living on a fantasy island of unremunerated care…

Feminists are understandably worried that by naming care as work, we might ignore human wellbeing and commodify one of the few spaces capital has seemingly not yet penetrated.  Yet, since we already recognize that care does not produce tradable commodities, the response should not be to pretend that care is not work—but to realize that any economic theory that can’t describe the work we value most is no economic theory at all.  It is precisely the idea of the second shift that allows us to see work outside the neoclassical system and inside a framework such as human wellbeing—itself a consciousness-raising frame with important practical policy consequences.

Meanwhile, Selma James, in an interview with Amy Goodman, explains how the gendered division of labor affects women and men.

Women are engaged in the work of making society, of making children—that is an enormous job—and … the separation [of domestic responsibilities] between women and men is harmful to all of us.

Now, I want to make it absolutely clear: we do this work, and we are civilized by this work, we women, and have a much greater understanding of human beings, because that’s what we’re dealing with all the time. But we don’t want to be the only ones to do it. Men need to do this work, because men need to be civilized by this work as we have been. Men don’t—we don’t want them to be doing this work for capitalism and not doing this work for ourselves, for each other, you know, for the society generally. Men have to start making society, along with women, not to help—I’m not talking about men helping. Sometimes we have to fight so that they give us a little help, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about that being the aim and purpose of our lives, to be with others, to care for others, and to, as I say, to make society with us.

Your thoughts? Partial to the “capitulation to capitalism” argument?  Got some other quotes or articles on the topic?

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