Too many meanings for “reproductive labor” and “emotional labor”

It strikes me that two important feminist / Marxist concepts each have, confusingly, two separate meanings.

First, there’s the concept of “reproductive labor”. Wikipedia says it’s “work often associated with care giving and domestic roles including cleaning, cooking, child care, and the paid domestic labor force”. But there are two, maybe three, separate parts.

One part is the actual physical reproduction of new human beings, and (perhaps should be considered separate) the work of raising those new human beings, taking care of them, teaching them, etc.

The second part of reproductive labor is the daily work of maintaining a household so that the paid workers can go out and work the next day – cooking the meals, doing the laundry, etc. These two things are related, obviously, but the maintenance and renewal of existing paid workers versus bringing up a new generation are different and we should have different names for them.

The second term is “emotional labor”. If you’re new to this, there’s a fantastic PDF called “Emotional Labor: The MetaFilter Thread Condensed“. This is a somewhat newer term, and a very useful one for dissecting ways in which men offload work in undervalued and unpaid ways onto women.

But again, there are two very different parts to this.

First, there is true emotional labor – the work of handling other people’s emotions, taking care of them, etc. etc.

But there’s also something else which should be its own term, which is organizational labor. Here is where a wife complains that her husband says he’ll help out around the house, but he insists on being given tasks, and doesn’t just figure out what needs to be done and then do it. The wife often just does all the work out of exasperation.

Interestingly, this organizational labor is a kind of executive function, which in the marketplace is highly valued not only with compensation but also with control of corporations. Yet in the household it is completely devalued.

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