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Sisyphus Of Our Time. Let's Talk About Reproductive Labor - Image, Society
Sisyphus Of Our Time. Let's Talk About Reproductive Labor - Image, Society

Video: Sisyphus Of Our Time. Let's Talk About Reproductive Labor - Image, Society

Video: Sisyphus Of Our Time. Let's Talk About Reproductive Labor - Image, Society
Video: Sisyphus 2023, December

American psychologist Dan Ariely once conducted a curious experiment 1 , in which two groups of people put together Lego robots for a small fee. All participants were given three dollars for the first collected figure, the "value" of each subsequent figure was reduced by 30 cents. The decision when the work will be stopped was made by the respondents themselves.

The difference between the groups was as follows: in one case, the robots remained standing on the table, and in the other, they were immediately destroyed. You probably guess in which of the groups the participants dropped the assembly after the seventh figure, and in which - they held out until the eleventh?

Many books and articles on personnel management have been written about how much the tangibility of the results of their work affects the motivation of employees. The idea that activities that do not bear fruit in the form of recognition, status, or financial reward lead to rapid burnout is also not new. But all this knowledge immediately runs into a "blind spot" when it comes to the "invisible" daily work, which is called reproductive labor.

Wasted labor

  • Productive work refers to work aimed at producing goods, creating creative works, or providing economically significant services.
  • Reproductive - an activity that does not have direct economic benefits, but is necessary for the normal functioning of society: preschool and school education, medicine, caring for the elderly, etc. However, much more often the term "reproductive labor" is used in a narrower sense, meaning by it unpaid "home" work to ensure the life and raising children.

The key point when discussing reproductive labor is its “invisibility”. Cooked meals are eaten, clean floors get dirty (sometimes even before they have finished washing), calmed children again find a reason for hysterics … done."

In fact, of course, this is not the case - in order to understand the value of household chores, it is enough to stop doing them for a couple of days. However, the fact that the result of an activity cannot be put on a shelf or put in a wallet leads to a very serious substitution of concepts.

“A housewife - sitting on her husband’s neck”, “She didn’t work for a day - she was busy with the children”, “What kind of work is there? Press three buttons: on a multicooker, a vacuum cleaner and a washing machine! - these and many other quotes show how disdainful everyday work is perceived in our society.

Meanwhile, real calculations 2 show that the average household takes about 49 hours per week for childless couples and about 56 for families with children, and the total time parents devote to raising and caring for children per week is about 102 hours. !

By the way, about statistics

According to researchers from different countries, all over the world reproductive labor is clearly linked to gender: women spend much more time on it than men. The journalist Bridget Schulte cites 3 data that, despite the declared equality, even in progressive states, the ratio of female and male expenses for household chores is two to one, and in the Third World countries the difference is already tenfold.

According to research by Russian sociologists, women in our country devote 16.5 hours to household chores, according to others, 17.5 hours per week more than men. Moreover, according to the same results, the majority of men perform household duties only on weekends, and 25% of men do not perform them at all, while the majority of women do them daily.

Even if both spouses are engaged in some kind of reproductive labor, women contribute 4 times more in time expenditure: for example, they spend an average of 6.86 hours a week on purchases (versus 3.65 hours for men), on cooking food - 8.54 (while for men only 1.93), etc.

They often try to pass off the distribution of “invisible labor” as a private, intra-family affair - they say, the spouses themselves must agree on who will wash the dishes and who will take out the trash. However, relentless statistics clearly show that the problem is systemic: stereotypes that cleaning, washing and caring for babies are “women's” business permeate the culture and form completely different expectations of men and women who marry.

It is considered a completely normal situation when a young girl is blamed, for example, for her inability to cook: "How do you get married, you are so inept?" In a similar case, a young man is offered a completely different solution: "Enough for you to eat" Doshirak ", find yourself a bride at last!"

Under the pressure of society, broadcasting the message “Family must come first!”, Women are forced to reduce the time spent doing paid work “outside the home”, to give up business trips, training, and sometimes even promotion. The theoretical possibility of going on maternity leave (or frequent sick leave to care for young children) often becomes the reason for the refusal of candidates for employment.

False destination

Supporters of “traditional family values” often state that performing reproductive labor is the true “destiny” of a woman, which means that it is unworthy of a “correct” wife and mother to demand that it be separated from a spouse, and even more so - to calculate its cost in financial terms. The reward for her is the very opportunity to take care of her husband and children, and the very process of caring for the house and household should be done with humble pleasure.

Meanwhile, from the time of antiquity, the legend about Sisyphus, the king, who was punished by the gods for trying to cheat death, has come down to us. He is doomed to forever roll a heavy stone up the mountain, which always falls down a few steps before the top, and all the work has to be done anew. The expression "Sisyphean labor" is still used to define meaningless and fruitless activities. Sounds like the endlessness and futility of homework, right?

It should be noted that men, of course, can also experience similar feelings - for example, during military service, the execution of orders "to dig from the fence until lunchtime" causes natural irritation. Nevertheless, even the presence of such experience often does not prevent them from believing that women are somehow especially “tuned in” to household chores and sabotaging household responsibilities in their own family.

However, the ancient Greek hero, at least, not be required to roll a rock testing from this absolute happiness - and by modern women require 5 just that. It is quite logical that the “hearth-keepers” have an inevitable dissonance: instead of the promised pacification, for some reason, burnout and a sense of the meaninglessness of their own lives come. The situation becomes especially difficult when a woman finds herself in a dependent state due to the presence of a small child, inability to find a job, domestic violence, etc.

Burnout in the field of reproductive labor becomes the cause of chronic stress, asthenia, psychogenic depression, anxiety-phobic disorders, etc. him with a paid job or with childcare.

Given the lack of visible results of her efforts, the motivation for housework (even if at first it was done of her own free will) is gradually moving from the “I want” category to the “I have to” category. At the same time, real feelings - anger, resentment, irritation - are labeled as "wrong", "unfeminine" and are suppressed for a long time. Sooner or later it becomes impossible to restrain their avalanche - and the accumulated emotions inevitably "break" the psyche, manifesting itself in the form of certain violations.

Throw stone

It is undoubtedly necessary to engage in reproductive labor: without it, the quality of life of a family (and of a separately living person) will drop to zero, and, unfortunately, universal robots-householders have not yet been invented. What can you do so as not to feel like Sisyphus, endlessly lifting his stone up the hill?

The recipe is both complex and simple. Household responsibilities should be shared between family members so that everyone can do not only them, but also creative, productive work, and also have enough time for sleep and rest

If there is a financial opportunity, the most tedious activities can be outsourced: use the services of cleaners and nannies, buy ready-made food, etc. And of course, when distributing household load, one should be guided by the real capabilities of partners, and not the mossy postulates of “age-old traditions”.

Of course, there are not so few happy married couples, where everyone respects the work of the other and honestly invests in comfort and care for household members. The sad thing is that against the background of general tendencies and traditionalist “scrapbooks” broadcast from everywhere, they look like rare exceptions. Will we live to see a time when equal distribution of reproductive labor is the norm? I would like to believe that we will live …


  1. Ariely D. TED Talk: What makes us feel good about our work? URL: ↩
  2. Makarentseva A. O., Biryukova S. S., Tretyakova E. A. Representations of men and women about the time spent on housework // Monitoring of public opinion: economic and social changes. 2017. No. 2. P. 97–114. URL: ↩
  3. Schulte B. I have no time! In search of free time in an era of general time pressure. M.: Mann, Ivanov and Ferber, 2015. URL: ↩
  4. Evstifeeva G. G. Gender structure of domestic labor in a city family // Regionology. 2013. No. 1 (82). S. 93–96. URL: ↩
  5. Yuriev S. The true purpose of a woman, bringing good luck and happiness // Real psychology. Harmonious self-development. Personal blog of Sergei Yuriev. URL: ↩