domestic labour A concept developed within feminist theory to analyse the significance of the unpaid work performed by women in the home. Within Marxist feminism, domestic labour is sometimes referred to as ‘reproductive labour’, after Friedrich Engels's distinction between productive (value-creating) work and work aimed at re-creating the worker or the capacity to work. Most definitions of domestic labour equate it with housework but some include ‘emotional work’ such as tension management and caring. Considerable debate took place in the 1970s as to whether this labour should be considered productive or unproductive in the classic Marxian sense, and whether it should be seen to benefit men or capitalism, or indeed both. Despite disagreement as to how precisely to conceptualize such labour, and about its substantive significance, it is widely recognized as providing an important basis for inequality between the sexes, entailing some degree of exploitation of women by men, and constituting a significant if hidden subsidy to the economy. See also HOMEWORK; PATRIARCHY.
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