Unpaid Work is Still Work

We are in a transitional time, between the old repressive ways and the new ways of equality.  Women someday will be viewed as human beings and treated as such, but for now, it is as we see daily in our work lives:  women are paid less and fewer women have leadership roles than men do.

An article in The Atlantic laments the losses women have sustained since entering the workforce.  In the past, according to the author, American women were able to volunteer and effect change in their communities if they were wealthy enough to have the leisure to do so.  Poor women, of course, had to clean others’ houses or take in sewing or washing, in addition to managing their own children and meager households, just as so many women do today.  Working outside the home prevents these women from volunteering, but much of the work volunteers used to do is now done by nonprofits who pay their often female employees.  That women are now paid for previously volunteer work shows a few increments of improvement, but we’ve not reached our goal yet.

And while many of their educated, wealthier peers now have alternatives to the suffocating housewife’s life that so enraged Betty Friedan seven decades ago, some experience it as an opposite kind of suffocation: a never-ending, ladder-climbing work life, the height of which is making money for someone else rather than building a world in which they’re invested.

Much important work is still not paid, or even recognized, and paid work is often meaningless drudgery.  It is beyond unfortunate that money is so utterly essential in America.  Everyone is forced to engage in some job that pays, whether it suits the person or not, just so they can survive.  To my way of thinking, it would be better if either no one were paid or if everyone were paid.  Work is still work, and makes a contribution.  People are also worthy of a decent life, and should not have to suffer just to survive.  The necessity of “making money for someone else rather than building a world in which they’re invested” is a tragedy too many people experience.  We would be so much better off if we all could engage in work instead of just doing it for money.  How many of us would quit our jobs if we didn’t need the income?  What would it be like if we could go to work because we really wanted to, and not because we had to?  Try to imagine this.

The rather strict division between paid work and work that isn’t paid or even recognized as work is deeply wrong.  Housekeeping and caregiving, for example, is worthy and necessary work, even when done “only” for a family member.  This work is usually done by women, too.  There are many nonprofits that rely almost completely on volunteers.  Where would we be without volunteers?  So much would simply not get done.  Wouldn’t it be far more just if people were paid for doing this work?

Whenever gains are made, they must be paid for, and women’s work is no exception.  Now women enjoy the dubious distinction of working just like men do, but the loss is, at least for those leisured women, they no longer have the time to build a world they are committed to.  The women are not the only ones paying for this, however; we all do.


Copyright © 2016 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.


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