Everyone is obsessed with women’s work. Whether a man chooses to work, live off welfare or be a house-husband, the main contention is with his personal identity. But every time a woman makes a choice about what work she does, people everywhere must ask what value her work provides her, her family and society. And, seeing as there are many sorts of value, I’d like to briefly explore them, their upsides and their downsides.
The first value is, apparently, the only value work has to most people, especially feminist women. Monetary value. How much cash you can squeeze out of your every drop of sweat. The rewards of this value are fairly obvious. More money means more of everything you can buy with money, which, in our society, is everything. Most people’s jobs provide stable income or even secondary perks, like discounts, health plans and freebies. The cons are often neglected. The first and most obvious one is that most people dislike their jobs. And the sizable minority who don’t actively dislike them don’t really like every aspect of them. The vast majority of people, for example, would not do overtime that had no potential reward, or take work home. The second con is that when put in a job, you are often stuck in one place, doing one thing, from about 8 until about 6. If you account for preparation and travel time, many people spend from 6 until 7, or 13 hours, working. This leaves little room to enjoy the rewards of your money, such as extra time, entertainment sources, better food and better clothes and vehicles. If you sleep 8 hours and work 13, that leaves three hours a day to enjoy your bigger house, nice clothes, meals out, entertainment products and the likes.
Which is fine, if your work provides another value: enjoyment. Enjoyment isn’t easily quantifiable. It can’t really be measured, only compared. But you know your work provides enjoyment when you look forward to it, rarely think about anything else when doing it and wouldn’t rather do anything else. Seeing as most people don’t like their jobs but still need to do them, it’s fairly easy to see the downside to enjoyable work: it doesn’t always pay. The upside is, your time is being well spent. When you tidy your whole garden because you love gardening, it doesn’t matter that you’re not paid to do it, because it has value in and of itself. On the other hand, doing the dishes and accounts are examples of work that we bear a grudge against because it provides no monetary value and no enjoyment.
Between money and enjoyment, we work out our third value: time. This is more accurately described as the monetary value of your time (the value you put into it) versus the money and enjoyment it provides (the value you get out of it). Work will either fall into the valuable: something where your time is adequately compensated or rewarded, or the worthless: something where your time yields no tangible reward. The easiest way of balancing your time value is to look at its monetary value, as enjoyment is very variable. So, if you usually get paid £8/h, that’s your time’s base value. If you need to do an hour of unpaid gardening and you enjoy it, it is worthwhile because you enjoy it. If you are doing an hour of gardening for £8 or more, it is worthwhile even if you don’t enjoy it, because that is what your time is worth. If you are getting less than £8 for your hour of gardening and don’t enjoy it, then the activity is worthless to you. On the other hand, let’s assume the gardening needs doing. If you have to pay £12 for it, then it’s more worth your time to do it yourself, as your work is only worth £8/h. If you have to pay £4 for it, then it’s more worth your time to do your own work and pay for the gardening. You will also need to factor how flexible your time is. If you simply don’t have more than 3h a day free to do things and dislike gardening or just don’t feel like it, then maybe it’s worth paying £12 to get it done, because your leisure is worth that extra £4.
Finding that balance between money and enjoyment, the value of your time, is highly important to understanding the value of your everyday work, be it monetized or not. For example, a waitress on 15k who becomes a kept housewife to a man with a salary over 50k may be looked down upon by more “professional” and “liberated” women. But if she enjoys housework more than waitressing and her quality of life has gone up through extra money and enjoyment, her work is actually very valuable to her. On the other hand, a woman who despises housework and has an earning potential of £25/h may not be quite so happy with that arrangement.
The final factor to your work’s value is whether the rewards are something you use up or a reward that creates another reward. So your basic living expenses are used up. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. But all the money you have left after that has some potential. Your enjoyment, on the other hand, is a fleeting thing, even though the things you enjoy might give you a return later. By carefully investing your money and time into things that will give back later, you improve your quality of life without needing to work longer hours.
Bringing that back to women’s work, let’s, for a moment, imagine the home as a community, or a business. When at work, you don’t look at the secretaries, cleaners or apprentices and think “These guys really aren’t pulling their weight.” or “They would be better off as managers.” You understand that they do their job, their job is necessary and they are not ready and may never be ready to become a manager. Likewise, when asking what value someone’s work adds to their life, their family and society, you need to look at what they are capable of. A woman with education up to GCSEs is not a CEO in the making. Unless she has a particular skill she can and will monetize, her work is worth minimum wage, no more. If the cost of cleaners, convenience food, meals out, childcare, etc would work out as more than her hours times minimum wage, she is actually better off doing these jobs than going out and getting a monetized job to pay someone else to do them.
Similarly, we have all seen the effects of someone working a job they dislike. From unmotivating teachers, to bored friends and relatives, to coworkers who just don’t pull their weight. When someone is doing a job they dislike, not much of it gets done. Therefore, regardless of what a woman is doing, she’s probably doing a far better job of it if she likes it, making her work more valuable.
Finally, most of the debate around women’s work concerns women with families, be they just themselves and their partner, kids or even grandkids. Nobody views a single woman’s choice of work any differently to a single man’s. If she’s on welfare, she’s on welfare, if she works, she works, if she lives off her parents, she lives off her parents. Their opinion is likely to be the same for her as for anyone else in her situation. But when a woman is part of a household her work choices become a matter of some sort of gender-loyalty-war, where it is either her responsibility to stay home all day or her responsibility to get a “proper” job. What she actually contributes to her home and what she gets out of her work is not really the matter of the debate, although this topic is often weaponized to prove points. The real matter of the debate is whether she is being “woman enough” by doing whatever she’s doing. Which is a social argument.
And, to be honest, if the debate boils down to that, I have no idea what value your work adds to society.
What I do know is that if your work covers, saves or pays your earning potential, you are happy and your family is well, then whatever you’re doing is clearly valuable.
TTFN and Happy Hunting.