How should children be raised? What they should be taught? These are questions for the ages and the responsibility parents are tasked with. However, they do not do all the work. The people around children also influence their beliefs about the world such as other family members, strangers, or teaching institutions. Raising a child becomes more complicated when caretakers realize parenting has changed between generations. For example, in some societies, physical punishment is discouraged. Thus, these parents are at loss as to what they should impart to a younger person. This can be especially challenging if a child was unplanned and parents hadn’t had the chance to talk about this topic, or it never occurred to them at all. Furthermore, part of bringing up a child is teaching how to behave according to society’s rules. However, these rules are abundant, and parents may impart those they have never thought critically about and are harmful upon inspection. They find themselves in a spot when children want more information and parents may use their status as caretakers to force submission and obedience from their children. In this severely specific vein, there’s a particular area in heterosexual families in capitalist systems that needs careful consideration, the ideas about labor. We ought to appreciate all kinds of labor because the idea of “work” is based on economic benefit and corporate relation, the politics of paid work operate under the misconception of a gender and sex binary and discouraging people to take on socially important but unpaid work alienates them from living a fulfilling life.
In capitalist systems, work that “matters” is the one that brings money or is related to a professional goal. In “The Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx describes these ideas as value judgments people develop under this system. Marx argues that capital is not personal power, it is a social one (Karl Marx and Engles 51). Value judgments are one of the products of social power. There are three prevalent value judgments from capitalism that have been under the scrutiny of emerging philosophies and alternate lifestyles. First, in a capitalist society, paid work is valuable because survival — paying for food, rent, utilities, etc — depends on it. This hegemony of money gives the illusion that working on another’s capital is the obvious path to take because everything a person would like to own, including basic needs, is behind a paywall. Nothing is free, but instead of labor — what people put on paid work — the cost is human-made currency. Thus, the rewards of labor are in another person’s hands which by proxy include survival. Second, there is a preconception that people who do not work towards earning money are wasting their time and have no value. Not having a job, or “unemployment”, is a cause of distress, and those who aren’t taking part in the capitalist economy as wage earners — the unemployed — are to be pitied (School of Life). In other words, a society under capitalism enforces the social expectation that labor’s ultimate goal is money. In the US, this is particularly pervasive because social security benefits are dependent on the job offer. Lastly, people believe that once acquiring enough money, they will not need to work anymore, or having a certain amount of money and objects will make them happy. These value judgments serve capitalism to sustain itself. They push people to become part of the system for survival, through social conditioning, and false promises of happiness. It frames people’s perception of the world, themselves, and how they relate to others. Furthermore, the concept and importance of paid work in itself is a value judgment that places wage earners above non-wage earners, creating an uneven distribution of power in human relationships.
Many societies have decided who takes part in paid work under the notion of gender and sexuality binary. Under the gender binary and heteronormativity, “men” are expected to take part in this paid labor as the “breadwinners” for their spouse or family. In contrast, “women” are conditioned to marry a “man”, become pregnant, and take care of the household. But if gender and sex are independent of one another, the object of “men” is not exclusive to male bodies, and the object of “women” isn’t exclusive to female bodies, if they exist at all. A gender binary cannot be maintained when there are many questions about the constructor of gender, the place of construction, and the alternative constructs that limit discussion such that, for the sake of discussion, gendered and sexed bodies exist (Butler 9–11). Discussions that assume gender and sex are the same, and that “men” and “women” have a role in society they must fulfill aren’t based on any fact, merely a social agreement. This false belief limits expressions of the body and has made society and people operate in a framework that is not in tune with their bodies, consequently labeling whoever strays from this a transgressor. This “for the sake of the argument” also causes invisibility of any other gender and sexual expression. In cases where religion reinforces this false belief, trespassers may be met with extreme responses. These societies operate under the notion that male-bodied men, or cisgender men, are the sole ones responsible for economically maintaining a family they must have, with a female-bodied woman — or cisgender women — and cisgender children. This story of human life creates injustice in abled and disabled cis males whose value rests on having someone that depends on them, cis females who are less likely to be considered for paid work, and everyone else who doesn’t fit in this narrative: single cis males, single cis females, heterosexual couples that don’t want children, cis males in same-sex relationships, cis females in same-sex relationships, transgender people, people who do not want to pursue romantic and/or sexual relationships, and all the combinations between these and other unmentioned groups. This false belief lives on because of the social conditioning that separates bodies from not only certain kinds of paid labor but in all aspects of their lives.
Discouraging people to take on valuable but unpaid work strays them from the opportunities to live a fulfilling life. Punishment alienates people for reasons they do not understand or have accepted, internalizing the idea that their “transgressive” actions will cause harm to befall them. In the Second Treatise of the “Genealogy of Morality”, Nietzsche argues punishment does not form remorse in the “culprit” but increases alienation, forming a “bad conscience” characterized by shame and guilt (Nietzsche). This form of social conditioning which starts from childhood places a social organization’s rules above individual liberties. In a gendered society, gender roles and expressions are imposed on their bodies through toys (action figures and dolls), clothing (pink and blue; dress and shorts), and other kinds of parental conditioning, including gendered gifts from family. Compulsory heterosexuality is also installed in children through binary gendered fictional romantic couples, even if there’s no sign a sexual act has taken place to prove their feelings — pregnancy or a baby. Under ignorant or nervous parents, children who behave as another gender may be admonished, internalizing shame and guilt without knowing why the action was inappropriate. These gendered lessons translate into restricting attitudes like career choices, some of which are also gendered. For example, children who are referred to as “boys” may not be taught they can become caregivers, not be given a baby toy to play with. Likewise, perhaps a child referred to as a “girl” wasn’t given toy cars and thus not exposed to the possibility of liking cars because it was not what they were taught they could be interested in. Because the options some children are exposed are limited to the expectations of their imposed gender and not in all the capacities they could develop or already showed signs of, a sensitive “young man” may decide to take on a high paying job in a high-stress environment instead of a slower-paced job in a more stable field that suits their temperament and emotional needs. Applying Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance to unpaid labor — which is deemed as less valuable in a capitalist society due to value judgments — imagine securing basic rights, liberties, powers and opportunities, wealth and self-respect for everyone who may take part in it (Chaffe, 2016). In the case of child-rearing, when this option available to everyone is chosen, there is a commitment born from genuine desire as if it were a professional career. In labors like craft, cooking, and home economics, fixing, making, mending clothes, and preparing food at home, regardless of who practices these activities, it will be clear it can assist strained finances in personal trying times or of local economic hardship. Unpaid labor includes crucial survival skills and knowledge to thrive in any kind of environment, especially when trying to find an alternative lifestyle that does not depend on the use of currency.
In conclusion, paid labor is a capitalist value judgment that depends on the gender binary and heteronormativity where its only purpose is to sustain itself. “Paid work” is a capitalist concept that alienates wage workers from the value of their labor, their environment, and each other, creating a cycle of dependency between employers and workers. Additionally, remunerated labor is limited to society’s concept of “men,” cisgender males who are encouraged to find cisgender wives to have cisgender children and support for the rest of their lives. This is another cycle of dependency that leaves out all other possibilities of platonic, sexual, and romantic human relationships under concepts of gender and sex that, upon scrutiny, cannot be justified. Lastly, the social conditioning that sustains the misconception of the gender binary and heteronormativity restricts people’s career of choice and diminishes the value of unpaid labor that is essential for survival if one wants to venture outside capitalism’s narrative. Thus, when every form of labor is properly appreciated and valued, society and people can change an economic system that only cares about itself and leaves so many unacknowledged.
Butler, Judith. GENDER TROUBLE: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York, Routledge, 2002. Self Organized Seminar, https://selforganizedseminar.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/butler-gender_trouble.pdf. Accessed 2 May 2021.
Chaffee, J. (n.d.). The Philosopher’s Way, 5e. Pearson Revel.
Karl Marx, and Frederick Engels. II. PROLETARIANS AND COMMUNISTS. Edited by Frederick Engels, translated by Samuel Moore, New York, New York Labor News Co., 1908. Project Gutenberg, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31193/31193-h/31193-h.htm. Accessed 3rd May 2021.
Nietzsche, Friederich. “On the Genealogy of Morality.” On the Genealogy of Morality — Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Genealogy_of_Morality. Accessed 10 April 2021.School of Life. “POLITICAL THEORY — Karl Marx.” Youtube, School of Life, 19 December 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSQgCy_iIcc. Accessed 19 April 2021.