17 Gender and Unpaid Labour

Celina Castillo

A capitalistic society revolves around trade to satisfy basic human needs. Work is labour done for areward – usually money – that can be used to purchase what is necessary for survival, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Money can further facilitate thriving, reflected in people’s opportunity to have fun, self-actualize, and explore life. The type of transaction where one spends time and energy to be repaid with money, while others consume the products, creates a cycle that gives life to a thriving society in varied aspects. It interconnects economic stability and the development of individual identities. However, it also creates and reproduces social inequalities.

We can understand labour as comprising three types: paid, underpaid, and unpaid. An Amazon employee who receives a minimum wage for working at a warehouse 40 hours per week is paid labour. A mother labeled as ‘housewife’ who devotes her entire day doing household chores and childcare constitutes unpaid labour. The absence of direct remuneration reflects the privatized location of her work, and assumptions about the social roles that women should take in society. Gendered divisions of labour, or the ideological attribution of tasks to men or to women, create inequality of job opportunities and in pay. "A piece of paper with the word 'resume' printed in bold at the top, and underneath that the words 'Skills: getting it done without any recognition' are printed."

Expounding on these concepts, we understand that gender hierarchies can influence one’s capability to have access to the resources needed for survival, an argument that is particularly made by feminists. Feminists fight for revaluation of mother-work and other forms of work traditionally assigned to women that provide the foundation for expanded social, industrial, and financial innovation outside of the home writ large. The nuclear family is ideologically framed as the exemplary social unit of capitalism. A nuclear family is characterized by the partnership of two heterosexual adults united by marriage and their minor children. From this construct, the vision of ‘good motherhood’ emerges: women are inherently caregivers who stay home to perform domestic chores, supposedly generating an intrinsic sense of satisfaction. These good mothers can also engage in limitless emotional labour: work performed in attending to the emotions and feelings of others. However, feminists have noted that women lack power in determining the terms and conditions of their work under this model of family. Women’s work is hard, and should be given more social recognition, particularly in the form of rewards that can ensure women and children’s basic needs for survival are met.

Gendered division of labour: inequality of job opportunities and pay due to the ideological attributions of tasks given to men versus women
Nuclear family: the partnership of two heterosexual adults united by marriage and their minor children
Capitalism: an economic system where private trade adjudicates the circulation of the resources necessary for surviving and thriving
Emotional labour: work that attends to the emotional needs of others



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Gender in Canada: A Companion Workbook Copyright © 2023 by Celina Castillo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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