Is ‘value’ something arbitrarily assigned or something inherent in the thing?

There is a “Hey look at me, I’m a brave hooker” article over at Jezebel. It’s entertaining enough, although I must say that the Honest Courtesan is more worth your time if you care to read intelligent articles on the topic.

I wouldn’t mention the article at all if it weren’t for one seemingly innocent sentence:

it just seemed like a decent way to get by in a culture that devalues the work that women and artists do

This sounds as if every job inherently had the same value and it was only a mean, misogynistic culture that prevented everyone from getting his or her proper share.
And – although I find it very hard to imagine – I think that is exactly the thought behind it.

Have you heard the story about the Canadian effort for equal pay in the nineties that classified contruction work and office cleaning of being the same worth and thus getting the same pay? I found it here and here. (If you know any official source I would love to read it.)
The result of equal payment of the two was that many (male) construction workers applied to become office cleaners but no (female) office cleaners tried to become construction workers. Apparently they all agreed that construction work is a lot harder than cleaning offices.

Even if that story is a myth, it shows quite clearly that the value of work is to a large extent self-regulating.

Hard work (construction) should pay better than easy work (cleaning), otherwise no-one would do it.
Useful work that needs a high level of qualification and commitment and skill (physician) should pay better than work that, although useful, is easily learnt (garbage collection). Otherwise why put in all that work and commitment?
Work that is actually needed or wanted (hooker) should pay better than work that serves no demand (painter*). Otherwise there might not be enough people doing it.

These are just three axes on which one work can differ from another and thus justify a different pay. So if you are a really, really skilled painter, indeed an artist, you may well be justified to earn more than an average hooker. Or if you are a cleaner in a really demanding situation like a atomic power plant (like Fukushima, not the office-tract) you may also well be justified to earn more than a construction worker.

I wonder how the author of that article values the work of others.
It can be assumed that she has a computer, probably a TV and a car or a bicycle and a flat and running water and electricity (more or less all created and supplied by males) and paintings and music on CDs and books (in her case probably mostly created by females). I wonder if she spends the same budget for the former as for the latter. If not she herself devalues the work of her sisters. Can’t be.

What a lot of paintings she must have…

*) Think of Oscar Wilde in ‘Model Millionaire’:

Trevor was a painter. Indeed, few people escape that nowadays. But he was also an artist, and artists are rather rare.

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