Values has been of late a much-abused word, being brandished as almost synonymous with nativism, jingoism, the nuclear family, religious systems, and flat-out bigotry. Yet the word itself, stripped of these overlays, still has, well . . . value. For instance, disagreements over money are almost always about differing values, whether they’re quarrels about family issues, business matters, or politics. So it is with what is shaping up in Congress over budgetary emphasis. It comes down to values.

I am the last person to take issue with funding for sturdy bridges, smooth roads, clean water, and all those other items that make for, shall we say, civilized living. But it’s also true that such priorities — so-called “hard infrastructure”— are meaningless if there is nobody to cross those bridges, walk on those roads, drink that water, etc. Furthermore, any time something gets named “hard,” and something else gets named “soft,” I tend to suspect that somehow sexism, albeit perhaps unconscious, is at work.

Values are what anchor our beliefs to reality. So, seemingly amorphous matters like, say, education or caregiving or even human rights can get lost or swept aside when compared with the steel buttress of a bridge or fresh tar to pave a road. Yet if we look with a feminist eye at such situations, we see that these are not only issues of so-called human infrastructure. They are women’s priorities.

Mind you, I’m not saying anything quite so simplistic as “There they go again, the boys and their toys, money for high-speed Internet and the power grid, but not for paid leave or childcare.” We need money for both, and the “progressives” — irritatingly purist about compromise though they can sometimes be — know this very well, even if they seem to be playing hardball (there it is again) in negotiations. The “moderates” certainly (ought to) understand.

One problem is that women’s priorities can appear not only amorphous (health care, clean energy, Medicare-negotiated prescription drug-prices to private insurers) but also eventual, off there in the future (taxing carbon-intensive imports, blazing a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants), that is, pie in the sky. Of course, another way to look at it would be to call it planning, which, let’s face it, most women and remarkably few men do extraordinarily well. And of course, the survival of the planet itself can seem an amorphous and eventual issue, despite heated-up oceans, the spread of wildfires, the growing frequency of hurricanes, typhoons, floods, and other evidence that only the most ostrich-like climate-change deniers would refuse to see.

To be sure, by now we know that all issues are women’s issues — we’re half of humanity, for Pete’s sake. So, it’s not just about the sequencing of the two “hard” and “soft” bills — which comes first or second, whether the progressives are correct in fearing that the second bill will get watered down if separated, or whether the two come in together. Fifteen billion dollars for removing lead-corroded pipes that poison our children’s brains, an item nested in the bipartisan infrastructure bill — that’s a women’s issue. As is a $350 million pilot program for projects to reduce collisions between vehicles and wildlife. And clean energy planning, even if for much less than requested, is and damned well should be, also included in the infrastructure bill, as should be affordable housing. So of course, there’s some — if not nearly enough — overlap.

But the crunch reveals itself, as usual, in the etymology. Remember that the Latin roots of the word infrastructure mean “underneath or below the structure,” what forms the basis for any operation or system. Literally.

Which is where we find women.

In a very real sense, women don’t even exist in capitalism. We live under feudalism.

This is true all over the world, as well as here in the United States. Think of it: all that labor, outside the formal work force, unpaid, taken for granted, so common and pervasive as to be virtually invisible, on call 24/7 — in the home, in childcare, in caregiving for older family members or sick ones, in housekeeping, cleaning, dusting, waxing, laundry, shopping, cooking, washing up, gardening, subsistence farming, helping with homework, driving kids back-and-forth to school and sports and various other lessons, not to speak of the unpaid actual labor in birthing itself, or nursing, and so on and on ad infinitum. Yet some casually dare ask, “Do you work, or are you just a housewife?”

Good grief, we form the basis for any operation or system! Never mind workers as the means of production, in Marxian terms; we produce the means of production, we produce the workforce itself! We are the proletariat, the workers of the world.

Frankly, we are the ”Infra.”