The other day, as I was walking back to my office after teaching my afternoon class, an older male colleague saw me and asked “So you’re going to California?”. I said, “Yes” to which he asked, “Do you have a job lined up?” I replied, “Nope. I’ll be unemployed and happy”. His response, “So you’ll just be raising your child?” and I said “Yep” and walked away as I smiled.
I met two of my students while waiting for the elevator and told them what had just transpired and they were shocked. Perhaps in a different time and space, my narrating the incident to them would not have meant much. However, given that they know I have resigned and will be making the move soon, and more importantly, the fact that the course I am teaching them is about work, respecting different kinds of work and appreciating ‘work’ in all its many hues, including the connotations associated with calling someone “just” a housewife, they knew exactly what I was saying.
(Please do view the video below. I love it. It used to tear me up even when I was NOT a housewife. Now, even more so.)
Just like there is no “just a..” job if you respect the implications and connotations associated with what that means, there is no “just raising…” a child. Of course, I know the colleague didn’t mean it negatively (or maybe he did, I’ll never know) and wasn’t trying to be condescending (at least I didn’t get that from his tone) about my situation and perhaps the only reason it stood out to me was because I am sensitized to these things, having taught, read, and researched on topics of this nature.
The fact is, so many people, including the highly educated and even those considered ‘smart’ by any standard of society, fall victim to the use of “just”. Most times, people who use this word to precede a profession, as in, someone is “just a maid” or “just a taxi driver” or “just a nanny”, do not even know what they are implying, at least not consciously. To them, perhaps the task or job at hand is one that does not require skills of any kind or at least not the specialized kinds of skills set. Perhaps, they assume that, whatever it is that person is doing, can easily also be done by them and most likely, that is the case indeed. For example, I could definitely be a maid, a taxi driver, or nanny with enough practice.
However, the larger question is, does my ability to do something mean that I have carte blanche to pass judgment on someone else doing the same job? Absolutely not. Just how condescending it is to assume that you can do someone else’s job better than that person who may have been doing that same job for years. How narcissistic to assume that I am better than that person on whom I am passing judgment just because that person is doing a job that I may not look upon favorably or want to do myself?
Besides, you only think you can do someone else’s job even remotely as good as they can. You don’t know you can. Finally, if the person doing that job, the one that you are so quick to dismiss, belittle, or humiliate, is happy, finds meaning in doing that work, and considers it her or his real job, who the heck wants to know or cares what you think?
Society discriminates between real and non-real jobs.
Robin Clair, a Communication professor at Purdue University, conducted a research study with students of a different university a couple decades ago and to these students, someone having a real job also worked at brick and mortar locations, earned a salary and not wages, had health insurance, a regular 9-5 schedule, got paid holidays, had retirement funds, and so on – the things most of us associate with steady and standard jobs. By that definition, every single person in the informal economy, from circus clowns, dancers, seasonal workers, to those working in the gig economy of Uber drivers, to professional AirBnBers, athletes, entertainers, Amazon delivery drivers, nannies, stay-at-home-mothers and fathers,…oh I can go on…are pretty much working non-real jobs.
If it sounds ridiculous, that is because, IT IS!. Can you even imagine a society where people working in the informal gig economy go on a massive strike? Who is going to deliver your Amazon packages!!?
A job is not made real or non-real necessary because it draws a salary or provides health benefits. A job is made real by how it influences one’s own life and the lives of those around us. In almost all cases, positively. Unless, of course you are a criminal in which case, your job is neither real or non-real…it is just unreal!
Just because I do not draw a salary does not make my work any less real. Just ask those who depend on me.
Also, I am never just anything. I am a whole lot of everything in all that I do and that’s just as real as it gets.
Have you ever been labeled a “just” something (e.g., wife or mother?)? Have you, yourself, in passing referred to someone as being just a stay-at-home-mom, for example?