Do we respect the work, or only the money it generates? I mean really respect it, not just pay lip service.
A while back, I ran across a Rod Dreher article on the book Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew Crawford. (The essay which formed the seed for the book, “Shop Class as Soul Craft” is shorter than the book… but not short.) Dreher talked about his father who attended college, worked a desk job he detested, and reveled in mechanical work all weekend: he bought the idea that college was the required ladder to success, even though he would have been much happier in a more blue collar line of work. (It reminded me a great deal of my own dad’s tendencies and history.)
Although there is an issue of forcing students into college track classes who don’t belong there by aptitude and/or inclination, and certainly issues of white collar job vs. blue collar job levels of respect, I would argue that the problem is larger: we don’t respect work.
Sure, we respect money, but that isn’t the same thing as work. Yes, we normally pick a line of work with an eye to being paid on a regular basis, but, hopefully, we also chose the work because we loved (or at least liked) it, because we found it fulfilling, etc. Work chosen solely on the basis of money to be earned will be a drudgery.
Which is how I wound up absolutely miserable as an engineering major: yes, I let myself be pushed into engineering because it was highly practical and bankable, and history is not. In spite of some aptitude for math and science, however, I detested engineering, and that made every class an exercise in misery for me. (Which is exactly how my husband, who started and finished as an engineer, felt about his required English classes.) It wasn’t just a question of aptitude, but of inclination.
I had the freedom to change majors, even the freedom to choose to be a housewife after I finished my committment to the Navy. Most people, however, feel pressure (especially economic) to aim for the most consistent, high paying job they can find, whether or not it’s something they enjoy. Surveys consistently report that about three fourths of women with young children would rather be home. We all know people who have spent decades in desk jobs they hate when they would be much happier working with their hands.
If we respected all work, someone would still have to be the garbage man. Even Crawford apparently still works for a think tank; I’m guessing that part-time at the think tank still pays better than full-time at the motorcycle repair shop. It’s nice to say you appreciate hands-on work, but it’s a lot easier to say it when you have a high-paying job to finance your dabbling.
I had been mulling this over for a bit after getting about halfway through a book on the history of housework in the U.S. before deciding that the author was so biased that she wasn’t really making any interesting points. (Or the interesting points I was getting were not the ones she thought she was making, as in, “She’s arguing for these schemes which didn’t work, but mocking a popular homemaking writer of the era by intentionally misinterpreting her… what is she afraid of: an honest argument?”) It also helps to have the internet: in spite of the author’s assertions that the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments condemned housework as degrading and inherently slave-like work, it actually doesn’t.
The fundamental problem with feminism as it is currently pushed is that it does not respect work any more than the allegedly male-controlled culture it sought to supplant. In an effort to create respect for “home economics” as a science, the first casualty was any respect that had been eked out for housework: housewives had to be portrayed as old-fashioned, un-scientific, and inefficient… and therefore in need of improvement from the new home economics professionals. Quickly, the professionals also realized that they could make a lot more money selling products to housewives rather than just telling them how to do laundry better with what they had. Housework became merely a function of spending enough money to “do it right”, and the housewife was nothing more than head consumer. Why respect that?
Especially early on, some feminists even argued for houses without kitchens or laundry rooms, so that those “slavish” tasks could be outsourced, leaving women free to explore their horizons. Of course, what that would have meant, and has certainly proved to mean now, is that upper class women would be free to explore their horizons with fabulous, exciting jobs outside the home. Lower class women would be “free” to become laundresses, cooks, and child care workers, working long hours at hard work for meager pay, since this would be only the “mindless”, “slavish” tasks others thought beneath them. Many women would remain unable to pay for someone else to do those things for them, leaving the poor to do all their own “slavish” work plus the work of the upper class women who had the money to disdain such mundane things as child care and laundry.
What should have happened, IMHO, was an increase in respect for menial work. Most women now do housework, and almost all women were solely housewives at the beginning of the feminist movement, so the first step towards respecting women would seem to be respect for the work they do. Unfortunately, the feminists seemed too fixed on getting women admitted to colleges and competing in respected professions with men; they couldn’t waste time on telling men to appreciate that their wives cooked, cleaned, raised children, and washed clothes so that their husbands could go do that career.
So, you get modern feminists screeching about women “wasting” their degrees and forecasting the end of scholarships for women if more women don’t skip the “mommy track” and just keep working. (So, now, I’m not just deciding to “waste” my degree, I’m betraying every member of my gender who might need a scholarship in the future?) Of course, the wonderful, uplifting, fulfilling jobs feminists are always holding out as examples almost all require a college degree. They conveniently ignore the fact that many women, like many men, will hold boring, menial, low-paying, and repetitive jobs… for which they will get precious little appreciation.
I don’t know that some think-tank guy playing at motorcycle repair in his spare time is really going to improve the lot of motorcycle mechanics in general, and the feminists have successfully denigrated the work most women do, in favor of promoting careers outside the home.
It’s nice to talk about appreciating all work, but do we really?