Sunday, April 02, 2006

What is 'Work'?

I recently had a very interesting conversation with my wife regarding what counts as 'work'. She'll be finishing residency soon, which puts us in the enviable position that my salary will no longer be necessary from a day-to-day bill-paying perspective. We were talking about what I'm going to do at that point when I brought up, not for the first time, the idea of being a house husband. She's not really into that on the grounds that keeping house isn't a real job. Which is kinda funny itself, since she went to a womens' college which is totally into valuing work which has traditionally been done by women. A caveat here is that we don't have children; she's supportive of me staying home to raise the kids and do housework at the same time. But solely doing housework was a non-starter. So, first question, are there any good arguments to support the assertion that maintaining a household (minus kids) is morally equivalent (in some sense of the phrase) to holding down a 9-to-5 job? From there I started trying to pin down exactly what would count as work. High school teacher? Yes. An hourly position as the junior bottle-scrubber at a brewpub (with the assumption that I'd try to work my way up to master brewer)? Yes. Some 10-hour-a-week sinecure turning out propaganda pieces for a Republican think thank? Yes. But not a househusband. Its not the money, its not the time, its not the prestige. So what is it, then? And why, if time, money, and prestige are all non-issues, is keeping house not 'work'? This is where it got interesting... I think I eventually pinned her down to the following:
  • Everyone needs to work.
  • 'Work' is defined by what society recognizes as work.
Now I've a couple of issues with the above statements. First, 'everyone needs to work' sounds like a celebration of work for its own sake. I suspect its derived from the notion that respectable people are gainfully employed. I don't agree with that, but that's a matter of opinion that I really can't contest. The second point, which is the crux of the issue, is what counts as 'work'. She posited the example of having people over for dinner; she feels fine telling people that I'm a storage engineer, but wouldn't feel right telling people that I'm a househusband. I don't find being a storage engineer particularly fulfilling; I look for that sort of thing outside of my job. Presumably I could devote even more time to personal growth if I wasn't occupied with travel etc. She didn't buy this argument, but wouldn't elaborate further when I said that it looked like she was applying a sort of cocktail party test. So it looks to boil down to the fact that she has to be able to present me to our peers as gainfully employed. On the face of it that seems to be a thoroughly ridiculous rationale, I'd be interested to know if any of y'all who might stumble across this entry had any opinions on the issue?


Blogger Trickish Knave said...

I've seen this house husband played out and it always ends with that social position ot being considered work, however a woman with the same title has the toughest job in the world.

I guess "work" would be anything that you get paid for from providing a useful service to society. You could argue that drug dealers get "paid" but they don't do anything useful to society and it is illegal. Being a drug dealer is not work.

The bum that begs for money while wiping your windshield with a crumpled up newspaper is not work.

The day workers that get picked up and proceed to clear out 10 acres of land- that is work.

As a member of the submarine force in the US Navy, I hear the tired cliche "Being a Navy wife is the toughest job in the Navy." Whatever. Although they have to stay at home with no husband for months at a time, it is the poor bastard on that submarine that has to deal with no sunlight, no email, to phone calls, no showers because the distiller is broke, no food for a week becuase the cooks are too retarded to manage their inventory, getting smacked on the forehead by some dude's penis because he is bored, etc.

People confuse what 'work' really is because it takes up some portion of their valuable time or is an inconveniece in some way. That doesn't necessary qualify as work.

3:19 PM  

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