html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: A peasant husband might be a good match.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A peasant husband might be a good match.

Some more thoughts on work that I can’t seem to tie together well:

• Anonymouse said...
I must not be the only one who finds this a little bizarre. Chores are necessary evils, they're not something to order your time around. And I certainly wouldn't judge a friend or partner by their capacity to do chores for hours on end. What you're describing is a peasant husband with a plow horse and a drinking problem.
I have certainly heard this attitude in people who don’t like work, who think I’m fetishizing drudgery. I may be, but if so, that horse is clean gone and the barn door banging wide. Just as I can’t change what’s part of me now, I’ve accepted that people who don’t like chores never will; those people will always be doing me/the relationship a favor with each chore they do. I believe you have to do real work as a child1,2 to feel fluid and comforted doing chores as an adult.
• Labor involves three processes; seeing undone work, believing that the existence of undone work in your presence makes it your responsibility3, doing the work. People who haven’t internalized a pro-labor ethic get halted at different steps, or all of them.
• I’ve noticed that children of some immigrant groups were particularly flustered by labor when they got to college, which I attributed to two sources. In one group, the parents believed they had immigrated to give their children a life of the mind, and done all the chores that their kids could study more. That worked well for getting them into a good school, but they literally had to be shown how to clear their plates from the table4. Those kids did fine; they were willing, but unfamiliar with labor. The other source I liked less; that was the kids who came from a maid/driver/gardener culture. They believed that labor was something you paid other (shorter, browner) people to do, as soon as you could. I never did like their perception that labor is something you shed when you can afford to.
• Along the same lines, if someone fundamentally doesn’t respect labor, how can that person respect the people who do labor?
• When I talk about all this stuff, I’m sure I sound all intense, like I’m living up to the task driver inside me. I don’t at all. Why, there was twenty minutes yesterday when I took a break. Kidding. I really don’t drive myself that hard anymore; my life is ordered enough that I don’t have to, there’s lots of sitting and reading and friends and walking and playing. I’m thinking that ethic will get reactivated when the kids come. In the meantime, I want to learn to work better, like I don’t pay.






1I don’t know how much work at what age, but I’ll go with my theory that puberty sets who you are. I have no research but observation, but I’ve come to believe that you must play a sport during puberty to be an elite athlete in that sport, and that the country you go through puberty in will always be your native country. I’ll just tack comfort-with-work onto that theory.

2Kids younger than nine or ten love work, incidentally. They want to wash dishes in the soapy water, sweep anything, stack wood, wash cars, prune bushes, make food. They'll do any chore along side of you, especially boys shadowing fathers. They're as happy in work as they are in play, as long as their grown-up is doing it too. With tools, materials and freedom, kids will do an astonishing amount of work building forts, drawing maps, clearing paths, making things.

3I am the oldest kid in my family. When I was five or six, I walked through the kitchen; my father had been unloading groceries and gone out to the car for another load. A potato had rolled out of the bag. I picked it up and put it on the counter. Few minutes later, my Dad came to find me. “Did you pick up this potato?” he asked. “Yes.” He got a strange look on his face. “This,” he said, holding up the potato, “is the first indication I have ever gotten that you will turn into a person.”

4Indians whose Moms stayed home, I’m looking at you. My impression is that your moms decided that she didn’t want you spending the time to make full Indian meals, and anything less wasn’t cooking, so why bother showing you and did you get an A on that test? Very successful, the lot of you, but maybe not so handy in the kitchen.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason you like work is that you see a purpose to it? When you clean up after a party, you are restoring your home to its usual state. When you prepare an elaborate meal, you are making something to nourish and please yourself or your friends.

Some people are not able to take satisfaction from these things, which are an acquired taste somewhere along the lines of yoga. Or they haven't been taught how to do these things properly, or which supplies you need (you'd be surprised how hard it is to figure out how to make a toilet clean if you don't even know what the tool to do it might look like). So that every time they do anything it's a reminder of how useless they are, and how, even if they figure this out, there are dozens of other things they don't understand, and isn't it just easier to eat frozen dinners and move when the apartment gets too gross?

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan, I was with you on stage 1 & 2 of the labour process thing..er..stage 3 is the problem !

On a serious note though, I do wish americans would slow down a bit , then maybe we could all live a bit of a more relaxed life.

I understand what you're saying about the value and need to respect of labour/work but surely there's a danger -as Hannah Arendt saw-of judging all our activities in terms of labour (std of living)? To say that we live in a consumer society is equaivalent to saying we live in a labouring one.

The idea that 'work shall set you free' is an ominous one for our times.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how exactly does this jive with your philosophy of the 30-hour workweek? Is your goal of a slower, easier professional life so that can go home and do more chores? ;)

I dispute the suggestion that respecting something equates with enjoying it. I worked as a maid one summer. I got real good at cleaning toilets. That didn't make me like it any better.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Is your goal of a slower, easier professional life so that can go home and do more chores?

Sadly, I realized when you asked that, that want a 30 work week so there is time left after chores. But really, I do often choose to ignore the chores.

you'd be surprised how hard it is to figure out how to make a toilet clean if you don't even know what the tool to do it might look like

I'm no longer surprised; I saw it in action. But I do feel the parents of that person didn't do that person any favors by not requiring chores.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if you saw the same thing in non-immigrant groups ?

As for cooking food, you can't seriously be saying that non-immigrant groups were any better at cooking?

My experience has been that kids from immigrant groups not only put in more time cooking, but more of an effort sharing their food.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Hilary said...

I come from a situation that somewhat proves your theory regarding childhood work. However, I think you have to do the work at age 9-10, when you enjoy it and during puberty, when you can get good at it, to do it well as an adult.

I was the child of a sahm who did everything for me until the age of 12, when my parents divorced. Being a female late bloomer, the sh*t hit the fan about the time puberty started. At that point, I was all of a sudden expected to take on a good chunk of the household labor (being the eldest).

I rebelled heartily at the cleaning chores I was now expected to do and to this day balk as much as possible at doing them as an adult. I however, did want to cook, and continue to be the cook for my family, as I was encouraged to play in my play kitchen throughout my childhood, and snuck into the kitchen to cook as often as I could.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yard work is a highly visible example of changing attitudes toward chores. The sight of a suburban homeowner behind a lawnmower is getting rare. Today he has a costly ride-on mower evev if his yard is small, or hires immigrant landscapers to do the work.

Peter

3:15 PM  
Anonymous bill said...

You're gonna meet someone who works as hard or harder...or you're gonna meet someone who would never think of working so hard and makes you laugh/feel good about it. Really.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous I don't pay said...

It just so happens I was away from the computer all day, and while doing chores formulated an idea that the essence of it was feeling responsible, which I intended to post as a comment. And I'm pleased to see you beat me to it down to the word.

Who feels responsible, who sees it gets done, who notices when it doesn't and reminds those who do it to do it, and of course whose standard of clean governs, for instance, is I believe the real issue in the division of labor, in marriages, and in partnerships of all kinds.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

I have no research but observation, but I’ve come to believe that you must play a sport during puberty to be an elite athlete in that sport

This is a silly statement for several reasons. One is that puberty (in males) lasts from approximately age 12 to 18. Obviously very few people are going to be good at anything they never try until they are past the age of 18 and certainly are going to have very little chance of becoming a professional at it.

It is also silly because it lumps all sports in together ignoring their differences. Contact sports, sports with high costs (think yachting or auto racing), sports that are unpopular (olympic weightlifting, curling), "new" or "dangerous" sports like base jumping or parkour...these are all unlikely to have pre-pubescents participating. I'm guessing that when you say "sport" your internal definition is biased towards relatively well-known technique sports. Strongman events, Highland games, and other strength based sports have virtually zero pre-pubescents involved in them.

Finally, there is no need to rely on wishy-washy beliefs when it is trivial to look at professional sports and see people who never played the sport until after puberty. And I don't even mean technicalities like how Lance Armstrong wasn't a "cyclist" until he was 19 and Allison Fisher only played snookers early in her career...there are plenty of Africans who end up with long and productive professional American sports careers despite never playing the sport as children.

How many "elite" Ultimate players have been playing since puberty?

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I understand the last comment's objections, I tend to agree with Megan. In my particular field (science), those who do best seem to be those who have the most experience in their college/pre-college years. While the Antonio Gateses of the world do exist, there are far more Peyton Mannings. -K.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justus -
Becoming a professional in the Big Three sports (football, baseball and basketball) generally does require one to start quite young.

Peter

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't like any labor that doesn't make me sweat, and leave me sore and a bit bloody at the end of the day.

My immigrant ancestors are four generations away.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

I don't disagree that the vast majority of elite athletes are introduced to their sport early in their lives. That's hardly surprising given that's when we have the most free time and most flexibility of Self. Our physical and mental abilities peak early in life. It takes a while to master any activity. If we peak early then we must start learning even earlier.

I was simply pointing out that the "must" was ridiculous.

Also: I'm not certain but I imagine Antonio Gates has been playing football almost as long as Peyton Manning. He may not have played in college but Gates was an All-State TE in high school in Michigan.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Mitch said...

I have to agree with Justus, but then again what he's saying is sort of trivially true--Megan's absolute "must" isn't really absolute. Absolute statements like that are almost never literally true, so I think most people here interpreted the statement in it's non-absolute form ("for most sports, starting before/during puberty makes it much easier to get good at them"). Of course, that non-absolute version is trivially obvious as well, so one has to wonder what the point of the whole exercise was.

Sheesh! You'd think that by now we'd have the rhetorical machinery to deal with this sort of thing. Absolute statements are wrong, but non-absolute statements are boring. Most of the time.

This is the excuse I make whenever I write something boring.

It doesn't help that Megan has a weakness for this sort of thing.

As far as the work thing goes, I'm in my late 20s and I've been getting the hang of doing chores. Getting into the rhythm of cleaning is an easier trick to learn than completing a pass into coverage. I do wish that my parents had done a better job of including me in work when I was a kid, though.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Actually Justus, I'm gonna defend my thesis as written, for the sports I'm familiar with (which you are right, are high technique sports). I totally understand that I could be confusing "length of participation in sport" with "did sport during puberty", but I saw enough tkd people do tkd for ten years to be able to compare between did tkd during puberty and did tkd after puberty with similar intensity. I will always believe that the people who did tkd during puberty were more natural and better at the sport.

I've thought about it for Ultimate, and come to the conclusion that almost no one now playing played during puberty. What we're seeing is how good people can get without playing during puberty (and most of them did play field sports during puberty.) I predict that when we get a group of athletes who played Ultimate during puberty, the quality of elite play will improve.

I don't want us to get all tied up in this discussion (although I don't mean to arbitrarily cut it off, either), 'cause I don't have proof. But, I believe I've seen that effect, and you can take my theory for whatever you think it is worth.

11:23 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

My reasoning is a result of believing (on zero real evidence) that people are more malleable during puberty, so the sport can shape their bodies more completely, and believing that repetition during puberty engrained the sport in those people. The people who all looked like "naturals", who did things perfectly with no conscious thought, they all did tkd during puberty. Even the dancers and gymnasts who switched over, flexible and strong as they were, never looked the same. I'm standing by my theory of the mystical quality of puberty.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

It doesn't help that Megan has a weakness for this sort of thing.

Oh hon, my world is full of theories like this. The one that caught Tyler's eye (that if you visit the ocean, you have to let her taste you, or she will come take her taste when she wants) is just one of many. My friends just sigh when I start sentences with "I have a theory..." I'm saving my idiosyncratic view of the afterlife for a slow day.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that no-one has picked up on the immigrant angle of this post. Quite odd that there should be no mention of kids from non-immigrant, maid/gardener backgrounds.

What, don't they have condescending attitudes to "shorter, browner" people"?

Why do I get the feeling that there's a hint of partiality in these comments? Indian mums! Really!

1:13 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

Megan, do you have/have you read _Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House_? If not, you would like it.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Mordant Economist said...

Regarding the topic of labor, it is something of a foregone conclusion for Indians. Ignoring the effects of the current IT revolution India is in, illiteracy and poverty exists in a large scale. The stats for illiteracy indicate something in the region of 43% while poverty stats indicate something like 750million people unable to earn the always-publicized-1$ minimum wage for the day/month.

Things change over time and now you see people, who are uneducated, now have the determination to send their kids to school/college by taking loans. Regarding poverty, there are a lot of people who work as servants in rich households, work in less-paying jobs or are unable to find a steady job at all. Those that work as servants (are 99% women) for a long time do so for the money and they slowly build up their earnings coupled with their husbands earnings to setup a decent savings and spend some money for kids education. The kids also learn to do most chores because their mother is not there all the time to take care of them. Does this mean that all the kids who do the chores will become ingrained to do chores at an older age and feel more responsible as they grow older?

I certainly don't think so. Labor involves a fourth process that is not mentioned: Sufficient compensation. If there is sufficient compensation offered at the end of that labor and if there is pre-notification, people are inclined to complete the activity quickly to achieve that compensation. Compensation at a young age involves spending time in surroundings like the kitchen, watching and helping mothers cook and all these sorts of things. As you grow older, the term compensation is looked at in a different way and it is necessary that money is involved.

The fifth process, not mentioned about (although I believe is the larger factor influencing labor) is the surrounding environment that people are exposed to. The environment plays a much larger role than most people expect it to. For instance, I have had a maid since I was 10. 16 Years later, I still have a maid to do the housework, albeit a different one. All chores are delegated to her. Then, I went to study in the U.S. for 5 years and I did all the labor work by myself. Nobody helps you with labor work in the U.S. You could argue that fluidity cannot arise just by doing work suddenly. In India, I did little chores but I agree that my parents ensured that my primary concentration was in studies rather than anything else. However, the structure of the family (a large joint) prevented me from doing any concrete labor work. I became fluid by doing all the work and I still enjoy doing the work after I have returned from the U.S. It helps to create a different perspective by exposing yourself to different environments. Only then can you see whether you become really fluid to work. And you get a new appreciation for the people who do labored work. You look at them in a different light as fellow people who struggle to earn their livelihood rather than just people who can be paid to do the work.

11:47 PM  

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