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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Neglected occupation

Most of the characters on TV programs have jobs only because these jobs put them in humorous or romantic situations. They never really do anything that someone with that type of job might do. (Exception: health professions or law enforcement, including lawyers and criminals. Perhaps running the White House is another exception. In these cases, the programs are often about the details of the job.) No one ever just mops the floors, or fixes a meal, prepares a presentation, grades papers, or washes the car, on TV. Granted, if they did, it wouldn't be very exciting, and watching TV fiction is a means of escape, not a reminder of what awaits us if we stop watching.

The same is true of most of the fiction I can recall reading, with some exceptions. Two of those exceptions stand out in my mind. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books do spend quite a bit of time on the homework, and classwork, at Hogwarts. Patricia A. McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe spends much of its narrative with Saro in the kitchen, scrubbing pots and staying out of the way of others. In both cases, I have felt that I had some idea what the characters really did with lots of their time. A little further thinking brought up C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, wherein the protagonist spends a lot of time doing ordinary things that a member of a royal family in a small kingdom might have done. In Lewis's The Silver Chair, there's a little detail about Jill, Eustace and Puddleglum trekking to the North, such as this:
Jill thought that when, in books, people live on what they shoot, it never tells you what a long, smelly, messy job it is plucking and cleaning dead birds, and how cold it makes your fingers. (New York: Scholastic, 1987, pp. 71-2)
Lewis, himself, apparently did a lot of housework on the same days he was doing some of his writing. Maybe that's why he put things like that in. But surely other authors have, too, and they usually don't.

I'm probably missing a lot, but how about it? Are there books (or TV programs, for that matter) that actually pay some attention to what people really do?

I'm currently an assistant babysitter for a one-year-old. One thing that occurs to me is that I don't remember ever reading about childcare, in any detail, in fiction. It can be wondrously rewarding, but it's also slow and repetitive. I guess that's why it's not there. Or, again, maybe I haven't read the right books. Am I right, and this repetitious, slow, but so important job gets neglected?

One of my favorite Bible passages is Romans 2:6-7:
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (ESV).

This patience in well-doing includes lots of ordinary work, I think. I don't remember reading much about childcare in the Bible, either. (Very little of the details of any occupations are there -- I don't know how Paul made tents, or David took care of sheep, just that they did.)

Thanks for reading.


Julana said...

Are you turning into a feminist?

Martin LaBar said...

No, I've always been one, depending on how you define such. The society I live in doesn't recognize the importance of some kinds of work traditionally done by females: childcare, teaching, social work, to name a few occupations, and it seems to reward occupations usually held by males more highly: construction work, for example.

A man should do his part. Housework and childcare are too much work to leave to one sex, whichever it is.

Mufana said...

I agree Dr. LaBar, that it is too great of a task for one of the sexes. I think I could very possibly enjoy being a stay at home dad if I had the opportunity.

Jeremy Pierce said...

It's generally a particular brand of feminist (namely the Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan variety) that depreciates the value of the work women traditionally do.

I couldn't be a stay-home dad, though. My wife can testify that I'd be absolutely terrible at it. Of course, I'm just as terrible at traditionally male tasks such as fixing things around the house. That's why I do philosophy.