what do you do?

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For the past two years, I have lived in a city that is for most intents and purposes Southern, sprawling and constantly booming, with highways and new cars and lots of good jobs. I work  at its sprawling, booming, self-serious state university, where kids and grown ups get degrees and get good jobs, as a matter of self-perpetuation, societal paricipation, and in taking advantage of unprecedented opportunities. Asking “What do you do?” isn’t a snobby judgemental thing to do, but a matter of business in the most basic sense.

I went straight through college and graduate school- both of my parents finished college after they had kids. I had lot of the same intentions as the students I work with. I’ve yet to see numbers on this, but my perception is that a lot of women who become librarians also become the most educated people in their families while doing so- that this career, this profession, is often one that people enter into, even when as an afterthought, as a life-changing thing. I think new librarians affirm this quite a lot- they take on “librarian” as part of their identity.  The thing I think is so interesting, so magnetic about library blogs, is that they are an excerise in women talking publicly and passionately about their careers.

There’s not a lot of attention in our culture today focused on women in their jobs. In women’s movies, do you ever get much insight on how the Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon characters feel about their careers? To take the pinnacle of genre entertainment as example, how often did we see the Sex and the City ladies actually at work? Their jobs, athough defining in a cursory way, were an afterthought. If movies today show women at work, it’s either in leisurely stylish rich girl jobs, recent past-period pieces, or in fairly disadvanged situations (see North Country, with the excellent line, “Do you want to make as much money as your Dad?”), but never as contemporary professionals. Where is our Network, our Norma Rae, our 9 to 5, even?

I meet other women at parties and bars and barbecues, who are doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses, engineers, social workers, academics and curators (the real kind, not Charlotte on SATC). I meet women in other cities who work in media or have started their own businesses or who are artists and avoid “real” jobs. And when I think about it, we all put forth quite a bit for our careers, and our jobs, which are all regardlessly, “real”. We must think a lot about what our jobs mean for the other choices they have to make. But it’s hard to even navigate asking those questions. People see their work through the lens of their identity, and explaining what that means is boring for the most part. I also don’t want to be looked down upon by someone who thinks what I do is insignificant, or be percieved as self-important. But these things matter to me, I have a lot of unanswered questions about them, and I do want to talk about this stuff. But instead I talk to other women about their relationships, clothes, and expensive stuff we buy for the kitchen, or at most soul-baring, how we think we could ever afford to and manage to have children. Oh shit, where is feminism in all this?

As an act of feminist assertion and in affirming that I care about what I do, that it is important to me, I want to have more conversations with other women, both in my profession and out of it, about what our careers mean. I want to talk to dudes I know about gender and sex at work, and about what they think their partners careers’ (regardless of respective gender) mean. How do we do this?

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4 Responses to what do you do?

  1. Elita says:

    Dude, this is an excellent post, probably one of the best you’ve done so far. You raise tough questions and I am not sure how it’s done, but I think it’s reat that you bring this up, esp. in the light of the Gorman debacle. I have noticed that when I do meet new women and ask them about their jobs or careers, most are seriously unsatisfied and trying to find something new to do. The same themes about motherhood, felxibility at work and being valued for their contributions does come up again and again, though.

  2. char says:

    Careers mean basically nothing in the larger scheme of things. No matter what you do, a career is just a means to an end. Society is built on money, and that’s the reason we work.

    I don’t think it’s the ONLY reason we work, but it’s the main one. This actually helps me, because if I start getting all upset about things at the library (yes, I’m a librarian), I just tell myself that it doesn’t really matter, that it’s just a job, and if I lose it I can find another one.

    Careers should be an afterthought. I think people get too tied up in their careers. I’m not defined by what I do, I’m defined by who I am! I also think this is why so many women are dissatisfied with their jobs. They haven’t found themselves yet and are constantly trying to define themselves by how others perceive them, at home, at work, etc. It’s one of the pitfalls of being female.

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