Obviously it hurts to have one's life choices so harshly judged. But what I find even more troubling is the fact that Ms. Glass refers to herself as a feminist in this article. And I find that troubling because she has fallen victim to the misogynistic assumption that any task primarily performed by women must by definition be an unimportant task.
According to Ms. Glass (and hundreds of years of patriarchy), childcare, cleaning, nursing, managing a household, (non-restaurant) cooking, and laundry are unimportant tasks that no man would consider to be a real accomplishment. She specifically states that "doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business."
There's a false equivalency there. If no one did laundry, then doctors, engineers, and business owners would not be able to work. In particular, without laundry, doctors would be unable to prevent infections or save lives. If you look at it objectively, clean laundry allows us to live in the modern world. If you asked a doctor who is trying to save lives in war time or after a natural disaster, s/he would tell you that there is nothing more important than that kind of cleanliness--and the people who ensure it.
Ms. Glass is able to judge and denigrate the people who do the basic, boring, repetitive tasks that make the backbone of our society because there is someone out there to do these tasks. There are sanitation workers and household cleaners and bedpan emptiers and stay-at-home mothers and fathers who are doing the work that she considers to be beneath her. But without those workers, we would all live in filth and there would be no generation to come after us. Ignoring these facts is classist and misogynistic.
What Ms. Glass does not seem to understand is that there is dignity in all work. Not just in being "exceptional," which is what she believes that we should all strive for. Exceptional people and accomplishments are built on the backs of all those who do the basic work of living that must be done. It seems awfully mean-spirited to spit on those people doing the dignified work that is laundry and childcare.
In some ways, I can understand where Ms. Glass is coming from. For much of my life, I, too, have dreamed of being exceptional in the way that she defines it. I wanted my name to be known for something incredible that I had done. I feared living an average life.
As a teenager, I thought that being exceptional meant being famous, so I hoped to become so. In college, I revised my dream to being acclaimed for expertise in my field. In my twenties, I decided I wanted my writing to make me a household name.
Now that I'm midway through my thirties, I still dream of having professional success that makes me renowned. But I've realized that my dream of fame, acclaim, and renown does not define whether or not I've had a successful life. Being exceptional offers a remarkably narrow vision of success--and defining success in such a way necessarily means that very few people can achieve it.
It also ignores so much of what life is. Yes, I will spend a great deal of my life working. But even if I were working a traditional job right now, more of my life overall would be spent in accomplishing the basic tasks of daily living. Changing diapers, wiping noses, reading Dr. Seuss, cleaning floors, making dinners, and, yes, doing laundry. I embrace the opportunity to complete those tasks, even though they can be boring, repetitive, and even soul-sucking.
I've come to realize that my fear of being average and my dream of being exceptional ultimately come from a fear of death. Because if I am exceptional, I will be remembered outside of my family, and I put off the inevitable day when I am completely forgotten. Someone will remember the famous writer Emily Guy Birken years after I and my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren are gone.
But that kind of "memory" will not take into account the full fabric of my life: the way I sing to my baby while I change his diaper, the dinners I cook, the sympathetic ear I lend to my husband after a hard day, the snuggles I give my kids, the endless loads of laundry I wash, dry, sort, fold, and put away. Those are the real me, no matter what I do professionally. It may not be "exceptional" in the way that Ms. Glass defines it, but it is my full and real life. And it's a successful life, whether I do make a mark on the larger world or am simply the mom who stays home with her kids. Because either way, I have been important.
So Ms. Glass, I would ask you to revise your understanding of success and accomplishment. Please remember that there is meaning and dignity in the work that you choose not to do. Remember that just because not all work is lauded or paid does not mean that such work is worthless. Remember that being exceptional is exceedingly rare and don't beat yourself or others up for not getting there.
Remember that being average is a valid path to an important and successful life.
|Pictured: What average looks like.|