I have been seeing the same eye doctor for several years now. Of course, it is an eye doctor, which means I have been to the office a grand total of three times. We are not exchanging Christmas cards or anything. Because it is so long between visits, each time I visit there is always paper work to fill out: something about insurance, blah, blah (I tuned out right after someone said "...and sign this one by the 'x'").
And then there is always this one last form: matters of personal history for the doctor's personal records. Most of this is useful information of course. But the last question on that little yellow page is, "what is your occupation?". My first reaction is usually paranoia: "who wants to know", the eyes narrowing suspiciously. Then I start to scan down the list.
Now just to be clear, I do "work" part-time, but let's also be clear, adjunct teaching pays...for my gas and a trip to Wendys on the way there. Given that I do it because I enjoy teaching, and also given how extremely flexible my schedule is, and that I do not do it for the money, I really consider it more like volunteer work. Some people go down to the Salvation Army, others to the Catholic Worker soup kitchen, others still to the Humane Society...I teach.
Education is on the list. But what strikes me is down at the very, very bottom of that list: at the very bottom of the list, the final answer is "house-wife". I cring. To the casual viewer, I do not look like much of a feminist. I do not own a bright pink, "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" tshirt. I easily resisted the temptation to get the free tshirt the Women's Center was passing out: it said something to the effect of "I don't know what a feminist is, all I know is I get accused of being one every time I do something to distinguish myself from a doormat." They only had size-small left in navy blue. Alas. It is true, I do not shave my legs or underarms, but the real force of my social statement is lost once one recalls that I am male. In other words, I am what my wife laughingly refers to as "passing".
But the truth is, I cook, I go grocery shopping, I run the errands, I clean (some days better than others). She still does not let me near her laundry (you screw up one time....). I stare at the page. I harumph. I put an X next to house-wife, and turn it in. I figure someone will notice and see how silly this is, realize that familial care is not somehow beneath men, nor is it "women's work" and correct such a poorly designed question. Obviously not, because two years later, same questionnaire, same set of answers. This time I put the X in the same box, but when I hand it in I point out to the receptionist the poor choice of words. She stared at me like I had grown a second head...and was contemplating whether or not that meant she could charge me for two eye appointments. She asked what word I thought they should use. I suggested homemaker; she glared at me and sent me to the doctor. She did only charge me for one appointment though.
Two years later and visit three: same silly form, same silly answers. This time I take it up with that final question unanswered, and ask (as it turns out) the same receptionist what answer she thinks I should give. This is probably bad form, I freely admit; but c'mon! they have been using this silly form for four years now without changing it, and what does my occupation have to do with my visit to the EYE DOCTOR anyway? Once again she looks at me like I have grown two heads. I explain what I do. She looks at me, she looks at the list: "Looks like you are a housewife to me". I had to laugh. In the moment it was funny. Then she laughed a little. I filled it in. Then she laughed for real. Somehow I was satisfied.
Apparently now it is official: "House-wife" is gender neutral. In two years I will go and fill out that form yet again, and put an X in that very last box at the bottom of the page, and smile.