Saturday, November 18, 2006

occupation: house-wife.....wait a minute here

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.



koonj said...

OOh, delicious. I can complain to a GUY about being a doormat and a dishrag because he KNOWS.

Seriously though - is it as bad for you as it is for us?

And what about the men? How do they regard you? Masculine identities can be unforgiving.

I'm proud to know you!s

Lawrence of Arabia said...

thanks for stopping by! i am very happy to know you as well.

you are correct. it is especially men who seem appalled by the idea. i have gotten everything from puzzlement to out-right rudeness and the not-so-subtle suggestion that i do not do anything. if anything, what i have discovered is that "masculine" is a very rigid word that does not like to be stretched: with damaging implications for both men and women.

best wishes and i look forward to talking to you.


koonj said...

It's true. While women face innumerable challenges, men face other challenges: their range of options is relatively limited.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

i have to admit that that was a relative surprise to me when i became conscious of it. i have spent most of my adult life within what i fondly call "the community of women"; my closest friends from my college years forward have been female. and within that community you do not seem limited at all; it was also partly how i became more conscious of feminist issues, etc. but the more i interacted professionally with men (and i do have a couple of friendships with married men) that i went "whoa!" and the more i realized feminism could never simply be about empowering women but really involved changes in the way in which we even conceive 'male' and 'female'.

Anonymous said...

I sure would like to try out being a homemaker, for a year or two. But I need training.
I think that is among the most dignififed and respectable job in the world.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

it certainly has its own rewards and i do, for the most part, enjoy it. as for training...that is ongoing and mostly takes place "on the job". certainly i had to adapt my cooking somewhat to my wifes taste (i am from the south and if it were left to me, i would fry everything......everything!).

it is of course nice to be able to get out of the house and away from it every now and then as well, so that one's brain doesnt turn to goo.

best wishes,