The Unsung Hero:: The Value of Ordinary Work

I love fantasy books. I love an intricately built fantastical world and a well-crafted plot that features a kick butt heroine. Even now, as a 33 year old stay-at-home-mom with two small kids, I sometimes get lost reading a novel as I imagine myself to be the heroine, fighting the forces of evil, wisely leading those under my command, and even sacrificing all that I am to save the day.

The Unsung Hero:: The Value of Ordinary WorkThe Hailed Hero vs. The Unsung Hero 

I think it’s so important that women and girls read books {and see movies, listen to music, view art, ect.} in which women are hailed as heroic, strong, brave, and smart. The last decade alone brought a number of books in which women are celebrated for their incredible accomplishments. Our children can read books about Hillary Rodham Clinton, Wang Zhenyi, Maya Angelou, Wangari Maathai, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Malala Yousafzai, St. Teresa of Calcutta and literally thousands of other women who have contributed something to history. It is truly incredible to see the shift in recognizing these women in our society, especially considering 50 years ago, women, married and single, were denied credit cards or loans in their name.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if we have moved too far to one side of the feminist spectrum. Before you click away, hear me out. I do not mean that women should be denied basic rights or not be encouraged to pursue any career field of their choosing. I am not suggesting that women should only aspire to be wives and mothers. And I am certainly not saying that the women listed above do not deserve to be lauded for the way they helped shape our world today. I want my children to admire these amazing women.

However, do you know who else I want my children to admire? My grandmother, a 98 year old woman who married at age 26, bore 10 children, and stayed at home to raise them. My hair stylist, who immigrated from Cambodia with her family and built a small business in Katy. The women in my mom’s group at church, who strive everyday to serve their family in varied capacities, as married or single women, working moms or stay at home moms. The women in our communities. Ordinary, everyday women.

Both/And

When I wonder if we have moved too far to one side, I mean not that we should not celebrate these extraordinary women, but that we tend to only celebrate extraordinary women. Our society focuses on accomplishments. You can see it in every post, book, or ad that suggests their method, schedule, or product will increase our productivity or help us get that promotion or start that side hustle or, in general, live our best lives.

I’m so tired of being told I need to live my best life. As if my life that I’m living now, because it does not live up to our society’s aspirations or goals, is not good enough. 

In moving away from women being solely relegated to the home and responsible for child-rearing {which, again, I support}, we also moved away from celebrating ordinary women living their ordinary lives. And not “celebrated” as they were in the 1950’s and 60’s, where marriage and children were idolized as the epitome of womanhood. Celebrated in the sense that women are an integral part of society. Honored because we are equal in dignity and worth to men. Recognized for our contributions to humanity, whether that includes helping to develop a revolutionary vaccine or raising a good and kind person or fighting for policy change in your local election. Instead of an either/or society, I want us to be a both/and.

What is the Value of Unpaid Labor?

Our society does not recognize or value unpaid labor. Everything is about the hustle or earning a paycheck. And women bear the brunt of that unpaid labor. According to the United Nations, women perform 2.5 times the amount of unpaid labor as men do, even though women make up over 50% of today’s workforce. This work encompasses many things, including emotional labor or handling menial jobs for a family business, but in this scenario, I’m referring to unpaid service labor. This labor includes household chores, the mental load of organizing the family, elder care, and in the case of couples with children, childcare. I don’t bring this up to disparage men or just to point out that it’s unfair for women to take on these tasks {it is, but that is a separate post}. These tasks are not glamorous. They are not going to win Nobel Prizes or help someone run for office. They are the ordinary tasks of everyday life. And, despite their lack of glamour, they are utterly essential to our economy and our way of life. Yet, this essential work is not valued.

When my husband and I decided that my staying home was the best choice for our family right now, I was met with condescending and disdainful remarks. It was clear my choice wasn’t respectable because it wasn’t working towards something {a career, another degree, a side hustle}. It was ordinary. While my husband and I obviously don’t view my work as being less important than his job, I cringe at the thought that my children might soak up this mentality as they grow up. I want my children to admire all women, whether their accomplishments are ordinary or extraordinary. In fact, I want my children to admire women not just for their accomplishments, but for the attributes that helped them achieve those accomplishments. In that respect, every woman has the capacity for greatness.

I want my children to see St. Teresa of Calcutta and my mom’s friend, who devotes considerable time and attention to serving the homebound and elderly in her community, and to admire their hard work and sacrifice in service to others. I want them to see Maya Angelou and my fellow contributors of Houston Moms, and to want to emulate their creative energy and devotion to celebrating their culture. I want them to see Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Kamala Harris and my grandmother, and to see women who work tirelessly to make life better for those around them and strive to build up the next generation. I want my children to celebrate kindness over dollars, perseverance over the hustle, community over individualism, curiosity and learning over intellectual elitism.

The Hailed Hero and the Unsung Hero

When I read those fantasy books, I love to imagine myself as the strong, kick butt heroine. However, I see myself in the characters who live their day to day lives, in spite of whatever conflict is occurring around them. I see myself in the characters who make the meals, who clean the weapons, who care for the injured. It’s not glamorous. Those characters will not receive the glory for saving the day. However, when I see myself and the work I do reflected in the books I read, I see the difference that ordinary work makes, even in extraordinary circumstances. I feel affirmed that my work, no matter how small or mundane it appears by itself, functions as an essential part of a whole. It is meaningful and important. 

So, yes, I will encourage my children to read about and admire strong, successful women, real and fictional, who do extraordinary work. But also? I will encourage my children to read about and admire strong, successful women who do ordinary work. The work of everyday life. Every woman, every human, possesses unique gifts and talents. When we teach our kids to work hard and dream big, let’s also remember to teach them that we need all of those gifts and talents for our society to function, and that each gift is equally valuable, even if it doesn’t result in a visible product or paycheck.


 

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Rebecca S. is a born and raised Houstonian; she grew up in Katy, graduated with a BS in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Houston {go Coogs!}, and made a home in West Houston with her native Houstonian husband. She quickly realized that the chaotic lifestyle of the hospitality industry was not for her and soon found her calling in education. She taught while earning her masters in Library Science from the University of North Texas. Currently, she is staying home with her son, Thomas {2016} and daughter Charlie {2020}. In her free time, she loves to read, write, run, and roam the world. While her roots are firmly planted in H-town, she takes every available opportunity to go on an adventure and explore historic cities, hike and run new trails, and, of course, try beers from every country.

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