What is work? What does it mean to work?

What is work? What does it mean to work?

These are two questions that have long hung over my life. Growing up, I often got the sense that work was something that led to something being product – a ‘thing’ you could quantify and measure. My father was a car mechanic, and my uncle was (and still is) a carpenter: two very ‘practical’ disciplines where the doer gets dirty, and there is an obvious output at the end of the working day.

Of course, not all work has an easily-defined end product. I currently work in higher education, and it’s sometimes quite hard to see the results of my labour, especially in the short term. I may for example spend the day answering a slew of minor questions from worried students, many of which are completely unnecessary and don’t even touch upon what you might think of as academic work. The sort of emails where students ask you if they need to include the word count in their essay, or if they need to put their name at the top. For me, this sort of work isn’t really ‘work’ in the productive sense (well, not for me at least), and yet I do understand that there is an output of sorts, even if it doesn’t feel like a productive use of my time.

But what about work in the home?

I currently live on my own, and have done for some time now. When I first started chatting about this project with Emily, a part of me thought ‘why are people so uncaring and lazy?’ I live on my own, but I don’t necessarily want to live on my own. I do so because I am not currently in a relationship. I’d be quite happy to live with someone else if the opportunity presented itself, and if it was something we both wanted to do.

In terms of domestic labour, for me at least, it doesn’t make a difference whether I’m living on my own, or if I am living with someone else – I’d still do the hoovering, the washing up, and all of that ‘extra stuff’ that we often don’t think of as work.

This is because it’s in my nature to do these things. I am typically always the one in a shared house/flat to do that extra bit of cleaning, or regular chores. It’s been something I’ve done for many years, from my time as an undergrad, with our regular ‘cleaning days’ where half the house would partake in regular cleaning activities while the others were out. More recently, as a postgrad living on campus, I was also the only one to clean the bathroom, including the mucky shower. And I lived with three females.

So it’s not always a question of gender I think – especially these days.

And yet clearly, there’s still clearly a large portion of society, who seem to think it’s ok to do less around the home. Is it just a case of different expectations, or is there a deeper issue at work?

I admit, I’m not quite sure. One thing I am sure of however, is that I always do my fair share – in fact, I often do more than my fair share. Why? I don’t know. I think it might just be that I have certain expectations, and it’s in my nature to help others and maintain a happy household. I don’t like conflict, and I try my best to avoid it if I can.

As a man, I guess I’m maybe a little bit atypical in my approach to domestic labour. I can’t be alone in this. What about you?

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