Tuesday, October 04, 2005

“The Sacred Duties of the Family State”

Yuko and I Practice the Domestic Art of House Hunting in Kazamaura: Just Kidding! The Book We’re Reading Discusses How to Build and Organize an Attractive, Efficient and Clean House Even with Limited Means

Lately, Yuko and I have been reading an agéd text called The American Woman’s Home by the mid-nineteenth century sisters Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. One reason for this is that reading together is good for family life. The second reason is that lately Yuko has been facing the sharp edge of negative public opinion in her determination not to participate in the “workforce.” In order to boost her morale and formulate an intellectual defence for the stand she has taken we have decided to do some research together into the profession of domestic queenship (I have coined my own personal phrase since I refuse to give credence to the status quo language of “housekeeping,” “home economics,” or even “home making” . . . since language = power). We decided to begin with the classics and hit upon the Beecher sisters’ comprehensive treatise which opens with the assertion: “It is the aim of this volume to elevate both the honour and the remuneration of all the employments that sustain the many difficult and sacred duties of the family state . . . .”

Declining the enticements of a double-income has not been easy for us but, to those who agree with the above mentioned authors that there are many well-to-do people who reside in splendid houses and yet who are at the same time homeless, it seems a sacrifice worth considering.

As a little background history, we offer an exert from one of Yuko’s early emails to give an idea of the process by which the two of us discussed our views and ideas for our own "family state." For context, we met for the first time in four years on 15 November (of 2003), became engaged to be married on 24 November, and exchanged the quoted email and the reply to it on 1 December (those under time constraint might consider skipping to the sections in bold print):

About your job:
I'm glad that you decided to stay there until June, 2004. Yes, it seems too long wait, but I think you should stay there until June as you have said to your co-workers (army peopleだよね?). . . . Also I have to work at the mental hospital (at least) until the end of March, 2005, because they (my bosses) required me to do so when I began working for them. And I can't leave my patients right now, I don't think I've completed what He wants me to do for them at the mental hospital yet. I'm not licensed clinical psychologist yet, and I have to take the exam next year (sometime in October) and if I pass the exam I will be officially licensed counselor in Japan, so that I can work as a counselor anywhere in Japan. If you will be working as a JET worker in Aomori or anywhere else, I'll follow you and work where we will be at if you want me to - so my question is "do you want me to work?" I personally want to stay at home and take care of house (and kids:). Oh, about kids, I've actually prayed for that I would have six kids (!) - I think it will be very busy time for parents, but I also think it will be so much fun as a family!

To me, the most poignant words in this email are “because they (my bosses) required me to do so when I began working for them.” There has been a good deal of lofty talk about “careers” over the past hundred years or so, but what do “careers” really mean in our corporatized societies except the acquisition of “bosses?” It is bad enough for one parent in a family to be indentured to a “career” and its accompanying “bosses” without having two parents in a family under two sets of bosses and corporate obligations. So if Yuko wants emancipation from the corporate world (yes, mental hospitals are corporations too, even public ones) so that she has the time to grow and prepare real food, the option of not underpaying other women to take care of our kids, the latitude to beautify our existence in creative ways, and the flexibility to help out other people, hey I’ll back her up.

Post Script: Yuko did pass her exam in October 2004 to become a licensed clinical psychologist and continues to attend professional conferences as a member of the Japanese Association of Clinical Psychologists.