Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who Lives in the Real World?

College can get claustrophobic. You live in a tiny dorm, apartment, or dumpy house, either on campus or within easy distance of it. If you have a job, you probably work as a campus janitor, campus cashier, or campus research assistant. If you're not employed by the school, you don't have far to go to get to work. I go to a good sized school with a gym, health clinic, grocery store, bank, florist, and laundromat on campus. Most of my social outings are concerts, games, and events put on by school clubs or teams. I don't have much reason to leave.
Our lives are compact and consolidated. But are they any less real than those of people who aren't in college?
In high school, "real world" referred to our post-graduation lives. Now I'm in college, and "real world" refers to life after our second graduation. I can't imagine what it's like to get a Ph D. They'd never get to live in the real world. A few months back I ate lunch with a non-student who was waiting for her husband to finish his shift at the cafeteria grill. She did not work for the school. She worked for a security company, and she said she'd learned a lot about alarm systems in her time there, "But that won't be any use in the real world."
Out of state students refer to the world beyond Utah as the real world. Except for the Hawaiians-their real world is the mainland. So far as I can tell, you can never live in the real world, because the real world is wherever you aren't.
So what is the real world, then?
I'm troubled by the idea that the "real world" can only be inhabited by people who work for money. This excludes children and students and paints them as something other than real people. Even high schoolers with after school jobs are caught up in this "unreal people" designation. If children don't live in the real world, what about retired people? What about people with disabilities, the unemployed? And what about stay-at-home moms?
I've heard too many mothers refer to themselves, ashamedly, as "just a mom". I hear women stress that motherhood is a job, the most important job, and not a job that everyone can do right. Can't a woman's work be valued without putting it in the same category as work-for-pay?
For centuries, the world's most popular occupation was farmer, and you had to live on your farm. Father, Mother, Brother, and Sister all worked the family farm. Then the Industrial Revolution came around, and would-be farmers found jobs in cities. Men would wake up in the home and commute by foot or trolley cart to their workplace. Women continued to stay home. This birthed the idea of the domestic sphere-a separate world for women than men. The man's sphere, of course, was valued more, so it was the woman who didn't live in the real world, though the man was the one to leave. My dad always tells me that he doesn't work because he enjoys it, he does it to support our family. If the workplace world only exists to support the home, doesn't the home have a better claim to be the One Real World? Can there really be only one?
So far as I can figure, the real world is whatever corner of the world isn't relevant to your lifestyle or expertise at any given time. This real world notion devalues people of many ages and stages, but especially young people. If a retired office worker, laid off office worker, and the stay at home wife of an office worker can all live in the real world, so should their sons and daughters. 

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