"Get a Job"

[Content Note: Class warfare; choice policing.]

It happens every other month like clockwork: Immediately after I post the fundraising reminder, my inbox lights up with messages from conservatives telling me to "get a job."

"If you want money so bad," goes one (typical) email I received earlier this week, "get a job like everyone else."

This is my job.

In this job, I am a writer, a researcher, a manager, a moderator, an editor, a (terrible) coder, a graphic designer, a mentor, and a de facto social worker: I communicate privately, in email threads that can last for weeks, with Shakers who have lost a loved one, have lost a job, have suffered an injury or trauma, are going through a relationship crisis, are having surgery, have just come out, have just had a baby, have just gotten engaged, are considering an abortion, a divorce, self-harm, need advice or just a sympathetic ear on any one of a million different subjects. I have reviewed résumés and served as a reference. I have found local (to them) psychiatrists, victims' advocates, a gay-friendly wedding planner, a trans-friendly doctor, a tax attorney, plus-sized clothiers.

And, like many jobs, my job does not come with healthcare benefits; it does not come with paid vacation or sick leave; it does not come with a guaranteed paycheck.

It also doesn't come with a boss, or a specific job description, or the respect afforded established careers.

And so it is casually dismissed out of hand as not a job at all.

Random emailers fire off their snarling missives like a scowling passerby might shout at a street busker performing near an upturned hat: "Get a job!"

To be a street performer is work just as much as the work I do is. But it's not work about which conservatives care. It's "having a job."

And if you have a job, of one kind or another, of which they don't approve, then comes the familiar variation: "Get a real job."

These admonishments come without a trace of irony that many people doing nontraditional work are leveraging nontraditional skills because we haven't been able to get "real" jobs in a shitty economy with high levels of unemployment.

I started blogging full-time after I was laid off from a "real" job—a job with a boss and a job description and set hours and a steady paycheck and healthcare benefits and paid time off—at the start of the recession and couldn't get an interview, no less the offer of a permanent position.

I did exactly what conservatives ostensibly want people to do: I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and I worked extremely hard to use the time granted by misfortune to create a living for myself.

(Which, by virtue of my privileges made it easier for me to do than it would be for people without my privileges. And by virtue of my marginalizations made it more difficult for me to do that it would have been for people with privileges I don't have. It was not hard work alone; and it was harder work than it might otherwise have been.)

This not-a-real-job job, once I was being paid to do it, meant I stopped collecting unemployment before my benefits expired. Those are benefits to which I—and anyone who collects them—are entitled. But conservatives whine bitterly about people who use them. Yet they resent independent work that empowers people to stop using them.

I am speaking to my own experience, because that is what I know and I don't want to speak for anyone else. But I stand in solidarity with all the other people engaged in work that exposes them to a similar contempt.

Writers, bustlers, performers, hustlers—people who trade creative skills for an audience, who offer work in exchange for what their audience values their work to be, who leverage some entrepreneurial spirit that conservatives are meant to respect, who may end up being job creators in the process—we are all met with a special brand of hostility for doing precisely the things that conservatives say they want the moochers and takers to do.

Their boostrap rhetoric is bullshit because it casually elides that we are not all born with the same set of opportunities and access. And it's bullshit because, when presented with evidence of the very self-sufficiency they claim to hold in esteem, they sneer at it.

They denigrate the work, and the people doing it.

Because conservatives don't value work. They value "having a job"—a thing defined by the most privileged aspects of employment in the US.

If conservatives truly valued work, the way they claim, they would not be scolding people for failing to have "real" jobs. They would not ignore that some of the hardest work—parenting, elder care, community and charitable work—often goes totally unpaid. They would acknowledge, as is manifestly evident to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention, that being poor makes surviving hard fucking work. They wouldn't cozily luxuriate in the silk-lined pockets of profit-driven corporations, where the realest of all real job holding executives aspire to get as rich as possible while doing fuck-all besides exploiting the labor of the people in their employ, because work is something other people do. Because work is for suckers.

I can't think of people less qualified to assess what constitutes a "real" job than people who are intractably hostile to real work.

I have a job. And I respect people's work, whatever its form, including my own.

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