I know a carpenter. He is gifted at his craft. He makes exquisite things. He should be proud of himself. He isn’t. On the contrary, he is ashamed. He is ashamed to be “just a carpenter”. It hurts his pride to think of the way women’s lights shut down when he tells them what he does for a living.
Only shallow women care about labels, I tell him. And he is vain for seeking society’s approval instead of focusing on developing his wonderful gift, I say. Then he asks me, “Would you comfortably tell your parents that you are getting married to a carpenter?”
And then I think about it. And because I have to think about it, I already know that the honest answer is “no.” It finally dawns on me that I am not as liberal-minded as I have had myself believe for many years now.
I am a cliché. I am one who has gone through the full cycle of education and attained one of those degrees that parents like to boast about to their friends.
I have no interest in the degree and the associated line of work. But when my parents introduce me they say, “Meet my daughter, the statistician.” And I am happy to soak in the looks of admiration.
But when they ask me what I do for a living and I tell them that I am a writer, the lights shut down. And I feel a streak of shame. For reasons unknown to me, I care that I’ve quite possibly let those strangers down. In that moment, it ceases to matter that this is what I have always wanted and that it feels liberating to finally be in my lane.
Both the carpenter and I have been enslaved by societal labels. In fact given a choice, the carpenter says that he would earn a degree and ditch his workshop for a desk and a computer. For nothing else but the chance to wear a tie and look respectable.
And even though I am happy to be where I am, I still secretly find myself wanting society to be proud of me. So no, I would not be comfortable telling my parents that I am getting married to a carpenter. I would have to find a way to rephrase his label. Probably call him a businessman. A businessman who owns a carpentry workshop.
I would be forced to talk him up because of the pathological need to impress that we all live with despite the “I don’t care what society thinks” lie we tell to ourselves everyday.
And now I finally understand it. I understand why people don’t walk out of unhappy or even abusive marriages. Sometimes they to labelled as divorced. I understand why people get stuck at jobs they utterly hate. I understand why people borrow money to keep up appearances. I understand why people don’t want others to know about their financial struggles.
We are all products of a prejudiced society. We live by labels and those labels enslave us.