“So What Do You Do?”

Several weeks ago I introduced myself to the mother of one of the children at Sally’s preschool. “So what do you do?” I asked her after we exchanged names. We went on to talk about our respective careers, but this exchange brought my mind back to an exchange I had years ago when my mother tried to explain why retirement was being so hard for my grandfather.

“The first question men ask after they meet each other is ‘what do you do?’” she told me. “And once they’ve retired, that’s gone.” For women, she explained, it was different. When a woman stays at home, without a career, my mother was saying, that’s normal. That’s how it’s supposed to be. When a man stays at home, without a career, in contrast, that’s abnormal. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. At the crux of what she was suggesting was that a man feels some lack of fulfillment when he stays home and has no career, but a woman doesn’t. A man without a career is emasculated, but a woman without a career is just, well, a woman.

Now of course, my mother intentionally and counterculturally adheres to very traditional gender roles, and while these ideas are still in some degree present in mainstream society they are not quite so stark. But they’re still there. Men are expected to have careers. Women are allowed to have careers, but they are not expected to to the same degree that men are expected to. And while the idea that a woman can stay home, raise children, and find fulfillment there is usually fairly accepted in society, the idea that a man might similarly find fulfillment staying home is fairly foreign.

The thing is, if a woman can find fulfillment at home, there’s no reason a man, whether in retirement or otherwise, shouldn’t be able to do the same. And, conversely, if staying home has the potential chafe men and leave them without fulfillment, it has the potential to do the same for women. The trouble, of course, is that my mother, with her embrace of traditional and “complementarian” patriarchal gender roles, thinks that men and women are so fundamentally different that they are wired by their biology to be fulfilled by fundamentally different things. I don’t think this is the case. Rather, to the extent that there is a difference, I see that difference as socially conditioned.

With this brief excursion, I want to bring this back to where I started. It was only natural for me to ask the mother of one of Sally’s preschool friends what she did, because I already knew she worked full time. But this moment made me think about how I approach women I meet. Back when I planned to be a stay at home mom I recoiled at the “so what do you do” question, because I felt that it implied that choosing to stay home and raise children was illegitimate. This makes me think twice before asking a woman what she does.

If I meet a woman I know is either single or childless, I generally ask “so what do you do?” first. But if I meet a woman and know right off that she has children (for instance, if they are with her, or I meet her at a moms group), I usually avoid the “so what do you do” question, at least at first, because the odds are decent that she stays home with her kids and I don’t want to offend her. So we usually talk about our children first, and only later get around to who does what or who stays home or who thinks of being what in the future.

In essense, if I meet a woman who is not married or does not have children, I approach her as I would a man, asking her almost immediately what she “does.” If, however, I meet a woman who has children, I generally start not by asking what she “does” but by asking her about her children. But it occurs to me that I would not do the same on meeting a man whom I knew was married or had children. I think this is reflective of a simple truth: As long as women are single or childless, they are generally seen as just as capable and ambitions as men are. In contrast, as soon as women marry or have children it is assumed that they are focusing their primary energies elsewhere.

But now I’m wondering if I’m not perhaps being complicit in this gendered distinction in my reticence to ask women “what they do.” Or, perhaps I should start with family-oriented questions with everyone I’ve newly met, including men (obviously this is different when you meet someone in a professional setting—in that case you start with work first regardless for fairly obvious reasons). And so I’m curious, what are your thoughts on this?

How We Disagree
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 6-10: The Child’s Right to Know and Be Cared for by Their Parents
Sometimes All I Can Say Is UGH
Lesbian Duplex 14: An Open Thread
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Claire

    I think we should ask everyone ‘what do you do’ but make answering ‘I am taking care of my children full time’ an accepted answer for men and women just as much as I work in accounting

    • Kodie

      I hate that people care what people do that someone with a dull job they hate or who is unemployed but looking has to talk about something they don’t want to talk about. LIKE, the very first thing anyone ever cares when they meet someone is what they DO. Why?

      • alr

        Exactly, Kodie. I think we need to stop defining anyone, male or female, by their jobs. And that is my first reaction to this entire thing. Consider asking people about their hobbies, opinions and passions instead of defining them by how they earn or don’t earn a paycheck. Then you would be viewing everyone as a complete person.

      • Caravelle

        It makes perfect sense when you think about it. First, whether one enjoys one’s job or not that’s where most people spend the vast majority of their time; even if someone does have a terribly dull job, knowing they spend most of their time bored out of their minds is itself a useful thing to know about someone. Second, given that’s what pays the bills knowing someone’s job gives a hint as to how much money they make, and given there are educational requirements to many jobs it also gives a hint as to someone’s educational level, so it’s a rough proxy for someone’s social class. Third, it’s a question that always has an answer, even if it’s “I’m unemployed” or “I’m a stay-at-home parent”. It’s not like asking “what’s your favorite TV show ?” (maybe they don’t watch TV). When you’re meeting someone for the first time you want to talk about something both might have something to say about (though you’re absolutely right they might not want to talk about it, so that’s a problem).

        You’re right there are probably better conversation starters out there. Even people who love their job usually get tired of saying the same things every time they meet a stranger.

      • Kodie

        Although more people may like their job than I think do, I find the answers usually kind of boring and something nobody wants to talk about anyway. It’s just small talk but it’s lame small talk. Once in a while, you hit a bonus – someone in the same field as you are, or someone with a very exciting career they can’t wait to talk about/you’d actually like to hear about. Mom is one of the most common jobs or “jobs” out there. Not everyone defines themselves as a mother being their sole job, but when you meet someone in the same line of work as you, like especially mother, there comes all the chitchat about your work.

        I’m not knocking people who are moms but I’m not, so it’s especially weird when people feel like they have to avoid talking directly to moms about their work or “work” as if that’s not a thing. Moms talk to other moms about their jobs all the time, just like two people who work with computers talk to each other about their work, since they have it in common and the other person can relate and understand the words they’re using. Moms have lingo too, and moms can be boring when they talk about their work too.

        I think what nobody has suggested so far, well, I sort of did, is that it’s unusual for people to talk about what they do unless asked, except if you have a child. It’s side-bragging, sort of. I can’t walk into a group and, without being asked, talk about my great accomplishment as a published author (I’m making that up, but people usually assume that’s an interesting job and want to talk to you or listen to you rather than go on about their dull desk job), but moms can talk about their kids when nobody asked, because it’s like you’re not actually talking about yourself and what you do or what you’ve done, but it is.

        In the OP it’s assumed here that the men have jobs and assuming people have always asked men what they do and measure them accordingly – I think it’s the most that they are being measured as having a job as opposed to having no job – it’s rather recent that anyone would ask a woman what she does (what she’s worth away from her housekeeping and childrearing, which is to be assumed?). Women ask other women what the man they’re dating does. Men don’t ask, I don’t think, the same question of their other male friends about the woman he’s dating. So now we are taking the “mommy wars” into account and treading sensitively around mothers because we still can’t assume they have any other role or their own money or independent aspirations? And it’s insensitive because men retire from their jobs and hate that question too, because all their lives, people measure them by their stable form of income? Just like women used to and still are measured on whether someone loves them enough to put a ring on it.

        I’m not married, I don’t have children, and I’ve been unemployed and “between jobs” – boring jobs being someone’s admin – for most of my adult life. Not only do I hate this question, I never ask anyone this question. It’s bullshit smalltalk that just about guarantees an awkward exchange before someone changes the subject, and I’m not just talking about me. I’ve met a small percentage of people with jobs that are of any interest to anyone else – people asking this question aren’t even fishing for the opportunity to talk about themselves, either. They DO something that’s not exciting to them too, usually. It’s a basic, size-you-up, are you normal like me or are you a freak who can’t get with the program? You’re supposed to grow up and chain yourself to a job like everyone else, and then be willing to fill that particular slot of normal before someone will actually talk to you. If you actually have a job, people don’t naturally turn to that to fuel a conversation, while an awkward answer is hard to get around. They put that hole out there, you fill the hole with your answer, then you talk about anything else, usually. If your answer doesn’t fill the hole (like, I don’t have a job), then they get really nosy and personal – how do you support yourself then????????

        I have a non-traditional set-up that works for me very well. I’m on disability and I help out a coach friend of mine start his business opening a sport club. I am there all the time, but this is something that helps me. If it were any other job, there would be no understanding and I would have been fired again. I have a lot of freedom to be myself and try to help the business make money so I will get paid and leave disability, but I don’t talk about that with people who don’t already know.

        A guy who took a class and knows that I work there asked me what I do.

        That’s what’s wrong with this question. I said “here.” “Of course, duh”, he replies. Then he asked what line of work I was in before, and I’m, like, seriously? What is with people. I was the captain of the cheerleading squad in high school which parlayed itself into a lucrative circus career in which I got to ride lions with chainsaws*, and now I’m in marketing, sort of. That’s not really the answer I gave him, but can anyone be that curious how I spent a lot of time making copies and fetching lunches and arranging conference calls until it was so dull I quit and lived off ramen for months, moved in with my parents several times, etc., until I got another job just like it, before I got into wearing sweats full time?

        *I had chainsaws, not the lions.

      • Kodie

        @Caravelle – asking without actually asking someone what their social class is and their education level is, when you put it like that, actively hostile. I want to know how important you are and whether I should waste my time talking to you while if you are low on the rungs of life, at least some semblance of retaining your pride as if that’s not the information I’m actually after. Oh, so you loaf away the day and take money from the government?

        I’m on disability, and when I meet people, I don’t seem all that sick. But it’s hard for me to hold onto work. Non-threatening, non-boss people are my equals, and I feel at ease, but then they get judgmental because I don’t have a job. Yeah, the reason it’s a terrible question is exactly what you say – nobody is fooled. It’s not “useful” information to know unless you do find someone in a field where you are working or looking for work. Moms have the least trouble finding that out about someone else, since often, they have their kids with them, or are bringing them to a place like soccer or dance class for children where there will be other parents who don’t have to ask “what do you do” to have a conversation about something.

        What troubles me about the OP is that we’re tiptoeing around this question as pertains to stay-at-home moms, or the sensitivity that someone may or may not have a job outside that job to talk about. That’s nuts. Mom is a kind of a job where, if I understand one purpose of asking, is to find someone with the same kind of job as you to talk about it. There are places women go where children do not go with them, and I’ve been asked about my kids. I don’t have any. I was asked on a bus while taking home a Christmas tree for myself one December.

        Say there’s an adult writing class and people have a break and get to know each other, and they will all ask what they do. Without children afoot, a woman is actually assumed to have a career, and the answer may yet be that she is a stay-at-home mother. I don’t understand this OP and why the question is insensitive to retired dads and women of child-rearing age.

        It’s just a bad lazy question to ask anyone.

      • Caravelle

        @Kodie : I was giving reasons why “what do you do” would be a common question to first ask a stranger, not saying that it should be. In fact I explicitly agreed with you it shouldn’t.
        And even the worst reason – having an idea of someone’s social class – doesn’t necessarily mean “are you worth my time”. It can also be “how similar might our backgrounds be, i.e. are we going to be sharing things we have in common or learning new things ?”. That’s what I would mean by that question at least.

      • alr

        @Caravelle–Yep. The question gives you an idea of a person’s education and social class. Except for when it doesn’t. My “what do you do” answer currently: “occasionally substitute teach”. In terms of education, that gives you no clue as in most places these days, subs are not required to be certified teachers. In at least one state, the minimum requirement seems to be being a breathing adult (teacher friends have told me horror stories about even illiterate subs in their classrooms). It doesn’t give a clue as to my social class as a) the pay is way better than people are generally aware and b) I’m not the primary breadwinner in my household.

        Then there is my husband. He dumps meat slurry at a dog food plant. When he answers the question, you would never guess that he has a college degree. Unfortunately, jobs are hard to find in his field right now (and no, it is not the humanities, it is, in fact even related to sciences and business) and his last job in the field ended in horrible circumstances (owner committed a major crime and lost his business). Secondly, dumping meat slurry in a dog food plant actually pays very well which surprises most people. He does, in fact, make more money that I made as a full time teacher who nearly has a master’s degree.

        That question, particularly in our current economy, tells you nothing substantial about a person. What you should have said is that the question allows you to make your own assumptions about people that you really don’t know.

      • Kodie

        My sister’s teacher in grade school actually insulted my dad’s job on parents’ night to my dad’s face. The problem with the questions people ask is not so much that most people really mean anything by it, but if you don’t fit into a template, someone ends up feeling bad and avoiding social situations so as not to feel interrogated.

        The actual best outcome is someone finds something in common with a stranger and they can actually talk about that. Moms have that up the wazoo. What occurs to me is that many moms probably hate the presumption that they only want to talk about their kids or their job being a mom. Oh hey, you’re a mom, I’m a mom; or, you’re a mom, I’m not a mom, what do we even have in common. That’s so stupid. The OP assumes if you see someone with kids that is the only thing they have going on – even if it’s true they are stay-at-home moms. And it brings up the other point, where the man who retires has suddenly become written off as someone with anything interesting about himself – how he actually feels about himself was tied to his having a job to wake up and go do every day. That’s annoying.

        If the question is not meant to make anyone feel worse after meeting someone, and very rarely meet someone with something they’re proud of doing, that’s actually interesting, or something in common with you to talk about, then why does anyone care to ask it? Go back to talking about the weather.

      • Caravelle

        Yep. The question gives you an idea of a person’s education and social class. Except for when it doesn’t.

        Obviously. Hence “rough proxy”. And it only means making unwarranted assumptions if you’re the type to make unwarranted assumptions. One can perfectly well use the information at hand to guide future behaviour without prematurely jumping to conclusions.

        Go back to talking about the weather.

        I think that’s a great idea, the weather’s been a really interesting subject for the last ten years or so. To me at least. Of course it can spark bad blood if the person you’re talking to turns out to be a climate change denier :)

      • Kodie

        I thought of another “valid” reason for people to ask. People like talking about themselves, salespeople know this. People hoping for a reciprocation of the question so they can talk about their business to a potential contact. It all depends what line of work you are in, but knowing what someone’s job is after you befriend them might get you a discount. At least that is one of the things I expect people to try, and I’ve known people like this. I don’t keep friends if we’re not really friends but some people do. They shoot the shit when they see someone they met before like they are pals and then always keeping them in mind – what they do, what they can do for them. Only by asking someone what they do can you file that person away as potentially useful to you. I know people like this who find it pretty handy to keep on hand people you can call a “friend” while also getting a mechanic or a plumber or someone to help them move because they have a van. When I had a job working at a live theatre, can people get free tickets to a show, or whatever. When I’m an admin in an obscure academic department of a hospital, not so much.

  • Palaverer

    I don’t think you being sensitive to others’ possible feelings is being complicit in patriarchy, any more than a decision to stay at home or wear make-up or partake in other traditionally feminine behaviors is. We’ve all got to navigate the system even as we try to dismantle it. Fighting for family friendly work places and normalizing the experience of Working While Mother are ways to fight patriarchy, not making individual women feel uncomfortable or defensive.

  • AnonaMiss

    I don’t think either question is good as one-size-fits-all in the current economy. Asking about children is good if you already know they have children, but asking about career… well, I graduated from college at an unfortunate time, couldn’t find work or even interviews for months, and spiralled into clinical depression that lasted for years. During that time the question “what do you do?” or even the more neutral, catch-up version “what are you up to these days?” was so triggering, but so ubiquitous, that I went out of my way to avoid any situation in which it might be asked. I stayed home as much as possible and rebuffed any social advances I received when I ventured out. I wouldn’t even go to the grocery store before 10 PM, because I might run into someone I hadn’t seen for years who would completely well-meaningly ask me “So what are you up to these days?”

    I’m sorry for burdening you with past-me’s issues, but as long as you’re looking for ways to avoid making your fellow conversants uncomfortable, and in light of the increasingly structural (i.e. long-term) unemployment we’re seeing these days, I thought you might be interested. Long-term unemployment is especially psychologically devastating because there is a very real possibility that you are now unemployable – because employers, too, will judge you on “so what do you do?”

    With much support and some luck I have gotten treatment for my depression and have been working for 6 months now.

    I don’t meet very many new people outside of work and the internet, which provide obvious contexts for starting conversations; but I’ve made a conscious decision to use “What are you into?” instead of “What do you do?” Whether or not this will work in practice is TBD!

    • lucifermourning

      I quite like “what are you into” – it’s nicely open-ended so people can answer as they like!

    • Rosa

      I like “what are you into” too – “what have you been doing” works, too.

      I’m voluntarily unemployed – staying home with my kid & going to school, having left a perfectly fine but not wonderful job to do it – and I hate to answer “I am staying home” because, 1) i’m not, i’m out and about, doing things and 2) it sounds really ideological.

      So I generally answer “I’m not working right now” but then people assume I’m involuntarily unemployed, and offer sympathy or solidarity I don’t really need. I don’t usually correct the assumption though because so many people I know are involuntarily unemployed, telling them I just up and quit because I felt like it seems arrogant and cruel.

  • http://tinygrainofrice.wordpress.com Kristycat

    I like “What are you into?”

    I actually never ask anyone “What do you do,” because to me, where I work is probably the least interesting thing about me. It’s a means to an end. I work to get the money to do the interesting things; let’s talk about them instead.

    • Hannah R

      When I was working full-time, I always hated being asked ‘what do you do?’ for the same reasons. I didn’t like my job and didn’t want to be defined by it. I always used to answer, ‘I do lots of things…’ and list my hobbies alongside my job. It really used to unsettle some people!

  • ako

    In the past, I’ve tended to go with “What do you do?”, because in my head, it’s fairly neutral and open to interpretation. What you do can be employment, housework, caring for family members, study, hobbies, or any combination thereof. If I asked someone “So what do you do?” and they said “I’m raising my children”, or “I’m finishing my degree”, or “I’m looking for work”, that wouldn’t strike me as an inappropriate or awkward reply. Obviously, reading the comments here, it doesn’t always come off the way, and I may test out AnonaMiss’s “What are you into?” and see how that works. (Although I spend a lot of time around people whose native language isn’t English, and I’m not sure if that phrasing will be confusing or not.)

    I think it’s better to make the phrases gender-neutral, because it’s less likely to reinforce the “Men have careers, women have families” idea. I think it’s a good idea to take the general situation and social setting into account (for instance, if you meet them at daycare, they probably have kids, and if you’re at a work function, they’re probably employed), but I’m not fond of bringing gender into it.

  • http://bumpersuckers.blogspot.com NeuroNerd

    I recently ran into this issue at an event. I asked a woman what she did, and she answered that she was a stay-at-home mom. My response was to smile and say, genuinely, “That’s wonderful. How old are your children?” I’d like to think I’d say the same thing to a man if he were a stay-at-home dad. While I think some people might be embarrassed to say they stay at home, if I treat their response as normal and welcome, I can diffuse an awkwardness or defensiveness.

  • http://yeswesam.wordpress.com Sam

    While I’m aware that people are referring to my job when they ask that question, I choose to take it more literally… what do I do? I’m an actor, a singer, a songwriter, a distance runner, an artist, a chef, and, yes, a computer programmer. Only the last one is considered a “real” answer to the question, and then only if I use it in reference to my 9-to-5 job, and not my freelance work. But programming in my 9-to-5 is the thing that defines me the LEAST of all those I have listed. So why reduce my entire persona to that?

  • Emily

    Facebook asks “so what do you do?” too. I have an acquaintance who lists her profession as “full time wife” and another who lists hers as “wife, mother and homeschool mom.” Her child is an infant.

  • saramaimon

    Agreed with all those who object to being asked about their profession as a form of introduction. not everyone wants too define themselves by what there paid employment is. of course, one could interpret “what do you do” more openendedly but thats usually not what the questioner has in mind. personally i never ask it ans sometimes refuse to answer it. then again i avoidsmalll tallk in general.

  • Kodie

    What if a mom with kids has a job they want to talk about that isn’t her kids? Over time, I have come to realize that it’s just sort of rude for someone to start talking about their exciting career unless someone opens the gate. Most people just say “what do you do?” – maybe they find someone who they can talk about what they do with each other, like hey we’re both architects! or we’re both computer programmers! and then they have found a person outside work they can talk about work with! But most of the times, the answers are boring and the conversation goes nowhere. But you once in a while meet someone with a very exciting job that everyone is curious about or duly impressed by. If not asked, “what do you do?” they don’t get to talk about it unless they commit the social faux pas of bragging about what they do with the idea that people definitely need to know and want to listen to the stories you would have.

    And if that person has kids with them? All they get to talk about is their kids with other moms whose lives are assumed to revolve around their kids and nothing else is important about them at all. I have seen articles summing it up as much. Hey, moms want to be seen as people with other stuff going on. Not all moms, but many moms. Even if they don’t have a career outside the home, at least some times, want to talk about themselves in relation to anything besides their kids.

    So you don’t want to offend someone with kids by avoiding the embarrassment she might have (or not have) by having her kids be her job? I don’t know. I know my mom tried to measure herself by what her kids do. Are your kids good? Do they get good grades? I.e., my mom wanted kids she could brag about. She got a job (she still has) when my younger sister went to 1st grade, but nothing to talk about. She still wanted to be measured by other people as what a good mom she was – or a regular mom. Hitting milestones and all – did her kids have good grades? Did her kids go to college, did they get good grades there? Top of their class? No. Did they get married (on time), did they have children so she can show pictures of grandchildren? When people ask her how I’m doing or what I’m up to lately, I’m sure she just wants the floor to swallow her up. It’s also basically ignoring her personhood, which she never prioritized.

    Work is a weird thing. When an adult talks to a kid, they ask the kid what they want to be when they grow up. Vapid and uninteresting lazy offensive question. “A ballerina? That’s nice.” End of conversation. Nobody ever says “well, I’m not sure if that’s realistic, but if you really want to, you should start practicing every day for hours and not just the one hour a week you do now”. Adulthood was and is confusing to me for about this exact reason. Childhood is weak dreams that are expected to fade away. Nobody says if you realistically want to achieve this goal, here’s what’s actually involved. So someone says “ballerina” and you give the same answer as if an adult had said “I work in the mailroom.” Why bother.

    But anyway, many moms, unlike my mom, want people to see them as a person in her own right, not make assumptions about her priorities and erase her independent personhood. That’s what’s actually wrong with the question – it puts a lot of people in a negative place of having to defend their right as a person, not just stay-at-home moms. Most people are not their jobs or even like their jobs or want to talk about or define themselves by their employment (considering mother a job someone would choose, and not just something most people do anyway). Talking about one’s kids is the same thing as the architect and the computer programmer above – something you see in common to talk about with someone else with a similar experience. And a lot of people like to be seen outside their jobs as having a life and other things they’d rather talk about, including mothers.

    • alr

      I’m sorry, what the hell does getting married “on time” mean? Is there a deadline I don’t know about? Because I’m guessing my husband and I missed it being both past 30 when we married.

      • Kodie

        I’m over 40 and never married, much to my mother’s disappointment when she has to answer strangers’ curious about whether or not her kids amounted to much. In a world where “getting married” counts as an achievement for oneself, it also counts for the parents who can rest the stranger’s concerns that the daughter is doing ok for herself, see what a good mom I was! This is still a world where single people are considered freaks and failures at life if they cause parents to be embarrassed that you haven’t gotten there yet or maybe ever. My poor old maid daughter, her spring and summer passed to fall and she is alone and nobody loves her, says my mother, in so many words, it makes her want to die that it’s too late for me. Maybe you don’t watch tv or movies where the mother is always nagging the adult daughter to settle down with someone and it’s getting a little late to be picky. This blog treats that problem like Debi Pearl invented it.

      • alr

        Kodie–I married for the first time shortly before turning 37. You really don’t have to tell me about all the ridiculous pressure on singles and particularly single women. I know it all too well. My paternal grandmother basically disowned me and another granddaughter for not being married by our late 20s. But I refuse to indulge those attitudes by pretending there is an “on time” for marriage that people must meet. We can acknowledge society’s narrow views of the matter without endorsing them.

      • Kodie

        I’m sorry you thought I was endorsing them.

  • Besomyka

    When I’m trying to adjust my habitual thinking on something – say, assuming a supervisor is male – I make a conscious effort to intentionally go the other way even if that means being wrong. Like if a coder friend of mine at some other company is talking shop and I don’t know anything about the Tech Director or whatever, I might ask “Well, what about the TD? Did she layout coding standards, or are you left to your own devices?”

    In this case intentionally asking women what it is that they do (and validating stay-at-home parent as valid), and intentionally asking men about their family. You could be wrong, but you could have been wrong assuming things the other way around as well. Over time, you can un-train yourself a bit.

    Tricky bit about those sorts of biases: you aren’t always aware of when you’ve accepted or acted on one.

  • http://jivinjehoshaphat.blogspot.com JivinJ

    I had a friend who taught English in Japan and she shared that asking the “What you do for a living question?” there to someone you recently met would be like asking, “How much money do you make?” to someone you recently met here.

    • Paige

      Seriously? Where did she live? It’s usually the second or third question from my experience. In fact, self intros usually have it. “I’m Taro, I’m a teacher at some school.”

      Or quite commonly when answering the phone “this is Tanaka from the board of education” and so forth, because there are a lot of common last names.

      Maybe there’s a fine difference between what do do for a living and what is your job?

  • Marianne

    I like the idea of asking about interests, as it could include family and work. I know I, personally, recoil at family-oriented questions as the default question seems to be “Do you have kids?” When I respond no, that inevitably leads to me feeling like I have to defend our decision to not have children. I don’t want a stranger trying to convince me that I really do want children, I just don’t know it yet. It might be different elsewhere, but in the South, you are expected to have children (at least in my experience). Being unable to have children is met with pity, but choosing to not have any?

    Anyway, asking about interests seems to be a safe option since everyone is interested in something and I think would be a better way of getting to know someone.

  • Danielle

    That is tricky. I know my mom used to hate the “What do you do?” question and felt like she got blown off when she’d say SAHM, especially at my dad’s work functions with lots of successful people, so I get nervous asking it. I still ask when I’m meeting someone but I just try to make an effort to be very interested if they happen to stay at home.

    I also think that this whole concept is much more complex these days. There is more flexibility when it comes to these roles. It may be a regional thing, but where I live, I generally see as many dads as moms at parks and picking up kids from school/ activities. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more exclusively stay-at-home with the kids dads than moms, but that telecommuting, home businesses, flexible schedules, part time work, adults going back to school, etc. mean that the roles are not set in stone. For example, in our family, I work full time and am the only one with a paid job. I work weekend night shifts. My husband doesn’t work, but is a student and goes in for class 5 mornings a week. I am the one to get our son up and ready for school 4 days a week, we usually both pick him up and on the weekends, my husband does pretty much all of his care. Which one of us is the “stay at home parent”?

    I guess long story to say that I think things are becoming more flexible and people have more complex answers to what they do, including “SAH parents.”

  • Kit

    So according to my French teacher, asking people “what do you do?” when you meet them is very North American. Apparently in Europe, when they ask things like that, they’re not actually asking about your careers because they see work and who you are seen as two different things, so they are really asking more about hobbies, etc. He says that the North American standard of introducing yourself by name and occupation (“Je m’appelle Kit. Je suis etudiante de droit …. “) is incredibly weird.

    • Karen

      I’m learning German, and I have heard the same thing. The German phrase is “Was machen Sie gern?” It translates literally to “What do you do gladly?” And indiomatically to “Waht do you enjoy doing?”

      • Katty

        As a native German speaker I have to say that the question “Was machen Sie gern?” sounds awfully forced, used in language classes to make you talk about your hobbies or something.

        But I agree that “What do you do?” (“Was machst du beruflich?”) isn’t such a common question when meeting someone new. At least, in my experience, it’s not usually a question used to establish a conversation. Once you are already having a conversation the topic may come up, but I wouldn’t usually use it as a conversation starter.

    • Steve

      It can come up when you talk to people, but it’s certainly not the first thing being asked.

  • JBH

    I’ve never liked the question, “What do you do?” I feel like our culture often defines a person by how they make money (and how much money they make), and I don’t like to feed into that. I also don’t think it really tells you that much about a person to know their employment. Asking what someone enjoys, or what they are passionate about, will show you so much more of who they are. Maybe they are passionate about their job, and then they can tell you that, but I like to leave the door open for the conversation to go in other directions.

    • ako

      But are you really going to feel comfortable sharing your passions with a stranger? Asking someone what they’re passionate about seems like it could be too intimate when you’ve just met. It seems like you’d need more of a warmup before you flat-out asked them what they really care about. (If they want to volunteer the information, that’s a different kettle of fish, but I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being socially pressured to expose their heart to strangers. Then again, I could just be weird,)

      • Caravelle

        That’s a good point, and it occurs to me it isn’t just an intimacy thing, it could be an energy thing too. Being passionate about something suggests you’re excited to talk about it, and if you’re asked what you’re passionate about (using that word) you might feel pressured to summon that excitement in order to convey that passion. I mean, you don’t want to sound bored by what you claim to be passionate about. And that’s something a bit tiring to do as a conversation opener with a complete stranger.

        Asking what someone enjoys seems more reasonable to me; it’s almost as impersonal as “what do you do”, in that in both cases you’re basically asking someone about their CV, you’re just asking about the “hobbies” part of it. (then again to be contrarian i always find the “hobbies” portion of the CV to be the most obnoxious one. The actual answers are “reading, watching TV shows, commenting on blogs” but what end up on there are the musical instruments and sports I play once a year)

      • Kodie

        On another hand, there are ways to use that to judge people too. The pressure to be “an interesting person” by being active at something people like to hear about. I know I’m really weird and sensitive about this too. But you do have to know there’s a certain dread about meeting new people that some people have, when you know at some point someone is going to put the spotlight on you. Just like the job interview question, “so tell me a little bit about yourself”, as well as the same question being asked in a group where everyone gets a turn to have everyone’s attention turned toward them, is the same when just talking to one person.

        In my ideal world, my answers wouldn’t sound like they suck so much, and as I’m an under-achiever, I’d like to care very little, but that’s rude too. Somewhere else in this thread, someone actually would consider it rude not to be asked eventually what they do for a living and take it as disinterest. Bingo. Unless you have an exciting job that might be featured on a late night interview program, I don’t care. I like you anyway. You might tell me you’re in publishing or grants administration or programming or some job title that means nothing to me. I’m glad you like your job and want to talk about it, but unless you’ve been up in a spaceship or get to pet live tigers as part of your job, I won’t really understand what you do as all that different from what anyone else does, which is wake up in the morning and perform a somewhat-to-very necessary function. Which is nice. Do you work in a cubicle, do you fetch coffee, are you the CEO and I suppose I’ll be impressed, but in my experience, and possibly only MY experience, there is no further that conversation will go between you and I. There is also a huge probability that you will think I’m being rude because I have anti-social behavior. I’m not going to bash your career, and I’m not hating you for having one, I just have no idea what to do with that information next to keep you from hating me for not caring what you do.

        As for hobbies. One of my passions is finding a lamp someone threw away that is actually a very quality piece and bringing it up to my apartment and think I’ll ever get around to wiring it. I’m passionate about 5 tv shows that I don’t really want to talk about with anyone. I passionately hate cooking. I’m not passionate about knitting but I taught myself how. I’m not passionate about a lot of crafts that I know how to do and sometimes sit myself down and make something. But not scrapbooking. I’m not sure if I’m passionate about fencing, which people like to ask me, which is a pretty decent icebreaking question – so how long have you been doing this? And I have to say how long I’ve been doing this, but it’s embarrassing because I’m not very good. To be fair, I played an instrument for twice as long and danced for three times as long and never became good at that either. I’m sure this is fascinating to hear.

        Underachievement is hard because if I’m living this life for myself, I’m satisfied, but I’m also socially embarrassed because people do judge you. I don’t know another way except to try very hard to live up to another’s expectations, which I definitely hate people more when it’s for them, or be even more rude, like “what’s-it-to-you” rude. Asking people what they’re into, when they’re into hoarding, let’s say, and getting drunk alone and playing video games in their underwear. It serves the same function as finding something in common to talk about – you might find someone who knits too and they know a really great yarn store, or invite you into their knitting circle, which is WOW. I can’t knit with other people watching and also talking at the same time about when they bringing Firefly back and what new piercing their boyfriend got in his penis. I am just guessing what people in groups start to talk about when they are bored of talking about what they’re doing with their hands.

        We ran a LivingSocial ad for the place I sort of work at a couple months ago and you would not believe how many people signed up with another person they already know instead of the fear of getting to know a lot of other people by themselves while learning to do something they never did before. And at least one mom came to me with grief about another mom’s “innocent” smalltalk, like “do you live nearby” and she didn’t, and now I have to hear about it.

        Small talk! It sucks!

  • Naomi

    How about “What keeps you busy these days?” That way you can talk about your cooking, your job, your hobbies, your kids, your exercise routine…whatever you’d like.

  • sara

    I usually ask “do you work outside the home?” to women that I know are moms. Because being a SAHM *is* work! I do usually ask dads what they do, and if they said they are SAHD, I reply enthusiastically because I think that’s really cool. I know a few SAHDs in my parenting community and they are very happy.

  • Jaid

    I usually ask “So what do you like doing?” because it doesn’t have a time frame (“so what have you been doing lately?” umm… nothing?….) or a job/skill level implied (“so are you still working with ____? same job?” or “so how has work been treating you?” been able to move up, being implied there) or even time management/social navigation (“so you graduated, right? now what?”), but instead asks what a person is passionate about. It doesn’t have to be something they’ve done recently, so if they’ve been working at a job they hate, and miss all of some activity like a sport or reading or a cult tv show, then they can (at least I hope they can) ignore that and just talk about something that is genuinely interesting to them, and use language as vague as they like, because it is describing their attachment.

  • Lara

    I’ll admit this is a question I dread. My children are all school aged so people assume I work. When they ask, “What do you do?” and I say, “I am a stay at home mom” the response is too frequently “So you don’t work at all?” If I point out that my 16 year old is profoundly disabled, I get sympathy and a pass but I shouldn’t have to use his condition to justify whether or not I am part of the workforce. Even if his disability rather is why I am not part of the workforce.

    • Rosa


      Mine’s not profoundly disabled, but the level of support & the number of appointments for him was a big part of my deciding to quit my last job. So i’m always having to decide to be the bigger person and weather the scorn of the “but your kid is in school, right?” people, because it’s wrong to be airing his issues all over in my own defense.

      I swear that’s half of the reason homeschooling’s gotten so trendy – ESPECIALLY among the people, like the mom of an infant mentioned above, whose kids aren’t even school-aged yet. People don’t consider parenting difficult enough to be “real work” so moms keep making it harder to “justify” staying home.

    • saraquill

      @Lana. For a school assignment, I was interviewing a classmate’s mother, asking what she did for a living. I knew she was a housewife, and when she answered as such, I asked what the job entailed. She thought out loud before concluding it was a management position. Perhaps you can try saying you do management at home?

  • blueberry

    It seems to me that most people who ask “What do you do?” are asking for the simply and positive reason that they’d like to have a more engaging conversation than simply remarking on the weather. However, maybe a list of more neutral alternatives would be nice.

  • ArachneS

    As a SAHM, I’ve found that the question of choice in meeting other moms in my area is : “So what do you usually do on the weekends?”
    Which is basically asking what you do in your free time. I’ve never had a problem with that.

  • Rilian

    When *I* ask, “What do you do?” I don’t mean just for an income. I mean, what do you do with your time? And if someone asks me what I do, I answer it that way. I tell them I study languages, that I’m pretty good at spanish, and that I’m working on japanese. Because that’s what’s most important to me right now.

  • smrnda

    Given that most people aren’t working in jobs they like or find interesting but just trying to get by on whatever work they can find, I never liked asking people ‘what do you do?’ Understandably ‘what do you do’ is a kind of ambiguous question, but Stateside it’s almost always taken to mean employment, so I try to avoid asking it.

    Knowing what’s a good thing to ask can be pretty difficult, but I usually try to figure out what a person is interested in and what they feel comfortable talking about. Sometimes you’re gifted with a great context and figuring something to say it easy. Interests like movies, book, music, art can be good calls since it’s normally something people like to talk about, but that isn’t intrusively personal.

    Since I live in areas with people from all over the world, asking people about where they are from can be a good thing, but it can be done wrong in a way that puts the person on the spot and makes them feel like they’re being interrogated in some weird kind of cultural show-and-tell. (This can be particularly bad for women because lots of guys seem to have some major exoticism fetish going.)

  • Rosa

    One way to begin to solve this is through better introductions, which is a skill I’m working on. I have a friend who is a great connecter – when she introduces you to someone, she finds some point of possible connection. Like ‘This is my friend Alec, he went to Roosevelt High School. Alec, this is my friend Rosa, her husband went to Roosevelt!” Or worked somewhere, or studied something, or share an interest – she always walks away having given you some thread of conversation.

    it takes really paying attention and remembering things about people, though.

  • SophieUK

    So at what point does it become ok to ask someone what they do if it hasn’t come up organically in conversation? I’d consider it pretty rude to spend any significant period of time with someone new and not have them ask me that. It would come across as disinterest which I would see as quite rude.

    • Caravelle

      Isn’t there a difference though between a conversation-opener, and subjects that eventually pop up in conversation ? The former is really the issue because it’s at that point you’re actual strangers, and forming first impressions. After those first few exchanges I imagine there will always be a point in the conversation where contextual cues make it clear whether you should ask what someone does or not.

      I think the upshot of this whole thing is that there isn’t a single thing you can say that will be non-offensive and productive (in a conversational sense) in every circumstance.

      It’s not a matter of “anybody can take offense at anything so why bother”, but the more we understand how different people react to different things (and it’s not something you can guess without others sharing their experiences) the better we can navigate future social situations. And then even when we do mess up we might have a better idea of why, and how to fix/alleviate it.

    • Caravelle

      @SophieUK : Isn’t there a difference though between a conversation-opener, and subjects that eventually pop up in conversation ? The former is really the issue because it’s at that point you’re actual strangers, and forming first impressions. After those first few exchanges I imagine there will always be a point in the conversation where contextual cues make it clear whether you should ask what someone does or not.

      I think the upshot of this whole thing is that there isn’t a single thing you can say that will be non-offensive and productive (in a conversational sense) in every circumstance.

      It’s not a matter of “anybody can take offense at anything so why bother”, but the more we understand how different people react to different things (and it’s not something you can guess without others sharing their experiences) the better we can navigate future social situations. And then even when we do mess up we might have a better idea of why, and how to fix/alleviate it.

      • SophieUK

        That’s a fair point Caravelle, although I am surprised so many people assume that the question, when asked at the start of a conversation, suggests that the person asking it is defining others by their answer, whatever that may be. It is worth knowing how the question makes people feel but a lot of “askers” have pointed out that they don’t define people by their answers. I agree with most of what you say in your first post. It’s just useful information to have and you can learn a lot from asking it (even if the job itself doesn’t tell you that much about a person, the person’s attitude to what they do and their reasons for doing it will usually tell you a lot about them.

  • saraquill

    Odd, I hear “what do you do?” and I don’t think it has to be about a job. Certainly hobbies and passions qualify as “doing” things.

    Also, about what Libby Anne’s mom said about how a woman is always a stay at home mom, what about after the mother hits menopause and all the children grow up and leave? In a subculture that places a heavy focus on having massive numbered children, the shock of an empty nest must be strong.

  • Kris

    I also feel uncomfortable for asking “what do you do?” when meeting people for the first time. I’ve found that instead, asking “so what brings you to ?” works really well as it gives people a chance to answer it in the way they feel most comfortable and you can ask it quite generally or more specifically depending on the situation. E.g. Q. “So, what brings you to this park/this town/this region?” etc..A. “Oh, I really like this park. it’s much nicer than the one on 3rd street.” Or, “Oh, I’m just enjoying the shade while I take a break from my classes/work etc..” or “Play time with the kids. They like this spot” Or, “I grew up here. How about you?”

    • Kris

      That was supposed to read “what brings you to locationX”.

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve got to put in another vote with anonymous (sorry, typing on a phone and conceding the fight to the spell check over that one).

    I’ve been unemployed for ages. I finally got a job but not a great one and I’m certainly unemployable in my field. But it has the benefit of being one I’m not embarrassed to write home about. But I’ve hated that question for years despite the fact that I use it myself.

    I like asking about interests. That’s nice. Because as much a we might wish “so what do you do” could mean something else, we can’t escape it’s conversational implicature. It’s a fixed phrase that asks what a persons job is and anyone who deflects it by responding with non-job interests is engaging in conversational judo.

    Maybe it’s conversational judo we all should be engaging in to resist the suggestion that jobs and not interests are the things we should be asking about in the getting to know you phase of a relationship. But not everyone (particularly those most put on te spot by the question) is necessarily in the mental space to offer that kind of resistance. I usually just stammer or try to pass off a hobby as my job–because its totally normal for a successful employed person to make $250 per year.

    But it’s wonderful to find an alternative. And thank you for bringing it up because I’ve been thoughtlessly following the script (which I hate) all this time. Next time I will just skip to asking about interests.

  • http://facebook.com/betteroffdamned Jack Lawrence

    Gender roles aside, I think “What do you do?”, and particularly “What do you do for a living?” (as the former can be taken more broadly), is a rather irritatingly socially-conditioned comment in itself. Why do we automatically open by asking what someone does for a living? Why is the assumption that someone’s work is what most defines who they are? At the very least this is the implication of the question. It’s as if we’ve decided that one’s career is what best summarizes them.

    With non-career employment this is especially unlikely. And I believe instinctively are aware of that. If you’ve ever worked a meaningless day-job, and felt hidden embarrassment at having to answer “What do you do?”, it’s not so much because you are ashamed of where you’re employed (plenty of people work simply to pay the bills), but rather it’s because we understand that what the person asking is actually trying to ascertain is “Who are you?”. And in that moment one feels that their answer will somehow define them to the person inquiring.

    And even those fortunate to have a great career which they are proud of, still, is this necessarily what best tells us who a person is? For many, I’m sure. But certainly not for everyone.

    When meeting someone new I like to instead begin by asking about their interests. Or often, simply “So, tell me about yourself”.

  • Tracey

    I slept on this one last night, mulled it over and came to the same conclusion I had when I first read it. I’m not at all offended when people ask me “What do you do”. In college, when meeting someone socially, a frequent question was, “What’s your major?” After college, the logical question is, “What do you do?” It’s a quick way of getting to know someone’s interests. In the social circles I move in, there are so many people working at so many fascinating jobs. Throughout my life I’ve found fun new hobbies, located a fantastic pet sitter, gotten to know a plumber who was more than happy to cut me a break on some work if I let his apprentice son learn on my house, picked up some mentoring in my own career field, and made a lot of like-minded friends.

  • Sophie

    I think this is probably another cultural difference because here in the UK asking “what do you do?” isn’t really something you do with strangers, certainly not straight away. A lot of people would consider it rude like you are asking “how much money do you make?” or if you are trying to work out it they are worth your time. I think it’s more common amongst people in business as a way of making connections, the only time I can remember being asked this by strangers was at my partner’s work functions. Personally I wouldn’t tend to ask that question unless someone mentions their job.

    I grew up in a community where a lot of people were unemployed. I don’t know if any of you have seen any of the coverage about Margaret Thatcher’s death, but during her time as Prime Minister she destroyed our country’s industries. She shut down the mines, the shipyards, the steel mills and left millions of people unemployed. Watching some of the coverage where she is held up as the most wonderful thing to ever happen to our country actually physically hurts. Rich people love her because she made them richer but she completely screwed over the poor and pushed us further into poverty. So I suppose growing up I absorbed that asking that question wasn’t a good idea because many of the people in my community were ashamed of their unemployment and also very angry about it.

    Currently in the UK there is an attitude that everyone on benefits (money paid from the government to those out of work or those who are disabled) are lazy and scrounging and happy to sit on their bums all day. And this is an attitude being encouraged by the government who are currently doing everything they can to penalise the most financially vulnerable people in the country. I am in a wheelchair, I can only walk using crutches and that’s for short journeys around the house. It took 11 months for me to be granted Disability Living Allowance because the person assessing me for it felt that I was not disabled enough. And I am not in the minority regarding how hard it is to qualify for benefits in this country. This attitude particularly pains because of the culture I was brought up in; the people in the North-East of England were proud of their industry, they were proud of being able to support their families. And then the coal mines and the shipyards were shut down and there were no jobs to be had. And then those people had to take money, a paltry amount, from the government and had to jump through hoops to get it and they were ashamed. All this happened in the 80s, but 3 decades on there is still the attitude that being on benefits is just a stop-gap and that you should work and that you should take pride in your work no matter what it is because working is better than the alternative. Unfortunately there is still a massive unemployment problem in the North-East and nationally, we have been in a recession for about 3 years now so there aren’t a lot of jobs going. And to get back on to the point, all this has contributed to a culture where asking strangers what they do is considered rude.

    As for stay at home parents, I think what they are doing is an amazing thing and I tell them so. Just like I would tell a working parent that they are doing an amazing thing. Everyone should do what is right for their family, and no one outside that family unit should judge them for it. I have friends who would love to be at home with their children, but they can’t afford to lose the second income. I have friends who love their kids but also love their job. I have friends who are staying home with their children and love it and I have friends who are staying home and feel like their brain is atrophying. Everyone is different, it isn’t one size fits all.

  • Katty

    So, as I’ve mentioned before I’m from Europe and in my experience it is not very common where I live to use the “What do you do?” line as a conversation opener. And while I personally don’t mind telling someone about my job, I empathize with those who are made uncomfortable by this question.

    However, I’m also not a fan of the “What do you enjoy doing?” question (or variations thereof). I know that, being asked this question without any further context, I would start racking my brain for an appropriate answer while feeling increasingly boring and inadequate for lack of exciting / interesting hobbies to talk about.

    So what question would I ask? I guess my tactic is to stick with little things that flow naturally from the situation. You are introduced to someone at a party? Ask them how they know the person making the introduction. The other person has an unusual handbag? Comment on it. There’s food being served at the event you’re at? That should lend itself to conversation starters. OK, these might not be the most creative examples out there, but there is usually *something* to talk about and can give you some idea about the other person’s likes and dislikes without prying too much into their personal lives when you’ve only just met them.

  • KristinMH

    this reminds me of a thread on Captain Awkward where people were complaining about how awful it is to be asked “What are you doing for the holidays?” Because they had just lost a parent/cut ties with their family/whatever.

    But for the majority of people questions about jobs and holidays are perfectly innocuous, not focused on judgement or classism or imposing ideals of family relationships, just a way to get to know the person they’re talking to. There are topics which are widely considered to be off-limits in casual conversation, and these are not them. If they cause you distress that’s just kind of too bad. It’s like trigger warnings – it’s eminently reasonable to slap a TW on a post about rape or child abuse or eating disorders, as those are very common triggers. It’s not reasonable to expect a trigger warning on a post about, say, monster trucks, even if you find them triggering as hell.

    Anyway, getting back to the OP…I just seriously do not get why the answer to “what do you do?” can’t be “home fulltime with the kid(s)”. If it’s a job then we should treat it like a job and not be ashamed to own it.

    • Rosa

      People are pretty judgey about jobs, and the position that “home fulltime with the kids” is a job (and not some other important part of life) is a highly political position.

  • http://thegloriousliberty.blogspot.com TheGloriousLiberty

    With the economy like it is, I usually ask everyone “What’s keeping you busy these days?” That way they can talk about their horrible day at work or their kids setting the couch on fire or their knitting, if that’s what they want to do. It’s a one-size-fits-all question.

  • Eamon Knight

    During my great employment hiatus of about 20 years ago (and I realize I’m really very lucky to have had only one of those in my career) I had to figure out how do describe myself — not that I cared myself, but I’m not immune to social expectations, either. For the first few months I was a “househusband”. Then I started school and could call myself a “graduate student” for the next couple of years, which seemed better somehow.

    Now my wife, whose employer of 32 years went bankrupt last year, is dealing with the same issue. She’s not ready to call herself “retired”, even though she’s about old enough for that to be a respectable answer. She’s settled on “student”, because she’s now in a one-year programme. I guess after that she can call herself “free-lance technical writer”.

    It’s stupid, though: the extent to which occupation is tied up with social status.

  • LPBB

    Coming a little a late to this one, but…

    I am very shy and very introverted. I find the question “What do you do?” to be fairly innocuous if I can’t come up with anything better to learn more about the person I’m talking to. It gives me something more to build on than just “Wow, it’s really hot out isn’t it!” I actually dislike people asking “What are you into?” or variations on that because I find that very intimate and/or intrusive.

    And I have been unemployed and I am now in a very tenuous month-to-month job situation. But I work to live, I always have, so I don’t let my answer to that question define me. Just like your answer to that question is not going to define you to me. It’s just going to flesh you out a little more and possibly give me something else to talk about with you. When that question is especially sensitive to me, I usually give a general answer and deflect it back onto the questioner. But everyone that I know right now and all of the people I’m likely to meet in a social setting is sensitive to the fact that the economy sucks. I’ve actually had very good and helpful discussions with complete strangers by saying “Well, I’m unemployed right now, but I’m actually an X……”

    Besides, I am genuinely curious about other people’s work/career choices. Just like I am genuinely curious about what motivates people to move to or live in a particular area. If I don’t ask you what you do for a living, I’m probably going to ask you if you are from my town originally and if not, why you chose to move here. That’s probably also intrusive, but I’ve had a number of fascinating conversations spring from those two questions over the years. I’m just genuinely curious about what makes other people tick.

    I don’t think being a stay at home parent is a lesser choice and I’m not going to judge you for it. In fact, I think it is a very very valid choice and not one that you should have to apologize for. Isn’t that the point to feminism and breaking down patriarchy? I may not be able to share in many of your experiences, but that’s because I don’t have kids and I don’t want to have kids. Not because I think you are wasting your life or somehow less of a person — *I just can’t relate*. I will show as much interest in that career choice as I would someone who works as a carpenter or a computer programmer or a fire eater.

  • Jessica

    Personally, I find “staying at home and raising children” to be just as legitimate an answer as, say, “accounting” or “dentistry” or something. Even though you don’t get paid, it’s just as much work, or more, as many paying jobs.