The scientist and the housewife

When someone asks what you do, how do you reply? What is your occupation? Does your occupation define you? Do others define you by your occupation?

When we arrived at Marina Smir in Morocco, Julian took our documents to the border police, located in the same building as the marina office. He was asked his occupation. After a moment’s hesitation, he replied ‘scientist’. He was then asked my occupation. Again, he hesitated and in the moment’s hesitation the policeman suggested ‘housewife’. Julian said yes. So, on official documentation, Julian Scott, scientist, and Martina Tyrrell, housewife, arrived in Morocco on April 18th.

So here’s the thing. Julian hasn’t worked as a scientist for the past four years. But he’s no less a scientist now than he was when he made a living from science. He thinks like a scientist, he works through problems in a scientific methodical way. His engagement with the world around him is partly informed by his training and experience as a scientist.

But am I a housewife? Apart from the obvious fact that I don’t live in a house (!), how close does that description come to who I am? By training, I am an anthropologist and over the years I have variously described my professional self as anthropologist, human geographer, social scientist, lecturer, academic. In the past year I’ve earned a living as an English teacher and a writer.

Behind all of those paid jobs is a way of engaging with the world that is heavily influenced by my anthropological background. I can’t switch my social scientist self off any more than Julian can switch his scientist self off.

I am a ‘boat-wife’ as much as Julian is a ‘boat-husband’. We are both responsible for running our home and for raising and educating our children. We’ve both been occupational wanderers throughout our adult lives, moving from one profession to another, never seeming to settle on any one thing. But all those career moves have been linked, directly or indirectly, to the scientist and anthropologist that are central to how we define ourselves. But I guess in that moment of hesitation Julian didn’t quite know how to define me in a way that would fit neatly onto an immigration document. (I’ll generously give him the benefit of the doubt!)

I remember going to NCT antenatal classes when I was pregnant with Lily. At the first session the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves, but not to mention our professions. She didn’t want anyone forming preconceived impressions based on the occupations of our classmates. Of course we all soon became great friends and hung out together after our eight babies were born. (Hello Ladies!!) But it was interesting in those first few weeks of getting to know one another to have to define ourselves in ways other than what we did to earn money. It probably did remove a lot of preconceptions.

But how would I have answered the question if I had taken our documents to the Moroccan border police? I probably would have hesitated. And then I’d have answered in the way I have filled in official forms for the past four years: Martina Tyrrell, anthropologist; Julian Scott, house-husband!


5 thoughts on “The scientist and the housewife

    • Hi Mel
      I don’t consider it derogatory at all. Instead I think ‘housewife’ describes someone who is under (or un) paid for the invaluable work they do at home. But it doesn’t describe me because I’ve always been paid to work for other people.

  1. Say “Hello” to your house-husband/scientist – from me, retired teacher (that’s what I say… I could say northerner/mother/grandmother (?!) or wifey of Scotsman Gordie ) and from Gord, retired store-manager, trapper, fisherman, father/grandfather – and “old man of Martha Main” 🙂 I guess we all use labels, we want to define ourselves and each other…

    • Hello Martha, hi to you and Gord. Right now I am probably best described as the ‘skipper’, or maybe more commonly as the ‘captain’, which is how I am generally, and accurately, labelled when we enter a new port and go into the office to do the paperwork. I could be house-husband, ex-paperboy, ex-chambermaid, ex-barman, ex-dishwasher, ex-builder’s labourer, ex-petrol station attendant, ex-teacher, ex-soldier, ex-post doctoral research fellow, ex-consultant geophysicist, ex-Arctic/Antarctic Scientist, etc.. But ‘skipper’ or ‘captain’ will do okay, because somehow this boat and her crew have to get from one place to another in relative safety so that we can post another blog!

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