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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Women USA

I Do Not Dream of Labor

“So, tell me, what would be your dream job?”

“Darling, I’ve told you several times before: I have no dream job, I do not dream of labor.”

You might have heard those words on social media, likely over a video of an influencer lip syncing to it. That’s where I first heard it. It was initially attributed to James Baldwin, but further research has been unable to determine where exactly it originated. And though I hadn’t heard it until a few years ago, the idea resonated with what I’ve been feeling for a long time.

I was raised to dream of labor. My dear feminist mother wanted to make sure her daughters felt comfortable in the workforce. We went to every “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” (Remember that?). And we would sometimes go to her office after school to stuff envelopes or do other busy work. This was a privilege my mom had not had—she was raised to be a wife and mother and maybe a hairdresser or teacher, but definitely not a professional.

When people would ask little Brooke what she wanted to be when she grew up, I had a whole list: astronaut, architect, artist, engineer. What did you dream of being when you were younger?

Comedian Michelle Wolf does a stand-up routine, and in it, she declares that she does not want children or a family, but instead wants her career. “But Michelle,” she mockingly asks herself. “Don’t you know women can HAVE IT ALL?!” She responds, “All does not mean good. You’ve never left an all-you-can-eat buffet and thought, ‘I feel really good about myself.”

I thought about this when watching the Barbie movie. She can be everything and so can you! You can look perfect and live in a perfect house and have a perfect job and a perfect family. You can have it all! And if you can’t, you’re just not trying hard enough. This is especially hard for women when “having it all” often means continuing to do the lion’s share of the domestic labor AND working a job; while men are mostly just changing more diapers (#notallmen).

But who is driving this message of “having it all?” And who says we’re not trying hard enough if we don’t have it all? In a word: capitalism. Capitalism demands that we always be doing more, producing more, consuming more, working more, buying more. Capitalism tells us we are never enough. That no matter how much we grind, we must be grinding harder. No matter how hard we are trying, we must be trying harder. Capitalism doesn’t care about your personhood or your integrity, it just wants your production and consumption.

This is not God’s vision for us. God does not dream of labor. God dreams of rest, community care, and shared resources.

What are we telling our children when we ask them what their dream job is? Why are we dreaming of labor? I wish people had asked little Brooke what she enjoyed doing now, not how she planned to make money in the future.

Now, I do not think having a job is inherently a bad thing. I’ve had some very good jobs. I have loved working for Mennonite Women. What I take issue with is the way that I was raised to dream of labor. I take issue with not being encouraged to explore my gifts and my curiosities, but rather to find a way to exploit them for money. I take issue with the rugged individualism required by capitalism that tells us our siblings' problems are their own and none of our business. I take issue with the demeaning of labor that does not bring profit—like arts and homemaking and so much of what is coded as “women’s work.”

God does not ask us to dream of labor. God is not interested in our production and consumption. God’s imagination is much, much bigger than that.

I want to close with a poem I found on Instagram by Jess Janz.

“So What Do You Do For Work?”

It’s boring, what do you do for money;

we all need to put food into our mouths.

I could listen for hours about

the moments you’ve felt most alive,

and what burns a hole in your belly,

the people your eyes turn gold for,

all the cliffs you’ve jumped from,

and about your favorite dinners.

Tell me another story

about a time

when to you it was confirmed

that the world is made of magic.

Brooke Natalie Oyana

MW USA Trustee

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