Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune

Once upon a time there was this idea that dropping out of the "rat race" and retreating to some simpler, typically rural, life, was a virtuous and worthy path. It's a concept that dates back to the early days of literature (see, e.g., As You Like It, Virgil's Eclogues), and it seems to me that it was a theme that was popular in the late 80s/early 90s (see, e.g., Funny Farm, Baby Boom), presumably in reaction to the cocaine-fueled corporate excesses of the 80s.

Is it just me, or is that concept pretty much dead? Now high-powered executives can work from their ranches in Montana, and small towns in Iowa are better known for their meth labs than quaint bucolic virtue. And now the idea of "opting out" is associated with the emotionally fraught, highly controversial debate about well-educated, professional women dropping out of the work force to be stay-at-home moms.

That debate seems to be structured bilaterally: the benefits of and joys of spending time with your kids if you can afford it, versus the wastes and risks for the woman's career and economic prospects. But tossing the pastoral concept in there has the potential to shift the conversation away from sex and gender roles, which is what makes it so emotional and controversial, toward this well-established and very respectable idea of lifestyle choices and spiritual/philosophical space.

It does strike me, though, that we Americans with our Protestant ethic may never have been comfortable with the pastoral. Contemplation can look a lot like sloth. And take one of my examples above, Baby Boom: Diane Keaton's character starts out leaving behind her high-powered profession, but after she goes to the country and finds herself she becomes a very successful entrepreneur. So much for the contemplative life.

Maybe the difference is that now there isn't even the expectation that you might "opt out" of something by moving out of corporate America and the urbs and suburbs. You can physically move to the woods, but you'll be taking your laptop with you, so what's the point?

No comments: