If you are a fan of crossword puzzles, you might have come across the clue “Chores, typically” in the New York Times crossword on January 7, 2023. The answer, as you may have guessed, is MENIALWORK. But what does this clue and answer tell us about how we view chores and work in general?
The Meaning of Menial Work
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, menial work is defined as “work that does not require much skill and that does not give you much respect or importance”. Some examples of menial work are cleaning, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, etc. These are tasks that are often considered boring, repetitive, low-paying, and low-status.
However, the term menial work can also be used to describe any work that is perceived as beneath one’s abilities, education, or aspirations. For instance, a college graduate who works as a cashier, a lawyer who works as a paralegal, or a doctor who works as a nurse might feel that their work is menial compared to their potential.
The History of Menial Work
The concept of menial work has a long and complex history that is intertwined with social class, race, gender, and power. In ancient times, menial work was often performed by slaves, who had no rights or dignity. In feudal societies, menial work was done by serfs, who were bound to the land and the lord. In colonial times, menial work was done by indentured servants, who had to work for a certain period of time to pay off their debts, or by native people, who were exploited and oppressed by the colonizers.
Even in modern times, menial work is often associated with marginalized groups, such as immigrants, refugees, minorities, women, and the poor. These groups face discrimination, exploitation, and abuse in the labor market, and are often denied fair wages, benefits, and opportunities for advancement. They are also stigmatized and stereotyped by the dominant culture, which views them as inferior, lazy, or unskilled.
The Value of Menial Work
Despite the negative connotations of menial work, it is undeniable that it is essential for the functioning of society. Without menial work, we would not have clean homes, offices, schools, hospitals, restaurants, or public spaces. We would not have food, clothing, transportation, or communication. We would not have health, education, or entertainment. In other words, we would not have civilization.
Moreover, menial work can also have positive effects on the workers themselves. It can provide them with a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and satisfaction. It can teach them valuable skills, such as time management, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication. It can also foster creativity, resilience, and adaptability. It can even be a source of joy, pride, and dignity.
The Future of Menial Work
As technology advances, many menial jobs are being automated, outsourced, or eliminated. This poses a challenge for both the workers and the society. On one hand, workers need to find new ways to earn a living, to learn new skills, or to pursue new passions. On the other hand, society needs to find new ways to value, respect, and support the workers who perform the remaining menial tasks, or who choose to do so voluntarily.
One possible solution is to adopt a universal basic income, which is a regular and unconditional payment to every citizen, regardless of their work status. This would ensure that everyone has enough money to meet their basic needs, and that no one is forced to do menial work out of necessity. It would also free people to pursue their interests, talents, or dreams, and to contribute to society in meaningful ways.
Another possible solution is to redefine menial work, and to recognize its importance and dignity. This would involve changing our attitudes, language, and policies towards menial work and workers. It would also involve creating a culture of gratitude, appreciation, and solidarity among all members of society, regardless of their work roles.
Chores, typically, are menial work. But menial work is not necessarily bad, boring, or worthless. It is vital for our society, and it can be rewarding for the workers. The crossword clue “Chores, typically” is not just a puzzle, but a reflection of our work culture. It challenges us to think about how we view, value, and treat menial work and workers, and how we can improve our work culture for the better.