Recently word got out that, quite possibly, superstar Janet Jackson has quit show business, converted to Islam and with her billionaire husband at her side, is done.
When I mean done, I mean she’s retired from the rat race, from the expectations of others, from anyone being in her business, from dealing with folks she doesn’t want to deal with and situations she could care less for. Done. Finished. On permanent vacation. Gone. Not coming back.
While Janet Jackson was obviously already wealthy and accomplished before she met her Qatari husband, Wissam al-Mana, she still had to deal with the cult of expectations that comes with being an international celebrity. Her peer, Madonna, is still trying to hold on to youth and pump out the hits past 50. Janet, while younger, may have looked into that abyss and went “Do I still want to deal with articles criticizing my body/music/face/life at 50? Do I still want the world in my business? Do I still want to go on tour?”
And she was like, “Nah. I’m going to go be with this hot billionaire. Catch y’all next lifetime.”
And can you blame her? How many of us have fantasized about being “done” while we’re still young enough to appreciate it?
Thanks to today’s “new” economy where we’ve all be turned into contractors and freelancers without benefits, job security is a dream and retirement quickly becoming something no one can afford, being “done” seems more elusive than ever. My father, thanks to more than thirty stable, profitable years with the same aerospace company and a pension, was able to retire at 57. The world I live in is full of 30-somethings who’ve already cashed in their meager 401k’s in order to survive being unemployed thanks to the “Great Recession.” Savings? What savings? Retirement? Ha. All we see is work and more work and work and then a hope that Social Security isn’t completely dead before we are.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. And I’m sure a lot of you love you line of work as well. But the fantasy of someone just showing up and “Calgon, take me away-ing” your life is seductive. I have friends with corporate careers who still dream of being housewives. It’s not that they aren’t proud of their doctorate degrees or their resumes. But their mothers worked and their grandmothers worked and every woman they know works and, as black women, they can’t help but wonder what it’s like to be the woman who doesn’t sometimes. That if it was the right situation and the right man, they’d be willing to stay at home if it mean they got to pass the burden of expectation and work onto their husbands in exchange for dinner on the table and a clean house.
But the fantasy of being “rescued” by a man is nothing new. In fact, some might even argue it’s a dangerous, anti-feminist fantasy that reinforces the belief that women are too “weak” to survive in the work place and that their “real” place is in the home. But I’m a strong believer that what women fought for in the battle for equality was to have a choice where once there was none.
A lot was made of Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” and about women “opting out” being the reasons why there aren’t more CEOs. But I argued that this is more an issue for women of the elite (which is where most CEOs come from anyway, Ivy League schools and scions of the one percent), than working class or middle class women for whom work is often not a choice. You can only “opt out” if your life was cushy enough to begin with to choose it. And if elite women find the path to CEO full of drudgery and wind up “opting out” it’s because they chose their privilege of being elites and the comfort of being an elite over any kind of movement. “Lean In” is a little condescending if you’re someone who can’t opt out of anything, but must confront a workplace hostile to you having children or having a life outside of work, disturbing any sort of work/life balance that elevates the day-to-day above pure drudgery.
Which is why you have the fantasy. Why you have a billion-and-one “housewife” or “wives” shows on TV when the vast majority of American women work. Why in a Tyler Perry production even the most broke of female characters is wearing the hottest of shoes. It’s escapism and an escapism that taps directly into that fantasy of being done while still young, pursuing other dreams without having to worry about starving to death, to do what you really want to do with your life, rather than what you simply have to do. And that’s not just a woman’s fantasy. That’s everyone’s fantasy.
Some might want to be rescued by their own Wissam al-Mana. Some might want to be rescued by the state lottery. Some might want that next big salary, major gig, big book deal or TV show to finally come through.
But a lot of us want to be “through” with this worry about where the next check is coming from. Through with being afraid for our uncertain future.