In defence of pyjamas

If someone wants to wear pyjamas, good for them. By Alistair Fraser.

I find the recent pyjamas hype pretty sickening. I have a job. I consider myself lucky, actually. I could quite easily be out of work; could quite easily have never found my way to the job I have, which I enjoy a lot.

I teach at NUI Maynooth. I get up every weekday morning and either head off to work, or work at home. I don’t have any pyjamas, so Ireland’s cold climate forces me to shower and get dressed. Good for me. I can feel very proud of myself.

Now, if I work at home, I don’t need to dwell upon how I look: I’m at home; it’s casual day every day at home. And if I go out, well, I do happen to put a jacket on, and normally some jeans, but it’d be an odd day when I put on a shirt, thank you very much (collars aren’t for me). So anyway, off I go. Down to the shops. Spend some of my earnings. Pump the economy with some cash. Do my bit; wear my Green Jersey, if you will. Oh the joys.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any under/unemployed people out and about wearing their pyjamas. But you know what, even if I did, who am I to say anything? I’m working and I get paid. I’m not finding it soul-destroying to look but never find work in a harsh economy. It’s not me who’s had my CVs or letters or phone calls ignored. I don’t have kids at home I struggle to feed, clothe, entertain, or convince that there’s a reason to do well in school. I don’t watch my partner or pals or neighbours head off to work while I enjoy whatever the executives at RTÉ or TV3 deem worthy daytime television. It ain’t me who’s seeing cuts to what Irish society in its wisdom (or, to be fair, what the government we’ve chosen, or to be fairer still, the Troika which the last government in their wisdom brought upon us) thinks is a viable social welfare payment.

The upshot, then, is this: I don’t think I have the right to go around criticising anyone for wearing pyjamas, least of all people who are at the cutting edge of the sharp cutbacks and the rigid austerity we’re seeing in Ireland. If someone wants to wear pyjamas, good for them. And if that means they wear them in a dole office, then so be it. Social welfare or unemployment benefit is and should be a right in this country. Those who suggest it should be reserved for people who dress in a particular way (or what next? smile properly, stand up straight, bow their cap the right way, m’lord?) should be opposed. This sort of attack on working (or so-called ‘middle’) class people who are only claiming what’s due to them is unjustified, divisive (and, let’s face it, in many instances, extremely sexist). It’s an unhelpful distraction from the actually existing circumstances people are facing in this country (and beyond) each day.

But not only do I think people should be allowed to wear whatever they want when engaging with the public service, I don’t buy into the idea that every person on the dole needs to be constantly, incessantly, obsessively out looking for work; ready to work; out there job hunting; non-stop forcing down the unemployment figures. Unemployment isn’t high because people are wearing pyjamas and failing to go out there and fill 450,000 vacant positions. The under/unemployed people in this country did not cause the crisis. And as things stand, it isn’t up to them to solve it. So expecting people to endlessly look and be ready for work, particularly in the current context, is simply unrealistic. Worse still, this sort of ideology around welfare and its ills borders on sadism because, with a few exceptions perhaps, people who spend every living minute of their life on the dole looking for work simply run the risk of doing themselves serious psychological damage (rejection, rejection, rejection?; failure, failure, failure?). Why are we making this an expectation? Why indeed? Isn’t the thing about the pyjama hype that certain people or sectors of society are shocked to discover that the industrial reserve army aren’t doing their bit to restore profits and accumulation? It’s almost as if the unemployed are supposed to actually stand all day long outside offices and factories holding signs saying ‘We want work, we’ll do your job for lower pay’ – would this help employers drive down wages and would that bring back the boom somehow? So the idea that some people might actually be wearing pyjamas, might not be applying sufficient pressure on those with work, well, it’s as if they’re not wearing the Green Jersey in addition to wearing pyjamas. The cheek of ‘em.

Let me end by saying to those in work who think they’re on to something with their anti-pyjamas tirades: Good for you for having a job; good for you for not wearing your pyjamas around the place. But don’t go round telling us what you think everyone else should wear. Rather than attacking someone out of work, why not re-direct your energies elsewhere? It’s not as if we don’t have more important things going on.

Originally published on Ireland After NAMA. Reproduced with author's permission.

Image top: betsyjean.