Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Feminist machines

A few days ago I was victim of one of the worst (non-injurious) incidents than can befall a mother.

When I tell my fellow mothers what happened, they wince, roll their eyes and ask how I'm coping. It's been six days now. Six long and painful days.

My washing machine broke down.

People who don't have children appreciate that this must be difficult. People who do have children appreciate the full nature of the calamity

The daily battle to keep my offspring clean is usually dealt with in the short minutes it takes to load, unload, hang up and put away a load of washing (rude nasty girls don't iron). No more.

Washing and feminism

Appliances like the automatic washing machine have set us free. By doing these mundane domestic tasks for us, in a fraction of the time they would otherwise take, they allow us to spend our time doing other things, such as earning money and becoming financially independent.

Once upon a time, laundry was a thing that might take a woman with a family an entire day each week. A day of pummeling and wringing the stains from her whites until her hands were red and sore.

Wealthy women in the past, as now, may have been able to hire cleaners to wash their clothes. And that provided work for other women.

But as washing machines became more affordable, it's meant that those of us who couldn't shell out for a cleaner can deal with this most labour-intensive chore with ease.

Women do more housework than men, even today. Washing machines mean that this doesn't have to take over our entire lives.

Washing around the world

Gender inequality exists for many reasons. Culture, poverty and education all play their parts, and I certainly wouldn't lay the credit for great strides feminism has made in the last 40 years in the West solely at the door of the automatic washing machine.

But it is true that in developing countries where the majority of people are less able to afford labour-saving devices such as washing machines, the opportunities for female independence are far fewer.

The sad fact is that if you are a woman who can't afford a washing machine, you will probably spend a large portion of your life scrubbing your husband and children's socks. You won't have time for a career.

Thank you

The inventor of the electric washing machine is unknown. Whoever he is (although you never know, maybe it was a she), I'd like to plant a big firm kiss on his whiskery cheek. But it would probably be good if he emptied the machine from time to time.

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