In our current anti-smoking culture, it’s funny to think back on Virginia Slims’ old cigarette ads, celebrating women’s progress and encouraging smoking at the same time. There are definite dark ironies there….It makes me think of other dark ironies of our progressive age. I read Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique about a gazillion years ago in high school and I found it very interesting. I depart from her perspective on many levels, but she’s worth a read. One very dark irony of her book is her cataloguing of the triviality of women’s magazines of her era. She goes through many of the popular rags and supplies their titles--trivial to say the least. But I thought then—and even more now, “Has Betty checked out Cosmo or Marie Claire or anything else lately?” Trivial is demeaning, but I’ll take trivial over the demeaning, hyper-sexualized and expensive stuff I see in most women’s magazines today…
She makes some interesting historical points as well, and one that stuck with me was her analysis of female domesticity in her era and her comment (which I paraphrase, since my google search didn’t bear fruit), “Never had so many been prepared so well to do so little.” This was a comment on a) the (high) level of education of women in her era and b) the relatively little work they had to do, thanks to technological advances that made housework a lot easier and the smaller families that women had also started to have (relative, at least, to their mothers and grandmothers). I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard too many women of my acquaintance comment on how little they have to do. Why is that, exactly? What has changed to make women (assuming Friedan is right, at least, on this point) of my era feel overwhelmed while Friedan felt decidedly underwhelmed?
It’s not an easy question to answer, but I’d like to offer one, admittedly very partial, answer, (avoiding all attempts at deep, serious, analysis for the moment). Laundry. Seems crazy, maybe, but I’m going to hazard that we do far too much of it. We all seem to be constantly doing a load. A small thing, perhaps, but bigger than you might intially believe. Because that simple load of laundry isn’t just a simple load. It’s collecting it, sorting it (though you may have help on this front of the warm-blooded or inanimate variety), washing it, drying it, folding it, and putting it away. Adds up to a lot in my book. While I’m no spokeswoman for Cleaning Properly (more on that later...), I did grow up in a home where laundry was an elevator ride away and where quarters were necessary. With six kids. So I know a thing or two about how tedious laundry can be. Having five kids myself, I know that some kids get things really dirty really fast. But not every kid. And machine-washing things too often messes with elastic, fades colors prematurely, and encourages pilling.
And if it helps convince you, Europeans do much less laundry than we do. As an example, I have a (very clean) Western European girl living with me and she’s done 3 loads of laundry total since she got here a month ago.
So let’s lighten the load, ladies, and see if we can’t limit our laundry a little! Raise your glasses to liberation!