I’ve had a cleaner for about six months. Actually it could be longer than that – I am so blissed out on a cloud of domestic happiness (and cleanliness) that I just can’t remember. I had been thinking for a while that neither myself or Mr S were actually any good at this cleaning malarky, and it would be good to get in a professional.
I didn’t fret about this decision at all. Because I am awful at cleaning. Awful. Even my mum was quite pleased because when she came to visit she might not be stepping into a domestic explosion.
So imagine my surprise at being practically labelled anti-female and middle-class by this Guardian article on the politics of domestic labour. Whilst I fully recognise there are complexities around the role of women in the home, and how far we have yet to come, this was taking it one step beyond. By employing a fellow woman in an “unfulfilling, sexist and degrading job” I was apparently against feminism and all that it stood for.
Excuse me while I step back from that article and roll my eyes.
I’ll take this apart piece by piece with my thoughts:
Cleaning is seen as women’s work
I can’t deny that there is still a belief held generally that domestic work is the domain of the woman, especially seeing as research by IPPR is pointing that way. That is a shame, but it is changing – just like the Army, the Fire Service and “Bin Men”, jobs for the boys and jobs for the girls are evolving. Agreed, not as fast as we would like, but moving nonetheless.
According to the article in question, I am shameful because I am outsourcing the building blocks of my femininity. I can’t work out if the article is suggesting I am less feminine because I employ a female cleaner or because I am crap at domestic chores but either way, it is bollocks.
Mr S and I tried for a long time to manage the cleaning between us. We failed miserably because we are rubbish at cleaning. But it was a failing on both our parts, not just mine as the woman. I don’t believe Mr S is a failure because we call my family round to do handy work and shelf erection, or that we get someone to mow the lawn because he (or I) isn’t very good at it. Therefore, I don’t believe I am failing in my duty as a woman by not cleaning myself or for not demanding that my male partner does it for me.
The bigger question here is about the role of women in society more generally, and why those gender stereotyped roles still exist, not nit picking over whether a woman outsources her feather duster.
Delegating this task to women is degrading and anti-feminist
Interestingly, I had no pre-conceptions as to who would do my cleaning. I got a range of quotes from local companies, and some of those we chatted to would have sent a male cleaner. It just so happened that the service we wanted came from a female run cleaning company.
According to this article, by hiring a female cleaner, I am degrading her. Wow. The mere act of paying for a cleaning service is rendering me A BAD WOMAN. Let me break this down for you. In some circles, cleaning and domestic activity can be seen as low status. I get that. The revival of Upstairs Downstairs or Downtown Abbey is certainly eye opening on this front. And yes, there is definitely a huge issue of women being put into low paid low status work – either because they don’t have a choice or because other careers won’t allow them the flexibility of working patterns to allow for caring responsibilities.
This is all bad. But the mere act of me deciding to get a cleaner doesn’t make me bad or anti-feminist or a degrader of other women. There are bigger things at play here, and this is to suggest that cleaning is a degrading job. I suspect my own cleaner (who is amazeballs), who runs her own business, with employees and therefore contributing to the upkeep of the local economy would not agree. Cleaning is not necessarily a degrading job at all, and to suggest that in every context it is bad and anti-feminist is shocking in itself.
The issue here is that better options for female careers, better standards of pay, better laws on flexible working need to exist – I am not responsible for these things and seek to challenge issues such as this on a daily basis.
We don’t seem to mind other “jobs for the girls” though do we?
Apparently, whilst I am unable to hire a cleaner, it is definately ok for me to send my not yet in existence children to a nanny or a nursery, where it is highly likely they will be taken care of by a woman. Or maybe it is not ok for me to outsource childcare – I literally can’t remember as I got bored reading a long list of what I could or couldn’t do in order to embrace my own feminity.
I outsource the waxing of my legs to another woman because I’m not very good at doing it, I outsource the application of gel nails to a woman if I get the urge and when I have kids it is likely I’ll get someone to look after them so I can go back to work too.
Can someone please tell me what is right or wrong, as I’m too busy degrading other women to have the time?
At the end of the day feminism is absolutely about choice. I recognise that not all women have as much access to choice as I do, and I will campaign and shout as loud as possible until this is put right across the world. But to damage other women, and pit them against each other because I hire a fellow woman to do things I’m crap at isn’t advancing us any further as a species.
I leave you with a final thought – what would the guys do, if a man hired another man to paint and decorate their house? Tell him he was degrading men and damaging his masculinity?
I thought not.
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