It was International Women's Day on the weekend, which I totally blew off.. something to do with boozing.. shameful, I know. But some people do care about women.. especially our good friends the Catholics.. who, or at least some of whom weren't too drunk at the time to observe it. They tell us, that it's not the contraceptive pill, or working outside the home that liberated us.. but the washing machine:
"In the 20th century, what contributed most to the emancipation of western
women?" asked the editorial.
"The debate is still open. Some say it was the
pill, others the liberalisation of abortion, or being able to work outside the
home. Others go even further: the washing machine."
Ok, 2 major points about this. The first one is that there is some truth in it. The second point is, that it's utter bullshit.
There is truth in it because obvs. technology and all the gadgets it's brought us, has saved us all a lot of time, it's changed the world, the lives of people everywhere, it's changed the way we work and class systems and all that etc etc etc.
It's bullshit for a lot of reasons. Some women might spend less time doing housework, some might do more, but even if every single woman in the world spends less time on these things, if you control for the differences world wide that have come about because of technology, the differences are either nil, or are in reverse, eg the stereotypical 1950s higher standards of cleanliness that came about because of all of these things.. and if you don't take into consideration the way technological differences have changed our lives over all, well, you just can't compare it because life is just different. So there.. I mean, a middle class Western woman of the 1850s most likely did no, or little physical housework, certainly not more than we would today because she had servants.. people just did then, and we wouldn't consider those women more liberated than modern women because of the society they lived in. Just an example.
It's also bullshit for the reason that it obviously accepts that fact that women do and should do all the washing, which is a fucking copout, and the very antithesis of liberated. And when you compare the washing machine's impact on women's lives, with the ability and right to control her own fertility, and what the article calls "working outside the home" and what I'll call the right and opportunity to enter a wider variety of professions, then it's outrageous bullshit. The fertility thing is pretty much a no brainer, and I think it's clear why the Catholic Church brought this one up, and downplayed the huge benefits that the pill has brought women. I don't think you can point to any one thing that is the biggest liberator of women in the 20th century, but the pill would definitely be equal first, a position that the washing machine most certainly does not share.
Working, having careers, I consider that point as part of a larger idea that women are more than just wives and mothers, who are full human beings capable of doing much more, who are independent human beings who desrve full rights, ie feminism.. and if you compare all that's been done by feminists during that time well.. you can probably guess that the little old washing machine isn't faring well in this competition.
Oh goodness I've rambled on again.. but in short, I think that you can believe that the washing machine is the biggest thing that came out of the 20th century to liberate women, more than the right to vote, the right to abortion, to study, to travel unchaperoned in a lot of places etc etc, if you believe that women are, and are always going to be a wives and mothers, of as many children as god gives them, who's main job it is to take care of the washing, and by extension all the other stuff in the household.. a view that isn't surprising coming from a spokesperson for the Catholic Church, but not one that is in any way liberating.
And to finish off, as if I haven't said enough, the main thing in all this is. The people who get to decide what is liberating for women are people who are pro liberation for women, mostly women themselves who have lived it. You don't get a say if you're not pro women's liberation, and most definitely do not if you are actively, enthusiastically, against liberation for women. You know.. like, guess who...