Tuesday 28 April 2015

"A cleaner! But I thought you called yourself a feminist!"

In some circles, hiring a cleaner is seen as un-feminist. In fact, it's seen as un-feminist to talk about cleaning, or woman's invisible role within the home at all. I sense an internalised misogyny - women's work isn't Real Important Feminism. Why don't we talk about the wage gap instead, so long as we can ignore the impact of the second shift on our roles in the workforce.

We live in a small rented apartment, so my partner's bacon-bringing home is strictly metaphorical. His manly duties extend to keeping (his) car warranted and registered, and cleaning (his) barbecue after (his) use. The rest of housekeeping - the laundry, the vacuuming, the endless churn of dinner and dishes - falls into the traditionally feminine sphere. If we followed the model in which I was raised, I'd do the lot.

When I was growing up, my brother was entirely excused from household chores (including taking off his muddy boots inside, choosing instead to create instead acres of sweeping and mopping daily). When I tried to chide him, our mother would snap: "He does lots of OTHER things around the house!" Back In The Day the Only Son surely did do a lot of work, but our suburban house didn't have trees to fell, hogs to slaughter, barns to raise, and so on and on. My brother's contribution included: changing lightbulbs, and "fixing cars," which meant removing the radio from my car and giving it to a friend of his, and removing the jack from my boot and then suggesting, when I called him from the roadside one dark cold night, that I should change the flat tire myself, sans jack. I wish I was exaggerating, but he really did change all the lightbulbs, so that's something.

Obviously, that model is untenable. Splitting chores 50/50 is ideal, but I chose to hire a cleaner because Partner and I are sharing a household for the first time, and with a third person to boot. All three of us have different standards of cleanliness and different ideas of how things ought to be done. Later, we'll reassess this decision, but it's great for now.

To return to the point: hiring a cleaner does not mean I'm not a feminist. Here's a short list of reasons why:

  • It's an opportunity to pay at least one woman a living wage. Plus, she set her own hours, can bring her kids with her to work... sure, the actual job sucks, but so do a lot of jobs.
  • It sets a rate of pay for household chores. The cost of getting something done in this house is $35 an hour. Sure, I'll put on a load of laundry, but since we both know how much that's worth, you better help hang it out. Someone said to me that $35 is an obscene amount of money to pay someone to scrub the toilet, but you know what's really obscene? That I'm expected to scrub it for free, which is the other option.
  • It removes some household management and micro-decisions. A lot of housekeeping is mental. Take planning dinner for example: you have short-dated mince which ought to be used, and an onion, and you think there's a half packet of lasagne noodles, and are there regular tinned tomatoes or only the weird "Mexican" ones? Is it too hot to run the oven this evening, if you get home at 6 that means you won't eat until 7.30 at the earliest and is that too late? So maybe lasagne's out, and you start the whole mental equation over again. Every day, and twice on Sundays when you go to the supermarket. Hiring a cleaner means you're not thinking "when did I last clean the toilet?" on top of all the rest.
  • Cleaning's a skill, and I'm not all that great at it. Our cleaner, bless her, got the weird white stuff off the shower door. What was it? I have no idea, but now it's gone.
  • Splitting the second shift in half doesn't eliminate it. We both work 40 hours a week. We both do half the chores. The second shift is split between us, but it's not gone. Outsourcing some of it means more time for the finer things in life, like cheap wine and NetFlix.
So yes, I do still call myself a feminist. And the toilet's very clean. 

1 comment:

  1. Well reasoned argument. I think your decision to pay $35 per hour is fantastic. I'm ashamed to admit that when we were growing up my sisters did more than their share of housework. I can't turn back the clock but I can make sure I do at least 50% in my own house.