Saturday, March 14, 2009

Now For Something Really Important

Modern Woman And God's Greatest Modern Gift

The washing machine has had a greater liberating role for women than the pill, the official Vatican daily said in an International Women's Day commentary Sunday.

"The washing machine and the emancipation of women: put in the powder, close the lid and relax," said the headline on the article in Osservatore Romano.

"In the 20th cenutry, what contributed most to the emancipation of western women?" questioned the article.

"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," it added.

The long eulogy to the washing machine - for which the first rudimentary models appeared in the 18th century - highlighted "the sublime mystique to being able to 'change the sheets on the beds twice a week instead of once'," quoting the words of late American feminist Betty Friedan.

While the machines were at first unreliable, technology has developed so quickly that now there is "the image of the super woman, smiling, made up and radiant among the appliances of her house," wrote Osservatore. (Most women I know don't get made up to do laundry--just an observation.)


Neither my mother, nor myself would agree with the Vatican's assessment of the liberating qualities of washing machines. My mother firmly believed all they accomplished was to add more to her work load because every one's expectations for clean clothes became excessive. She also firmly believed washing machines encouraged the purchasing of lots of clothes people didn't need, which in turn forced her to wash more loads.

If I were to list her two favorite liberating inventions they would be permanent press clothes and the micro wave oven. They are two of my favorites as well. In fact, in our house if one of us were to be stupid enough to purchase non permanent press clothing my mother more or less refused to wash it, or she forced them to pay me to iron it. I always bought permanent press. She often lamented that in raising us all as babies she didn't have a micro wave for all our formula. It was so much faster and more accurate than heating bottles on a stove.

The best things about micro waves were the processed foods that one could purchase for them. Our family became tediously acquainted with all things Stoufer. Dad actually had to buy another freezer for all things Stoufer. It's not surprising that I personally have nothing in my freezer which says Stoufer. There is that whole concept concerning too much of a good thing.

When I read this Vatican assessment on the liberation of women I could hear my late mother's harrumph in the back of my mind. Typical asinine male assessment. Only men with no children would opt for the washing machine over the micro wave. She would say these Vatican men could wax eloquently on the labor saving qualities of the washing machine because they mostly didn't use them. The microwave was male friendly from it's inception and so would not be seen as something that liberated women.

My mother was always mystified that the men in our family could tear apart huge diesel engines but be completely incapable of discerning the mysteries of laundry. The micro wave was a different story. Hot snacks and all that. They got so infatuated with our first micro wave that they did a lot of the cooking. Testing it's capabilities or something. That truly liberated my mother. From then on she was waiting for some technological breakthrough in washing machines that would equally capture their attention. It never happened and all the filthy ranch clothes were always her responsibility, or us girls.

For some reason, I never quite got the concept that doing my brothers laundry increased my femininity. If anything it increased my suspicions that girls in my family did not have the same status as boys. Somehow the laundry room was not the special girl territory my brothers tried to make it out to be. A place that was beyond their male capacity, a foreign territory where they might break things in their male ignorance.

For me it was a place where I over loaded, over dried, purposely wrinkled, mixed whites and colors, and in general created havoc. My mother soon tired of my passive aggressive attitude towards laundry and I was relegated to the ironing board, but she also insisted if my brothers actually wanted something ironed, they had to pay me.
I bought a lot of Beatles albums with their money, especially off my one brother's Army uniforms. Starching things cost way more than normal ironing. I loved the US Army's uniform code. Ironing wasn't exactly ego fulfilling, but it was a whole lot better than doing washing for free. Finding out she could convince her children to pay another child for ironing was also a liberating concept for my mother. Far more liberating of her time than the washing machine could ever be.

In all honesty, I can't take this little ditty from the Vatican seriously. If they truly do believe the most liberating thing for women in the twentieth century is the washing machine, they are truly out of touch with where women are really at. It's the pill, they just can't admit that. Or maybe it's because they can imagine the Virgin Mary using a washing machine but not the other thing.


  1. I love discussions of laundry Colleen. When my husband and I got married I discovered he did not like the way I did the laundry or folded the clothes. I was out of a job. At first, believe it not, I was offended that he didn't like the way I was cleaning and folding the laundry. So, I told him, go ahead honey, you can do your own laundry.

    My son does his own laundry too. Women today have several roles these days. We have to support our families. To put the entire load on her, pun intended, has to be overwhelming every woman on the planet.

    Liberation for me has been when I found Jesus Christ, the real one, the one that is living and trying to get through to us. I am trying to listen very hard.

    Speaking of listening, I have a new song, a rough demo. I have to brush up on my singing and will work more on the lyrics. I have several more that are backed up in the production phase, which I am still learning, so the mix is not that great. Let me know if you would like the lyrics. The feature in Stereofame where you upload music did not have a box to check no explicit lyrics, so it says they are and then I say, they are not. When I wrote the song I thought of all of you and Dr. Clarissa's ribbon of names she mentions in the CODA of a recent article on NCR.

    Word is educhals - edupals

  2. PS - The most liberating piece of modern equipment to come my way is GarageBand and my M-Audio keyboard.

  3. Colleen, isn't it interesting that it's almost always men who tell women what machines have liberated women?

    If all the appliances to run a house were designed by women, we might have very different (and far better) appliances.

  4. Colleen. . .on this one i think my birth Mother would probably agree with the Vatican with the washing machine being an object signaling something much greater that was the greater liberation. . .

    She had ten people to do laundry for and i can remember when the laundry was done outside in a huge black cast iron kettle. . .the wood would have to be gathered and a fire was used to heat the water for the clothing. . .Lye soap was made from rendering the fat of the slain pigs each fall. . .Big tree limb paddles was used to stir the hot water with the clothes. . .Each cloth, sheet, blanket, garment would be taken out and placed on the rub board. . .I so remember the rawness of her hands after wash day. . . She did laundry weekly in each season. . .every bed was changed weekly. . . The water would have to be changed out about three times and then clothes placed on the line to dry. . . This process would be early morning to nightfall for her. The Texas Panhandle where i grew up still did not have electricity out in the far rural ranch lands until nearly the sixties. . . We did have gas burning stoves for cooking. . . Many of the ranch families did not have running water and each house had a well and a hand pump for water outside the house. . .Also many of the ranchers continued to use wagons with mules to go into the pastures because the trucks where not able to withstand the rough terrain. . .All of that changed when i turned five when ELECT$RICITY reached the most rural areas. . .

    I think Electricity was the most time saving liberation of men and women in modern time. . .

    I see Electricity as heralding Modernity and probably was as big of an old era closer as fire was to the first peoples. . .

    It is interesting that an object rather than the force that allowed it was used to signal women's(?) liberation, ( i use question mark for i do not think modernity was about only women.
    . .)

    Another factor i think greatly effected the modern Western world was Rosie the Riveter. . .For the first time there was a wave of Women allowed to join the work force. . .Once women experienced that independence there was no holding back. . .I think the concept of the washing machine being what liberated women is pretty demeaning and once again shows how much these men are from Pluto and women are from Venus. . .

    When one really stops and thinks about it there are so many factors that ushered women into a greater equality and equanimity in the Western world. .The force within Woman was as great as the force within electricity. . .and electricity was just a manifestation of the Feminine. . .

    These guys are scared these days. . .and they should be anxious for slowly a new world and way of Divine relationship is being manifested these days that will shake up the old structures that do not have the ability to bend and bow to the sacred within all creatures and all creation. . .

    Amma often uses the analogy of electricity to speak of the sacred energetic within the body and the expression of the sacred in matter, the Holy Spirit the life force energy found within and without. . .

  5. I would agree completely that electricity was the big liberator and that was certainly true for both sexes.

    Although, my brothers would probably put the internal combustion engine up there as equal, as would I. I'd give up my micro wave and my washing machine before my vehicle. I bet that's a rural american thing though, as community transportation is kind of non existent.

    Butterfly, I couldn't stand the way my husband did laundry and vice versa. We agreed it had to be a mother thing, especially the folding of clothes, so we compromised and I washed and he folded.

    My daughter drives me crazy when she comes over to do her laundry because she does a bunch of micro loads and takes all day--and a lot of water. I have zero idea where she picked that up from.

    Bill, you got me thinking. I wonder if there's ever been an appliance actually designed by women. Here's a mindless factoid. The booster rockets on the Space Shuttle had their design perameters dictated by the width between the wheels of Roman Chariots. The biggest design issue was a railway tunnel between Morton Thiokol in Utah and Cape Canaveral. Train tracks are actually the width of the old Roman Chariot roads and so there for was the design width of this tunnel. It's amazing how things are all so innerconnected when one of our more ancient and primitive modes of transportation dictate our most advanced.

    That's also an example of the power of tradition. :)

  6. I agree that electricity has liberated both men and women. The computer and the internet also are liberators as well and connect people that would otherwise never have even heard of one another.

    While men might have invented the washing machine, they had to understand the dynamics and hear what women needed the machine to do. Even in our modern times marketing firms will have questionnaires for consumers to fill out to improve their products. They have to listen to women, because women are the ones that choose the products. Cost is always the determining factor though, and not the more features that one washing machines has over another.

    I've uploaded a new mix of my new song and the voice comes out louder, but maybe too loud now. So may have to make another mix to mellow it all out.

  7. I cannot find my copy of the GIRM(General Instructions Roman Missal) that I had for a Commission I was on. I do remember it said that the priests needed to wash the sacred vessels after Mass and I wondered if they would take that job over from the women-they have not!
    My husband grew up in a family where everyone took turns doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning rather than having the only girl assigned the job. And our 8 children, 6 of them boys, could do their laundry by the time they were 10 and learned to cook and clean as well. They learned from their dad and uncles that real men know how to do those things.
    We used to say when the children were young, "When the Pope offers to babysit on Saturday nite, we will listen to his ideas on contraception!"

  8. coolmom, loved the last line.

    My sister and I used to think ranching represented the last of gasp of american pretense at nobility. I bet GW Bush couldn't do his laundry,