Friday, September 19, 2014

Confronting the Myth of the “Superwoman”: Hiring Housework Help

In my head, I know that Superwoman is not real.  But if I’m honest, I still felt pretty close to her.  I’m a mom, a wife, a writer, and a full-time graduate student…and I really enjoy all of these roles and (most of) the responsibilities that come along with each of them. I’m ok with not doing all things at 100% capacity at all times, as priorities shift depending on the day.  But whatever life threw at us, my partner and I could handle…until we got acquainted with laundry and cleaning, DR-style.

Here’s the deal. In the U.S., I could throw a load of clothes in the washer, read/write/email, throw them in the dryer and start the next load, read/write/email, repeat.  This could happen once per week or randomly as needed.  That system is not possible here.  Laundry is its own beast which requires focused attention…and sweat.

First, *you* fill the washer with a hose. Add detergent and clothes. They wash for a while, then *you* drain the water out.  Fill the washer with a hose again for the rinse cycle. Drain. Repeat until clothes are not soapy anymore. (Alternative rinse: put clothes in a giant bucket of rinse water.) Put clothes in the “dryer” attached to the washer. (“Dryer” is a misnomer. This is not a dryer. It is a spinner – like the thing at the YMCA that spins your swimsuit.)  Take clothes out and hang them outside on a clothesline where they can dry in the sun.  (If it rains, get your clothes down quickly and hang them all over the house, in front of fans.)

So, I hired someone to clean and do laundry for our family so that my partner and I could focus on the kids and work.  This was a very difficult decision for me and I was (and still am) uncomfortable with it. I am uncomfortable because of both the class and gender implications of this choice.  Because of my own working-class background, I feel some kinda way about having "help". The woman who comes needs the work, she has 6 children. But I am also aware that I am participating in an informal labor system which is unregulated and renders millions of people vulnerable to unfair treatment. 

With regards to gender, I have had to come to terms with the fact that we could not do everything here…more importantly, *I* could not do everything.  I could not keep up with the housework and also focus on my research and spending time with my family.  Now, I’m not hung up on gendered responsibilities, but I still felt like cleaning was my realm, and I still felt like this was a “mom/wife fail”.  In the end, we do what we have to do to make things work for our families.

Superwoman can handle all things, all the time, with grace and a smile.  She can work outside the home, kiss and tickle her clean children with loving patience, and make a healthy dinner while wearing a cute negligée so that her partner finds her attractive.  If you meet her, please send her the freshly baked, organic, whole grain, gluten-free muffins I’ve baked. They’re delicious.   

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