If we take the solution of moving back to hand-washing as the greener solution, what happens? We use less water, less electricity and we have to use milder chemicals or we trash our hands. That’s a step down in terms of environmental impact. I’ve been doing this for a while. There are three of us, and none of us has continence issues, which makes it viable.
I was laundering this morning, thinking about how much time it takes. If I had some busy, well paid, high powered job it would be tempting to hire someone else to do the scrubbing for me. Someone less busy whose time is worth less money than mine. This is the great British solution to energy and work – servants. Take away the labour saving devices, and paying someone else to do it for you is the next logical step. Actually that’s not very comfortable.
Once you start paying people to be substitute washing machines, you’re going to start thinking of them as an underclass. These are the folk destined for drudgery, for the work that is beneath you. Thus we create our untouchables. The most essential work is often the least well paid and the least respected. Where would we be without waste collectors and toilet cleaners? What assumptions do we hold about the people who end up with those jobs?
Historically there’s been a lot of gender politics here, too. Laundry has been women’s work. It is women’s quality of life and freedom of time that has been most affected by labour saving devices in the home. It is still the case that women do the bulk of the domestic work, even where both partners also have employed jobs. Take away the washing machines, and there’s every reason to think this trend would continue, forcing women back into unpaid, time consuming, exhausting work.
Turning the clock back is not the answer to any of our modern issues. There is simply too great a risk that you bring back the ills that went alongside the previous solution, rather than making actual progress. In the case of laundry, the attendant ills are gender disparity and class divide. That’s a hefty risk to run with the issue of who is sorting out the underwear.
The way forward has to be about getting smarter, more efficient, more joined up in our thinking. I want a washing machine. I want it powered by a static bicycle. Currently people drive to gyms in order to use static bikes where nothing is done with that energy. I want places were static bikes sit next to washing machines and spin driers. Slow pedalling for the less athletic, while your hyper-fit gym bunnies run the spin driers. More fun and efficient than scrubbing by hand, no underclass and no gender divisions.
But for now I’ve got some wringing out to do.
(Anyone worried that I am living in a patriarchal scenario that means I get an unfair share of the domestics, I should mention that Tom does all the toilet and cat litter related stuff, it is an entirely workable trade-off!)