Thursday, October 15, 2009

Feminism and Toilet Cleaning

Feministing posted this Girl's Only Cleaning Trolley toy on their site. Seeing this toy reminded me of a discussion I once had with a professor in a Gender Theory class. I was a beginning graduate student and that conversation made me realize that Gender Studies had long gone in a direction I really don't want to follow.

The professor's argument was that certain obligations in society (such as, for example, cleaning the toilets) have been traditionally reserved for women. So what we have to do now as feminists is  make society understand that these female obligations are deserving of respect. "But shouldn't we rather make toilet-cleaning non-gender-specific?" I asked, in a state of bewilderment. "That's impossible," the professor said. "We should learn to respect the work women do around the house and see it as socially valuable." "Why should it be women's work?" I asked. "Well, somebody's got to clean the toilets!" was the professor's response.

Basically, this approach consists of preserving the status quo as to the gendered division of labor in the home. The only difference is that it proposes to throw women a bone of "respect" for these jobs that nobody likes.
Honestly, I prefer an honest patriarchalist to this hypocritical quasi-feminist approach any day.

That was the day when I got disillusioned with the field of Gender Studies for good. Of course, there was also a day when another Gender Theory professor gave us a lecture about men being more rational and women being closer to nature and more animalistic. So my disillusionment grew and prospered.

Then recently I decided to collaborate with the feminist group here on campus organized by the Department of Gender Studies. During the meeting of the group, I discovered that it is involved in the following feminist activities:

1) bake sales;
2) making origami flowers;
3) cupcake parties where every woman who is menstruating on that day gets an extra cupcake.

I'm sure that after bake sales, cupcakes and origami-making, the defense of toilet cleaning as a respected womanly pursuit isn't far behind.


Anonymous said...

Damn, what school did you go to? In my Womens and Gender Studies classes, gendered division of labour was disscussed, but under the conclusion that this labour is viewed as less valuable because it is gendered (we specifically discussed caregiving)and that it should be both valued and gender neutral. I can't imagine the womens and gender studies professors at my school doing this. Then again, our women and gender studies department is closely linked with queer studies and queer groups. Try telling butch lesbians, trans people, genderqueers that certain work is 'women's work'. They'll either spend the rest of the year laughing in your face or just walk out.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I guess I was lucky to avoid this in my courses, too.

Mind you, I did encounter some definite "men are rational/women are naturalistic" types there.

But we discussed gendered labour with the whole view of how it gets de-valued because it is women's work and both aspects (de-gendering it AND valuing it even if it remains gendered) are important.

Clarissa said...

Yes, I know, the rational men vs emotional women argument always bugs me beyond belief.

The worst thing was that nobody except me seemed to disagree with the professor's views on toilet cleaning. And actually, the professor was gay and very active in queer studies.

Clarissa said...

We'll see what happens once I join our feminist organization and how it can be changed.

Maggie said...

Hey Bloggers,

I am a student at Boston University working on a school project for a new toilet paper + cleaning product. Check out the link and please take the survey, your results would be greatly appreciated!