Biting The Dust: The Joys of Housework

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Horsfield, Margaret
St. Martin's Press 1998
ISBN 0-312-21214-3
Date finished: 2007-06-16

An illuminating discussion of the role housework -- cleaning, tidying, fixing -- takes in people's lives, especially in the lives of women. Housework can be a numbing chore for some people, and for others a reassuring routine. We all vary in our tolerance for disorder, and for different types of disorder: some people can't stand messy floors while others only worry about their bathrooms; some worry obsessively about the state of their dishcloths while ignoring the shower curtain. Interviewing friends, Horsfield finds that the quirks and different standards are without end.

For many centuries housekeeping was a twice- or once-per-year task; growing food and making clothing took precendence. In environments such as filthy cities, people often didn't even bother to clean at all! In the 19th century cleanliness began to be associated with moral purity and uprightness, and charities for assuring public sanitation began to be formed. This was reinforced by the acceptance of the germ theory of disease, which added scientific justification to the moral arguments, and by the early decades of the 20th it was accepted that clean homes are a necessity.

Two factors then conspired to turn housework into a heavy burden for women. First, economic growth provided alternative jobs for the lower classes and servants became an expensive rarity; instead of a staff of cleaners, the housewife had to do everything herself. Second, manufacturers wanted to increase their sales and invented all sorts of specialized cleaning products, running advertising campaigns to push the need for them. It used to be enough to sweep and to launder; now we are told to polish, wax, and disinfect. Do we gain much from all this cleaning beyond a free-floating sense of guilt that we still aren't doing enough? Probably not. Few people have homes that are actually health risks, and those cleansing products cost money and aren't good for the environment.

Tagged: etiquette, housework


%T Biting The Dust
%S The Joys of Housework
%G ISBN 0-312-21214-3
%A Horsfield, Margaret
%P 284pp
%D 1998
%C New York
%I St. Martin's Press
%@ 2007-06-16
%K etiquette, housework

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