I don’t know if it’s the green shoots that have appeared in the garden or what, but I’ve had an urge to do a bout of spring cleaning today. This is, of course, practically impossible with E in the house. I managed to clean the bathroom while she sat in her cot for about 10 minutes but she doesn’t take kindly to being left alone for long. And who can blame her? The problem with me writing every minute that she’s asleep is that other things sort of take a back seat. And while we’re not the filthiest of people and I believe a little dirt is good for you, sometimes you look about and think “this is enough now.”
So I’ve decided the best thing is to get a cleaner. *cue raised eyebrows and questions* “Aren’t you a feminist? Do you really want to get a cleaner?”
Well yes and yes. Let’s look at it this way. First, there’s absolutely nothing liberating about having a full time job, a family and still having to do your own cleaning. It just contributes to exhaustion.
Having said that, having a cleaner is a feminist issue. And a well known liberal dilemma. If you’re for equality, how can you be for using someone to do your clearing up? This is mainly because as a society we don’t value cleaners. They are largely badly paid, have few employment rights (because of the way they’re taken on) and it’s hard work. It’s not a career choice for many (any?) and is usually taken on by people who have no other employment choice. So to employ one or to use a cleaning firm is often to ensure you’re screwing over someone else.
Right wingers don’t have this issue. They quote Adam Smith who said that you couldn’t respect a job that needed doing again as soon as you’d finished it. While cleaning things over and over again is obviously one of the most frustrating things about it as a chore/ job, it shouldn’t mean that we treat people who do the cleaning badly. But we do. And many of those cleaners are women. Not all, obviously, but many. So it becomes a feminist issue.
I mentioned last week my exasperation with Barbara Ellen’s column about stay-at-home dads, saying that we should welcome their contribution because they might make childcare more cool. Most industries which are seen to be ‘women’s work’ are not as respected as others, including childcare and, in this case, cleaning. Hence bad pay, little respect and few employment rights.
It’s about treatment right? Cleaning is horrible, which is why I imagine it would be the first job people would choose to outsource if they could. So if I solve my liberal’s dilemma by vowing to pay my cleaner good wages, ensure their sickness and holiday rights are cemented, treat them with respect and make them tea/ coffee and biscuits and/ or lunch, is that ok?
I’ve done my fair share of cleaning. I used to clean houses in the summer holidays when I was s student. Two of my mum’s friends paid me, as did my mum, to do their housework. I rather enjoyed it – I retuned their radios, made myself bacon sandwiches and coffee and left their houses looking lovely. One was more satisfying to clean than the other as she had three primary school children and a dog. The other had the sort of house where you couldn’t tell that you’d done anything. The only time I ever felt I’d had an effect there was when I forgot to tune the radio back to Radio 4 and worried about giving them a heart attack when they turned on first thing to find Radio 1 there instead.
These days cleaning has lost its charm and now it just sits on the top of my to do list making feel sluttish. I’m resolved. I’m getting a cleaner. I’ll be nice.
Except. I can’t afford a cleaner. I’d need a good pay rise before I could get one in. So I’ve decided to invent one. She is a stereotypical cleaner, an older married lady getting a bit of extra cash in, a heart of gold, her hair bundled up in a scarf and a love of a sneaky gin on a Friday night. She uses her wages to fund a college course about Russian literature and can talk for hours about the hidden meanings behind the lyrics in the first two albums by The Clash. Mrs Jefferies is her name. She refers to herself as “a lady that does.” Everyone say hello.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.