|Feminism was a Response to Dishwashers|
by Julian X  /  non-fiction  /  2 Apr 2008
We shall look back and see, with clarity we cannot have in the midst of things, what drove us. This is true in spite of the loss of those of us who remember not only the passing of these things but what motivated them. Human motivation is almost always a lie: we think we want the new job not because it pays more but because we have always wanted to do that sort of work. Men think they want the young girl and not their ageing wife not for breeding purposes but because she makes them feel young and in love again. Men fight and die for their nations and their gods, not to secure resources or group economic future. To understand this is not to be cynical, nor to condemn: as I said, men do not know their hearts.
Or, rather, their hearts are programmed beasts designed to create motivation for decisions made by other means. Our unconscious brains, always making calculations far beyond ourselves, may determine a good mate by examining facial symmetry, a key indicator of lack of genetic abnormality, or prowess, whether physical, economic, or social (status). What we feel is love. This seems cynical, but is no different from saying that our unconscious brains determine a potential physical threat, whether from a dark alley or a snake, and we feel fear. Fear, like love, is irrational. It is only a byproduct of calculations unknown to us and too complex to fathom.
Societies evolve in similar ways. Scientists understand that evolution occurs socially, as well as individually. This is why bees sacrifice their life to kill a threat: they, and their genes, die; their species, or their nearby kin, are safer. Humans likewise sacrifice themselves for the evolutionary benefit of their families, their kin group, or their larger social groups, whether corporation, nation, religion, race, or species. If there is an invisible hand to capitalism, there is to evolution as well.
Feminism was a response to dishwashers. Men, in their wisdom, invented and marketed such time-saving devices for other men’s wives. The men who invented and marketed were driven by profit. The 1950s ad men sold us not products but feelings: that we could feel good about themselves, be happier, or feel successful. But the men who purchased were driven by sympathy for their wives, by wanting their wives to love them, to be happy, and to give them sex. Not every family could afford maids, but every middle-class family could afford dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and all the machines that would make domestic life easier. What they, en masse, were actually purchasing was a sexual revolution – one inevitable, given enough time between meteors and ice ages, since we developed the opposable thumb.
Go to poor countries and see the great amount of time devoted to housekeeping, to cleaning the slaughtered animals, to washing clothes and dishes, and to all the quotidian things once left to women. In rich nations, household appliances drastically lowered this amount of time. Efficiencies caused by specialization had long removed the need to hunt and to gather. With all the mechanical wonder of the 1950s, women found themselves with more time on their hands than ever before. It should not surprise us that, in the futurism of that era, domestic atomic robots accompanies flying cars: they were merely the extension of where technological evolution was occurring the fastest at the time. So, too, should it not surprise us that the fiction of the era, on the verge of so many social revolutions, strove in propagandistic manner to hold on so tightly to a world on its way out. And so every vision of the future in that time featured perfect domestic housewives, even amid the atomic robots in white aprons and feather duster.
These women, freed from hours of work per day, did not find themselves happier as all – they and their husbands, as well as these devices’ marketers – anticipated. Every worker who sits at home during his vacation knows that idleness produces a particular sort of depression, a chemical mood designed to tell us that we are not advancing our, or our kin’s, lot. This is, incidentally, why we can console ourselves by imagining the idly rich less content than their slaving drones. Increasingly freed as a lot from domestic servitude, 1950s women found their domestic bliss give way to psychotherapy for their deep sense of aimlessness.
And so they went to work. Not, this time, because the total war of the early 1940s required it. They did so because they had dishwashers. Because they had time on their hands and life felt pointless. So they burned their bras and enacted the rituals of social revolution: they decried patriarchy and men in general, but this was mere stuffing. Underneath all the rage and heartstrings, the deeper reasons remained.
Once, not so long ago on a cosmological scale, humans seemed not particularly well-adapted to the environment. They froze in cold that wolves thrived in. They used tools as apes do: simple tools for hunting and smashing open food. No one could have seen, then, that they would so completely take over the planet. They were merely another animal, their brains smaller than many others. But then their tools grew greater and evolved an evolution as complex as the biological. Their dwellings went from the human equivalent of birds’ nests to complicated ones of mud, then stone, then poured concrete and steel. Their tools went from rocks to dishwashers – and, even more lately, to tools too small for the human eye to perceive, tools that could think for themselves, and who biological species designed to serve humanity – at first, tangentially; later, directly. We do not need to see a future in which robots rule to understand that these tools, and their evolution, have influenced our own biological evolution: medicine has made human childbirth so safe that we now even prize girls too thin to accomplish it without assistance.
From a macroscopic viewpoint, the sexual revolution was a direct – and, I dare say, inevitable – response to these tools. Freed from such menial tasks as washing clothes and dishes daily, women found new ways to contribute to society: they went to work, even as they continued their old function of birthing and rearing children – a function from which dishwashers had not – and toold had not yet – relieved them. As two incomes became the family standard, the rich nations increased their global lead – while individuals in them found life in some ways harder, given that the normalization of the two-income family had spurred inflation, particularly in some sectors (e.g. home prices).
Those women going to work didn’t know what they were doing, the part that they were playing in the grand scheme, any more than their husbands and fathers knew when they bought those labor-saving machines. They weren’t protesting sexism: rather, their perception of sexism was a byproduct of their superficial desire to enter the working world and of their deeper desire to feel useful – not only for themselves but, ultimately, to their species.
Soon – sooner than we can imagine, in cosmological terms, but still longer than our limited conscious minds can fathom – we men will ourselves be irrelevant. Our old functions, whether hunting or protecting our kin groups or inseminating women, have already become outmoded. Our main asset now, besides residual needs for cheap insemination techniques and strong workers, is our different outlook and thought process from the female of our species. We retain something of the artistic and brute decision-making prowess for which our male forebears were honored. Women, having wombs and milk producers and birth canals, will remain vital to the species for sometime longer.
We cannot mourn. We are tools too. We will struggle for the survival of our social roles just as many did during the sexual revolution. We may cry for life’s sublimity, should we wish. But we will die and our world will die, and all we can do is understand the how of it, since the why eludes us so magnificently and even seems, with its rich history of delusion and error without promise of success, an idle pursuit.
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