Feminism, class, and the problem of privilege: Caitlin Moran on plumbers

Has anyone read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman? This book is so damn good. I’ve been wanting to read it since it came out in 2011, but only got to it last month. Moran is British, she started out as a teen writer for a rock magazine and became an award winning journalist.

How to be a Woman

There is so much that is great about this book, but here’s a section I found particularly interesting and original.

First, Moran quotes a column from The Guardian called “What I’m Really Thinking” written by a cleaner:

Sometimes…I ponder the ironies of the job: for example, that all the ironing consists of men’s clothing. In a bid to escape domesticity, women are refusing to iron their husband’s shirts. Congratulations: your act of feminism means the job is shunted onto a different woman, assigning her a different rank.

Moran responds:

“I’ve seen this idea put forward a hundred times– that a proper feminist would do her own hoovering. Germaine Greer cleans her own lavvy, and Emily Wilding Davis threw herself under a horse, hands still piney fresh from Mr. Muscle oven cleaner. On this basis alone, how many women have had to conclude, sighing as they hire a cleaner, that they can’t, then, be feminists?

But of course, the hiring of domestic help isn’t a case of women oppressing other women, because WOMEN DID NOT INVENT DUST. THE STICKY RESIDUE THAT COLLECTS ON THE KETTLE DOES NOT COME OUT OF WOMEN’S VAGINAS…

Mess is a problem of humanity. Domestica is the concern of all. A man hiring a male cleaner would be seen as simple employment. Quite how a heterosexual couple hiring a female cleaner ends up a betrayal of feminism isn’t terribly clear– unless you believe that running a household is in some way:

(a) an inarguable duty of womenkind– that, in addition can

(b) only ever be done out of love, and never for cash, because that somehow “spoils”  the magic of the household. As if the dishes know they’ve been washed by hired help, instead of the woman of the house, and will all feel sad.

This is, clearly– to use the technical term– total bullshit. There are places that will bleach your anus for you…If you have mines in your field, you can pay someone to risk their life removing them. If you want to watch people pound each other’s nasal cartilage to a pulp with their fists, you can go see cage fighting….And yet, somehow, in the midst of all this, it’s still wrong for a woman in North London to employ someone to clean the house. When I was 16, I was a cleaner…Twenty years later, I now have  a cleaner myself. And having a cleaner has nothing to do with feminism. If a middle-class woman is engaging in anti-feminist activity by hiring a woman to do the cleaning, then surely, a middle class man is engaging in class oppression by hiring a plumber?”

Update Great comment from Somebody42:

I think what’s more telling is that, even though the cleaner is ironing the man’s shirts, she blames the woman for having someone else iron them — not the man they actually belong to. Of course, no one will call the cleaner “anti-feminist” for doing so. I realize this is a restatement of your point (a), but it just grates on me so badly!