On Twitter yesterday one of the Twits* said “forget birth control pills. The real liberator of women was the washing machine.” I may be paraphrasing slightly, but that was the gist. And I was irate. Irate enough to write a blog post on Saturday.
Because I know the person who came up with this half-witty remark thought they were being cute. But there were so very many ignorant, anti-woman, anti-family things about that statement that I was seething.
First off, let’s start with the basic truth that this day in age babies are wonderful and wanted and welcome. That’s a bit of a change from 150 years ago–even 100 years ago. Back then, for most women “having sex” invariably meant “having babies”. Which meant that you ended up pregnant a lot of the time. Pregnant in a time when giving birth was a lot more risky for your health. Pregnant in a time before prenatal vitamins, ultrasounds, fetal monitors, ready blood transfusions. Pregnant in a time before doctors knew about the benefits of washing hands between deliveries, a time when dying in childbirth was a heavy statistical probability.
Assuming you lived through the pregnancy (which could have been your first or your ninth) and your baby lived through the delivery, you had to find a way to feed her and clothe her. If you were lucky enough to live on a piece of land that you owned or had permission to work that meant you could grow the food yourself. If you lived crowded in a city you had to buy from wherever you could. Keep in mind this was also before the FDA. You’d have to get your food from a market where flies swarmed on the meat and the vegetables were dirty with soil and fertilizer. Fertilizer made from feces. And no matter where you lived you most likely made all the clothes for your baby yourself. Every new baby was an exponential increase in the amount of work the mother would have to do. And she would have to do most of it while pregnant with yet another baby in many cases.
Before you get a wrong idea in your head let me assure you that I love the idea of babies, of big families (like the one I come from). I’m not one to think we should stop having babies altogether or that babies are a curse. I do think they are a blessing. But I am not ignorant enough to assume that a baby is just a cute accessory that requires no pain, no work and no food. So I think it is a very good thing that there is birth control that prevents conception.**
Compare that to a washing machine. Something that, yes, does save time and effort. But let us go back to that baby. The washing machine will clean the clothes more easily but will it make the clothes? Feed the baby? Ensure a healthy pregnancy, uneventful delivery and living child who makes it to her third birthday without dying?
And let us also examine the more insidious hidden idea (boy was I glad Rachel caught it too.) The idea that the laundry is the “woman’s work” and that she is liberated by having a machine to do some of her job. A healthy family is one where all parties share the workload as best they can. Washing machines are a family convenience, not merely a “woman’s tool”. My husband does the bulk of our laundry, actually. He’d scoff if you told him the washer and dryer were as liberating as the pill. Because he’d tell you just how much harder he would have to work to pay for all those babies. The pill liberates men by keeping their responsibilities managable. Even in a family where the mother is the breadwinner the father still has obligations which only increase along with the number of children. It helps families by making sure that the parents can have as many children as they can afford.
There is just no contest between a time-saving device and a life-altering medical choice.
**still no fan of those methods of birth control which terminate a pregnancy.
*yes. I meant it this way.