Quick: what do the washing machine, the birth control pill, and the Internet all have in common?
Hint: It’s not the Maytag repair man. Or Al Gore.
Give up? At one time or another, each has been credited with liberating women. Go with me, if you will, to a dark and scary place: a time before washing machines. Between the heating of the water, the scrubbing of the stains, the wringing of the soap, and the pinning of the clothes to the line, well, women hardly had time for anything other than laundry… which was actually probably kind of okay, as there was no such thing as Ortho Tri-Cyclen back in those days either, and, well, no time for nookie at least meant no risk of another kid to keep in freshly laundered Osh Kosh B’gosh.
The pill, well, that connection’s equally easy to understand. Finally, women could screw with abandon! Or at least with a greatly reduced chance of a lifelong reminder of a night of screwing with abandon. No longer would our dreams have to take a backseat to an accidental pregnancy. With the choice of when–and if–we’d become mothers in our own control, all kinds of other choices–like hey, what do I want to do with this life of mine??–materialized.
(Given the above, is it any wonder sex-atop-the-spin-cycle is a female fantasy of archetypal proportions?)
And then, there’s the Internet. Uh… This one I’m having a little bit of trouble with. Actually, I agree that a case could be made for the freedom afforded by the wild ‘n wooly worldwide interwebs, but it’s Virginia Heffernan’s take, from this week’s NYT magazine, that gives me pause. Check it:
A strategically arranged notebook computer, positioned like a dad’s broadsheet in the Eisenhower era, has become a force field against domestic distractions. While you beetle-brow it through your ‘work’–searching for your airline-rewards password, finding out who Justin Bieber is, obsessing about freckles on my-skincheck.com–you become, by magic, uninterruptable…
Thanks to the Internet, women who prefer never, ever to leave the house to enter the unpredictable world of vice presidents and printer hubs get to pursue fame and fortune as greedily as anyone. (The phrase, for your records, is “work independently.”) Our vaunted verbal skills come through just fine in instant messaging, and we get to skip the stuff that requires broad shoulders, a baritone and understanding of wolf packs: the dread face-to-face interactions. Sure, all those deals that were supposed to go down on the golf course or at the urinal — they probably still happen there. But now, if we so choose, we have the means to text-pester the golfers all the livelong day. Show them which colleague will not be ignored!
I submit, in all seriousness, that women have benefitted more (even) than men by telecommuting technology. Downloading school forms, pumping breast milk, tending to a sick kid, loading up the crockpot, straightening the kitchen — all this can be done with a BlackBerry in hand. None of this can be done — done well, anyway — at the office.
Women, of course, have the same complaints about wired culture that men do: anxiety, insomnia, no escape. But working from home does mean avoiding the “second shift,” that ’90s horror, in which the workday was said to be followed by a day of housework and child care, somehow all in 24 hours. With the Internet, work and life have become one long shift. But isn’t that what middle-class life is meant to be?
So the question, dear reader, is this: that women can now do all of the work–or neither work nor engage with their home lives– without ever entering the world outside their homes, this is liberation?
If so, I say, bring on the chains.