The Hari Putar Dialogues - 48
(The Tribune ; London ; 9 March : It may sound odd, but the Vatican has said the washing machine did more to 'liberate' women than the contraceptive pill.
In a long editorial marking International Women's Day, Vatican's official newspaper 'L'Osservatore Romano' pronounced the washing machine more important for the liberation of women than the pill as it had freed generations from the drudgery of household chores.
'The washing machine and the emancipation of women: put the powder, close the lid and relax,' reads the article headline, above a black and white picture of two women in the 1950s admiring a front-loading machine.)
Putar: There is a report in the Vatican's official newspaper to the effect that washing machines have done more to liberate women than the contraceptive pill.
Hari: Really Putar? In India there are millions of women who still don't use a washing machine. Does this mean they are not liberated?
Putar: Liberated from household drudgery, Papaji. That's what the paper says. The eulogy to a domestic convenience which most women in developed countries now take for granted quoted the words of late American feminist Betty Friedan, who in 1963 described 'the sublime mystique to being able to change the bed sheets twice a week instead of once'.
Hari: 1963. Has the washing machine been around for so long?
Putar: Even longer apparently. The first rudimentary washing machines appeared as far back as 1767, noted the article, with the first electrical models being produced at the beginning of the 20th century.
Hari: But I'm sure those earlier models were expensive and unreliable.
Putar: That is true. As the newspaper says technology has improved to the point that there is now 'the image of the super woman, smiling, made-up and radiant among the appliances of her house'.
Hari: Well, the washing machine may have liberated the woman from household chores but the pill gave her the freedom not to get pregnant. Otherwise the women were just like child making machines in earlier days.
Putar: So you feel the pill has liberated the modern woman more?
Hari: I think so. Even the legalization of abortion has liberated her more.
Putar: But you see the Catholic Church is opposed to birth control and abortion. So they don't look upon this as part of the liberation of women.
Hari: What about being able to work outside the home?
Putar: What about it?
Hari: What does the Pope think about that?
Putar: I'm sure he approves.
Hari: That possibility of working outside may have liberated the woman more than the washing machine.
Putar: But without the washing machine maybe the woman could not have started working outside.
Hari: You mean that she would have been too busy washing clothes.
Hari: Of course not. How many clothes do you need to wash? And working women could have servants wash for them.
Putar: That's true.
Hari: So money liberates.
Putar: Exactly. But money also enslaves.
Hari: I agree.
Putar: Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Women have been released from household drudgery because of the washing machine, according to the Vatican newspaper, but the paper ignores one very important development, especially for women in the Western world.
Hari: And what is that?
Putar: Now men also help in the household chores.
Hari: That's true.
Putar: They will wash dishes, sometimes cook in the kitchen and are involved in the raising of their children more than their father's were.
Hari: That's true.
Putar: So apart from the washing machine, now there is a man who helps the woman more.
Putar: So the liberation of the woman goes hand in hand with the enslavement of the man.
Hari: That's a way of looking at it, I suppose.
Putar: Or would you say this is a kind of men's liberation?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.