I just hung up my family's laundry this morning behind our house in Israel's Western Galilee. I know it's not a big deal, really, but I felt very green.
I also felt very torn. It took me about 30 minutes. And while I was feeling ecologically correct, the whole time I was reminding myself: You're supposed to be focused on your career! You're supposed to be working on writing! You're supposed to believe that your mind is too precious to waste and not wasting your time trying to maximize clothespin usage!
I wondered what had become of me. In this age of feminism, I had gone back to being a laundress. What was next? Becoming a wet nurse to save new mothers from buying plastic bottles?
Seriously, if hanging the laundry to dry in the sun is a political act, then not hanging your laundry is also a political act. After all these years working in the house, women are finally able to step outside and into the work place. And now I feel like there's a subtle movement to send us back home by convincing us, in the name of ecology, to shun modern appliances. Which is what cut down our housework and enabled us to get out of the house in the first place.
Here's another example of this retrograde movement that I've seen. When I got married (for the first time, if you have to know), back in the Seventies (if you have to know that, too), all my friends and I made a big fuss about keeping our childhood names. It was so important for us to have a name of our own -- we'd never call them our maiden names - and not to feel like we had traded in our very identity by marrying and taking on our husband's moniker. I still remember my ex-mother-in-law wondering how people would address invitations to her son and me if we weren't going to be "Mr. and Mrs."
But my step-daughter saw my choice completely differently. She was a witness when I walked into her high school for a conference with her teacher who called me "Mrs. K." (The initial of her last name.) Then, she heard me being called "Mrs. S" when I had a parent-teacher conference for one of my biological kids. Finally, she heard me being called "Ms. B" when I had to interview the school principal for the local paper. I found my three different names -- depending on my role as step-mom, mom, or career woman -- amusing, but my step-daughter simply found it confusing. So when she got married last year, she took on her husband's name, with nary a backwards glance at the name-struggle my generation of women had endured.
So it is with laundry. We worked so hard not to have to do these chores but the exigencies of ecology might be forcing us back to scrubbing in the river. Moreover, before I do any household task, conflicting voices are squabbling in my head. Everything begets a question of political and ecological correctness.
Which saves more water: doing the dishes by hand or running the dishwasher? And if I put the dishes in the dishwasher, which one of the kids will empty it? If I ask one of my daughters, will she think I asked her just because she's a girl? And if I ask one of my sons, will he say that he's had enough of my affirmative action plan and it's about time the girls chip in and help?
I wonder if men feel as torn when it comes to ecologically incorrect endeavors. For example, you never hear about protests against men zooming around in their sports cars when they could be taking a bus or a train. Driving a Ferrari seems like a privilege that a guy has earned, despite the effect it might have on global warming. And all's quiet on the dry cleaning front, too. We all know that the chemicals that most dry cleaners use are polluters, and yet we let guys bring in their button-downs without a fight, despite all that plastic wrapping and all those hangers that you never know what to do with. (I once used one as a visual aid during a pro-choice rally to remind people of what illegal abortions used to be like, but that's another story.)
I thought of all these current issues in all the time it took me to hang up sixteen pairs of socks, eight pairs of underpants, and a lot of shirts and shorts. Still, it was nice to be outside with the sun on my shoulders and the laundry on the line and the birds chirping, and feeling proud that I had reduced my carbon footprint - at least for the day. Then I went back to my typing.