Monday, 25 April 2011

Clean and green: the politics of laundry detergent

Some of you may have seen a news item tonight on the various commercial evening news programs, concerning women’s love of cleaning. Or you might have read it in the Sydney Morning Herald (18 April 2011 in Lifestyle). If you did, you would know by now that the majority of modern women actually like housework.

The local mid-north coast news program on de facto channel 7 trumpeted this headline. It seems that modern, working progressive women love their household chores. [faint cheer in the background] They don’t want their partners to help. [slightly louder, somewhat quizzical, cheer is heard*] They don’t want to hand it over to someone else. [more confident cheering now] These selfless, dynamic beings, working around 70 hours a week, wanted to do their own housework. [raucous, unrestrained cheering in the next room!] They did not want their partners to help, particularly with the laundry. Partners mixed colours and whites, and delicates with jeans. This is not acceptable practice to the modern, progressive woman.

And to back up this fabulous story, Channel de facto 7 interviewed some women from the mid north coast to see if it was true.

Lo and behold, 3 out of 3 women interviewed said that they agreed with the survey. Oh yes, they cried. We do like our housework. We just got on with it in our day. It is satisfying to have a clean house. But wait! What is that by-line down in small print on the bottom of my screen? Ah, I see. They are all from the CWA. Could this perchance be a biased sample and not truly representative of the modern, progressive woman as outlined in the survey?

Initially, I thought this was a mid-north coast survey and a plot to get women back into those Aga-fuelled kitchens. So I looked it up using Google. I found a mid-north coast playgroup with the survey headlines. It asked its members if they agreed with it. Strangely, 29 out of 30 said no, they didn’t. They didn’t like housework. One took the sponsoring web group to task, accusing them of misquoting the survey in the same way the SMH had done. She felt this was unacceptable, and stated that the SMH and other media had not in fact reported the survey correctly. She also gave the name of it: “Wringing out the future”.

Wringing out the future???? This sounds like something my mother did with a mangle years ago. What sort of name is this for a survey?

I’ll tell you what sort of survey has a name like this. It is a survey sponsored by a laundry product company, who have a laundry powder to sell to modern, progressive women. Did this fact escape the media outlet you heard this story on? It certainly seemed to escape the notice of the SMH and de facto channel 7.

So what else did I discover from this survey? I found that, among other things, that 85% of those surveyed believed that their partners only did half the amount of housework they themselves did. [near-suffocating chortling from the next room*] The same number said they did most of the laundry (fancy that, in a survey sponsored by a washing product!). Staggeringly, most said that they did not begrudge the time spent on household tasks; progressive women actually enjoyed them.

As none of my female friends and only 1 out of 30 on the play group website liked housework, I was very suspicious of this result. But then I read further.

Yes, there are some household chores women don’t mind. They are parenting, cooking and shopping. Well, duh. What about all those other chores like cleaning and ironing and washing the dog? But wait, it says that women would happily relinquish cleaning if given the opportunity. Fancy. Was this reported in your sound bite of media? It wasn’t in mine.

On the next page, 86% said they did do the laundry, and 85% said they would rather do it themselves. They do not trust their husbands, who got it wrong. [lots of humph-humph-humphing from the next room] Progressive women take pride in their family’s appearance, and do not trust their laundry to anyone else. And I quote from p.5:

Due to prior negative outcomes, some partners were encouraged to lend a hand elsewhere, rather than the laundry.

So we have established that women don’t mind cooking, parenting and shopping, and refuse to outsource their laundry. I bet you can’t guess what comes next.

86% of progressive women find smarter ways to get their domestic work done faster and more efficiently, freeing up their time for more important things. They do not waste their time with untried solutions. They rely on information from their peers. They seek guidance from online search engines (well, I have to agree with this one, don’t I?), media sources (not confident about this one) and key opinion leaders (mmmmm, who could this be? Perhaps people who conduct surveys for products?)

Under the title “Lean on me”, we find that smart=cleaner+greener. Progressive women want “results driven requirements” whilst environmental impacts are limited. 87% have had bad experiences with green laundry products. 12% felt such products were worse for the environment, as clothes had to be rewashed or far more powder used.

And progressive women are prepared to pay a premium price for a laundry product that offered them a “cleaner, greener wash”.

The last page of this survey is the name of the product. I am not going to name it. No free advertising from me.

I am outraged at our undiscriminating rural media outlets. In a bid to produce something controversial on the traditionally ‘down time’ of Easter, our TV stations are running this rubbish as a serious survey of women, and backing it up with a carefully selected threesome of rural women. How much free airtime is this product ultimately going to get from the reporting of this apparently unbiased ‘survey’? Worse, how many tired and stretched women will be negatively impacted as a result of a ‘survey’ that places their experiences outside of all these other surveyed women?

Shame on you all, TV and newspapers alike. This is not journalism, it is opportunistic claptrap at its best, and potentially damaging to vulnerable women at its worst.

*cheers and inserted chortling supplied by non progressive, antiquated male partner

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