Saturday, November 03, 2018

Are Appliances Real Servants?

Hanging Out the Linen by Charles Courtney Curran

I got a comment on an old post, "Questions and Answers About the Proverbs 31 Woman" and my answer was too long for the comments, which are limited in size.

Here is the comment:

Those "servants' that she had, we have in: washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, stove tops, ovens, faucets with hot water, toilets, stores to buy clothes in, and so many more things that women in those days didn't have. Therefore, we all do have "servants!" :)

Here are my more of my  thoughts on this matter:

These things are aids, and tools, rather than servants.

I have tested out this assumption that "the appliances are servants", but it is not sufficient.While they are "aids" and "tools" like brooms, washboards,  clotheslines and other cleaning and serving tools of previous eras,  they are still not entirely servants, and here is why:

A servant would never leave the clean laundry plucked from the line in a basket for the lady of the house to fold. The homemaker has to do it today, to complete the job.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. To conclude that a washer and a dryer is a complete servant, is not observing the matter quite the way it really is.

Labor saving devices are not equivalent to the servants described in the Proverbs 31 passage.

I've visited places  where servants are in every home. Even though they use the washer and dryers, vacuums, blenders, dishwashers, these servants are on their feet all day long washing the things that wont go in the dishwasher, sweeping the floors and carpets, putting away the clean towels, putting the sheets back on the beds, going to the grocery stores  (in cars) and shopping for food, preparing the food, then setting the table, bringing food to the table, removing the used dishes after a meal, wiping the table, and all the things you and I do in our own homes.  There are no appliances that do all that.

A servant would not say "You've got a washer and a dryer and a dishwasher and a stove.. Why do you need a servant? Why do you need to hire me?  With all that equipment, you already have servants! You have electric servants."  A servant or maid or hired workman knows that in spite of the electronic aids, there is always extra work to do,  otherwise they would quit their jobs and say that everyone that has a dishwasher or a sweeper already has a servant.

We can't think of these things as complete servants, or the clothes would stay on the line, the dishes would stay in the sink and never get loaded in the dishwasher. (I prove it every day!) Someone has to load the dishwasher. Servants today would load the dishwasher, and then put everything away after the dishes are dry, but to call the dishwasher a servant, is not the complete picture. The dishwasher only washes and rinses. It does not insert the dishes inside, it does not take them out. It does not wipe the cabinets. There is not a huge time difference between doing it yourself and using the dishwasher. I've experimented and observed that it is a great help, but not the complete service people think it is.

I hope this explains my point of view.

The Victorians invented most of the time saving devices,  for example, the home sewing machine, but it is not a full time or complete servant. We still have to cut out the cloth (no machine will lay out the pattern) and then we have to sit at the machine.  Servants would do a complete job. Appliances only do part of the job.  We might not have to chop our food by hand but we do have to cook it and clean up the stove afterwards.

The same is with the computer. If you want to write some worksheets for students, you have to sit there and do it, and the printer will copy it off but it still requires a great deal of effort on your part.

The servants  of the Proverbs 31 woman carried out  the work we still as housewives do today: go get the produce out of the garden, prepare the meals, hang up the clothes, make the beds, sweep, clear the table, set the table, clean out the pantry etc.

In your comment, you listed "stores to buy clothes in, which they didn't have back in those days". From my research and study, I have found that it was quite common to have merchants that sold clothing throughout history.  The description of the Proverbs 31 woman said that she gave her hand made garments to the merchant, who sold them in the  market. Markets have always existed and clothes were available to buy. That's really nothing to do with the subject of servants, but I wanted to clear up the notion that people "in olden times" didn't have shops with ready made clothing. On the Passover journeys it was a custom to do some shopping in the markets before going back home. Apparently these middle eastern markets of the "Bible times" were huge and teaming with life and merchandise.

You are right in saying a store is like a servant, in the sense that we do not have to labor to make our own clothes. Stores can be a type of servant, since everything is already prepared, and even the produce is already picked. However we still have to go and get it and load it in and out of the car and put it away. A real servant would do all that for you.  I grew up in a very large family and the grocery shopping was time consuming hard work, although we appreciated not having to produce all those groceries ourselves.

There just isn't a complete labor-free device. They still haven't invented an electric gadget to clean the toilet or wash the tub and sink and mop the floor in a bathroom. Washing and disinfecting around all those things in the bathroom requires human effort. We may use aids such as scrub brushes, but the soap and wash rags cannot do anything if left on their own. We have vacuums but they can do nothing without our own labor.

But all in all, its good to have as many conveniences as you can to make life easier for you and give you lots of rest.

And if you are comparing the working woman to the homemaker full time, while calling the washer and dryer and dishwasher "servants", the homemaker has no greater advantage over the working woman; they all have the same appliances. The woman at home has more time for the extra labor required to complete the appliance jobs.

I have heard the "appliances as servants" several times but I never thought it was a very well-researched conclusion.

When women at home are overcome with work,  falling behind due to illness, or other obligations, unavoidable emergencies, etc. there aren't really any electric servants that can help as well as the human hands of friends and relatives and maybe even a few hired servants to help them get their houses back into control. There just aren't any electric conveniences that can do that all on their own.

But thanks for your kind comment.

If someone could get the dishwasher to also clear the table and wipe it clean, then rinse off the dishes and put them inside the washer, then unload and put away, and also clear off the working space in the kitchen and mop the floor, I would say we are making progress with the electric servants.

A friend just phoned me and said these appliances are power tools for the home. We all like power tools and I especially like the electric screwdriver and sander, but I would never say it was my servant. Power tools are all useless unless there is a person using them.  The same goes for our dishwashers and other things: they are totally useless without someone working them.

If you call a washer and dryer and dishwasher and sweeper a "servant" and you have to hire a servant, and the servant uses these servants, then  I suppose the appliances would be servants of the servants.


Rozy Lass said...

We used to have five servants; but they all grew up and moved out on their own.

Seriously though, I know exactly what you mean. Yes, we have machines to help with our labors, but there is still much to do as homemakers. Somedays I truly wish I had real servants to do all the mundane tasks so I could spend my time in other pursuits. You know, kind of like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, "If I Were a Rich Man". But that wasn't God's plan for my life, so I make the best of it, find joy in my homemaking tasks and try to work fast enough to have time for the other things.

Thanks for sharing your insights.

Lydia said...

There is a belief going around, that homemakers have nothing to do because they have all these labor saving conveniences. They make remarks like, "How long should it take to do housework? With all the labor saving devices, the homemaker should have plenty of spare time to earn a living."

Emmarinda said...

When one works outside the home, I think two things happen. First, one's schedule becomes more rigid so as to make more efficient use of limited time. This is something we all could do even if we do not work outside the home, however, and then have blocks of leisure time to spend in the afternoon, as did my grandmother, mother and the housewives of old. They would often have an afternoon tea time with neighbors dropping in, or they could take naps, or sit outside with some handwork for a bit on nice days. My experience with working outside the home often takes away those opportunities and leads to this more regimented way of living. Without the added down-time, relaxation and hospitality pretty much cease to exist. I remember being very busy at a full-time job, and trying desperately to get some yard work done on a Saturday, when a lovely young family, friends of our son, stopped by unexpectedly. I found myself fighting feelings of frustration and resentment. This is no way to live, but I think it has become the way of life for most people now. They are all in the stores on Sunday afternoon and evening, often with children in tow, scrambling to get necessary provisions in for the week ahead. The other thing that can happen (and has also been my experience) when one works outside the home is that sheer exhaustion sets in the minute the car lands back in the driveway. Most of the time, I would not feel like doing anything when I got home. Labor-saving devices or not, I wasn't motivated to be the other half of that labor team in the same way that I do when I am not working. So yes, women who work outside the home can still keep up pretty well if they have the energy and are extremely efficient (especially if no one is home all day to mess up the house). But I really don't like living like a tightly scheduled robot. In fact, it feels like one begins to have more in common with their labor-saving tools than with being human.

Unknown said...

People also forget that the Proverbs 31 woman was also a law-keeping Jew. We are in the age of grace. She had the weight of the law on her back as well.

Outdoors said...

I actually think that gadgets do not save time that much. When clotheswashers were invented, what happened: people just started to wash their clothes more! I am sure the actual time used for clotheswashing has remained the same.

I have a dishwasher but quite often I feel that filling and emptying it takes just as much time as washing the dishes by myself. And is far more annoying.

Vacuumer? Moving it around takes just as much time as brooming the floors, and you still have to sweep them manually. And it makes most horrendous noice. If we did not have a dog, I would never EVER vacuum.

When I whip cream, I do it manually (I have a beater that has a string inside it, so it is easier), because electric beater is so noisy. Doing it manually takes maybe 2 minutes longer. ETC.

Lydia said...

outdoors, yes, exactly: my mother observed that the new appliances in her day in the 1950s just made her busier. She washed more often, and swept more often. The kitchen appliances are not easy to clean up, and they take up so much space. I often find it easier to chop, mix, blend by hand. One spoon and one bowl, and easy cleanup. As my appliances have worn out I have not replaced them. Mr. S. makes his cofee using a handy filter that sits on the cup, which he can get two or three servings, always incredibly fresh. The little filter cone thing that sits on the cup takes very little space.

Lydia said...

outdoors, yes, exactly: my mother observed that the new appliances in her day in the 1950s just made her busier. She washed more often, and swept more often. The kitchen appliances are not easy to clean up, and they take up so much space. I often find it easier to chop, mix, blend by hand. One spoon and one bowl, and easy cleanup. As my appliances have worn out I have not replaced them. Mr. S. makes his coffee using a handy filter that sits on the cup, which he can get two or three servings, always incredibly fresh. The little filter cone thing that sits on the cup takes very little space.

PeacockMan said...

When our dryer broke down my bride had me erect an old fashion clothes line like her mom had and then made a small investment of clothespins. ( who uses that word now days?) But every thing else stayed the same. To my surprise she really enjoyed going outside and hanging the wet clothes. She shared she loved bringing the outdoors inside much like the smell of a tomato still attached to the vine. Sometimes old school is the best school.😉

Dianne said...

Very well said, Emmarinda.

Dianne said...

I so agree with all of you about how the new devices probably do not really save all that much time, as well as adding a lot of noise to our homes! I line dry our clothes all the time, even in cold weather (and use a basement line in winter). I also don't seem to replace gadgets ....preferring the old ways in the kitchen! Thanks for this post, Lydia!!

Lydia said...

one thing I do realize is that so many foods in the grocery stores really are like having something done for you by a servant. I have not had to cut meat since 1972 when the stores started selling it already cut. A lot of foods are trimmed and cut for us that we had to laboriously do ourselves. That saves a lot of time. I'm always so thankful I can get things already sliced, chopped or cut.

Lydia said...

Adrienne, yes thats a good observation. There was a lot more preparation for the feasts and fasts of the Old testament, and the Proverbs 31 woman would have been a part of that. In the original post I suggested the Prov. 31 was merely a description of an ideal, not a real person, which seemed to suggest it was a rarity to find someone so perfect.