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Things I am doing which are NOT MY DISSERTATION Part 1 – Cleaning

August 4, 2011

On my fridge, I currently have a little note that reads thus:

Dear H,

Living in squalor is not a feminist act.


Your better self

This is to remind me of several things, first and foremost that my better self does actually love me, even though I keep telling myself otherwise.

Secondly, it is that just because you have important, serious, public sphere things to do, this is not an excuse not to meet what, for those of us with no disabilities or health conditions that preclude us from doing so, is more or less simply meeting the basic minimum standards for living independently as a grown-up.* I wrote the note to myself while I was preparing for an interview. It was an interview for a fully-funded PhD at an institution which a) had a department specialising in things I am interested in, and b) was in a liberal European country whose elected leader is not David Cameron nor, to my knowledge, attempting to dismantle higher education, public services, and the not-for-profit sector (the three places I would have been best placed to do my very useful work!), at least not any faster and more nastily than the global forces of neoliberalism are doing it anyway. The PhD was also part of a whole network of 12 PhD projects across the world and included secondments in public adminstration, NGOs or industry – ergo, collaborative and practical. I had read about the project in November, in Italy, and it was part of a very weird and profound day where I realised that, while the Browne report augured horrible, horrible things, at least I was lucky enough to have options. I was shortlisted the first time round, but didn’t get through to the interview stage, and was horribly dejected because I felt like this project had ‘saved’ me from some kind of deep despair and yet it hadn’t worked out. Then, another position was reopened at the last minute. It felt like fate! I did have an interview this time, but I didn’t get it either. That’s probably what happens when you apply for things you aren’t eligible for. You bullshit your way through for a while, and then when they’re trying to decide they look at things like, ‘Are they actually available from the start date we advertised?’ and, if you’re not, they go for someone who is. Or maybe I’m just not good enough at bullshitting yet.

Anyway, while I was preparing for the interview, I did the things I usually do when I’m a bit stressed. Forget to do laundry. Leave piles of washing up in the sink. Leave piles of washing up by the sink. Et cetera. I always justify myself by saying that I’m only not doing this tedious stuff because I have far more important things to do. Except what I’m also saying when I do that is: I am not doing this mundane, unimportant ‘women’s work’ because I would rather be doing things that will earn me professional prestige and also, perhaps, money; it is more important to try and earn said prestige/money than consider that your housemate might not want your piles of dirty dishes clogging up the kitchen all weekend. Which means I am subconsciously reinforcing to myself and others that it is not possible to pursue an ambitious, prestigious career while also washing up, feeding yourself nourishing food and being considerate of other people. Which sounds like a shitty way to run a world**and something I would like to not be true.

So, I wrote myself that little note, to remind myself that neglecting the very important things we need to do in order to have pleasant, clean, friendly homes because I am busy! and important! and ruthlessly pursuing professional success! did not, actually, make me a good feminist.

Musing on it further, I thought it would be rather nice if my life could not descend into unmitigated squalor between now and when I hand my dissertation in. And so instead of reading about grave planetary issues tonight, I decided to clean the kitchen. Not because I was procrastinating, you understand, but because I am the sort of considerate housemate who always clea-… okay, let’s leave that one. Not procrastinating, but creating an optimum environment in which to live and work. Because self-care is important. Cleaning the kitchen was, in fact, a feminist act, and totally not procrastination at all.

The thing about cleaning is that I always put it off for ages and ages, in which time it builds up into a huge task that I perceive as impossible. Because it is so big. And then when I actually do it, it always does take ages because I’m such a damn perfectionist. If I had lower standards, my house would probably be less disgusting. Huh.

And then afterwards I feel so enormously proud of myself for cleaning! like a grown-up! that I always do really obnoxious things like leaving a full bucket of dirty water somewhere strategic so everyone else in the house notices I cleaned!!! I am most likely to clean when I have visitors coming, and then I always have to fight the urge to drag them around and point out that I cleaned for them! ‘Look! I even did the underneath part of the wall cupboards! They were really greasy! Who knew?’ or, ‘Look! I moved the draining rack and washed the sink! I even dried up and put stuff away to do it! And not just because I broke a glass this morning and thought it was only polite to make sure I hadn’t missed any bits!’ When actually these things are not that earth-shattering at all. And it’s kind of embarrsasing to want to be praised for them. And, hopefully, people visit me for my conversation and perhaps my risotto, and not because I clean the crud out of the gas rings.

And lo, I have written around 1,000 really self-indulgent words on cleaning. And higher eduation. And feminism. If only I could write 1,000 words of my dissertation so easily.


* What I am trying to say here is that there are people who have perfectly legitimate reasons not to do things like scrubbing bathrooms or picking up their clothes every day, and they are still grown-ups. I am not one of them. I am just lazy and spoilt.

** Hint: I think the way our world is run is quite shitty.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2011 10:20 pm

    Just wanted to say that in no way am I procrastinating on your excellent blog, and that I thoroughly enjoyed this. It feels very… close to home.

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