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What the kitchen looked like clean. December 2010.

My last post in this series was about living alone. After years of being used to control over my surroundings, I moved in with roommates for my two semesters of fieldwork in Brasilia.

I’ve written about this before, explaining how conflict about dishes was what first made me think of “Who Does the Dishes?” as a way to look at power relationships in society from many different angles. What more to say?

Looking over that post, I realized that I’ve already made one of the points I was thinking of making in this post:

In conversations I had with Brazilian friends about this, some argued that part of the problem was men who’d grown up never having to do their own dishes because their mothers or maids always did their dishes for them. In other words, an argument about how they were socialized into particular habits, which cause problems when they live with roommates instead of at home.

I mean, we’re talking about domestic labor. Of course gender politics will be part of it.

One thing we did was hire a roommate’s aunt to clean the apartment about ever other week (she was the aunt of the messy roommate). This made me uncomfortable.I just felt like we should be able to keep things clean ourselves. It’s not like we lived in some huge house or something. It wouldn’t have taken much time per week to keep things clean if we’d all chipped in.

It also felt weird to have it be a family member. I’m sure she wanted the work; it just felt like we were putting her in a subordinate position and that felt shameful to me. I’m sure there are plenty of ways we could criticize me for feeling that way.

I can’t really imagine hiring one of my aunts to clean my house. Of course, that sentiment can’t be divorced from me and all my aunts being middle class. (That the hypothetical is about hiring my aunts and not my uncles seems pretty obvious in its significance…).

If one of my aunts needed financial help and I had the resources to help her I would just help her without making her work for me. I guess this has to do with attitudes about family and money. You give family members money as gifts. You loan family members money (and then sometimes forgive the loan when they can’t pay it back). If a family member is going to help you on a major household project you might pay for their travel expenses. But hiring a family member to do work? That feels different.

So is this difference in attitude about class? National culture? Family culture? Political ideology?

I’m going with all of the above.

Next post in series: Memories of dishes: partnered in Portland.