Great passing mention of dishes in Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article on originalism


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The debate about confirming Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court has raised the ongoing debate about the role of history in court decisions, originalism, etc. Jill Lepore has a recent article in The New Yorker on the topic called Weaponizing the Past. There’s also a recent New Yorker podcast with her on the same topic.

In the article, there’s a great passing mention of dishes:

History, in one fashion or another, has a place in most constitutional arguments, as it does in most arguments of any kind, even those about whose turn it is to wash the dishes. Generally, appeals to tradition provide little relief for people who, historically, have been treated unfairly by the law. You can’t fight segregation, say, by an appeal to tradition; segregation was an entrenched American tradition. 

This definitely applies to dishes, too. Traditionally women do the dishes in the home, or hire working class women—often women of color—to do them. Changing that has meant challenging this tradition.

Next up: looking at some work by Suzanne Bianchi on the division of domestic labor


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Now that I’ve finished by series of posts about my experiences with dishes at home, I’m going to start blogging about academic research that will help us understand who does the dishes at home.

Almost a year ago, I had a blog post about an article by my friend Hanna Kleider on how social policy can influence the gendered division of labor. Her article’s bibliography helped me get stared reading the research on this topic.

I’m going to start by looking at quantitative work by Suzanne Bianchi and her colleagues.

She died in 2013 at age 61. The New York Times has a good obituary summarizing her life and research. Here’s part of it: Continue reading

Memories of dishes posts in order


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To make navigating easier, here they are in the order I wrote them:

Memories of dishes: partnered in Portland


The view from the apartment where we lived in Portland’s South Waterfront neighborhood.

We’ve come to my final post in this series of vignettes about my experiences with domestic dishes. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. At some point I’ll write some posts about washing dishes in restaurants while in high school, but that fits under a different part of the project.

Last time I wrote about my time in Brasilia and conflict over dishes. I returned to North Carolina in early July 2011 and soon started dating the woman who is now my wife. We never fully moved in together while in graduate school, though I mostly lived at her apartment her last semester of medical school.

Continue reading

Memories of dishes: fieldwork in Brasilia


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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. Continue reading

Memories of dishes: living alone in North Carolina


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The dining space in my condo in Carrboro, 2010.

My previous post was about living with roommates; this one is about not having roommates.

I started my PhD program at UNC Chapel Hill fall of 2005. I rented a basement apartment for the first few months, but purchased a one bedroom condo in Carrboro in early 2006.

There’s a certain beautiful simplicity about being a household of one. There’s no dividing up the household chores; either you do them yourself or they don’t get done.

Economists and other social scientists talk about “externalities,” which is when a person or firm “externalizes” costs. For example, let’s say I have a factory that releases a lot of air pollution and makes children in the area get sick. This pollution means real costs in terms of medical bills, missed days of school, etc., but they aren’t costs that appear on my balance sheet. Essentially, the people who pay those costs are subsidizing me by paying some of the true costs of my production. (Environmental regulations attempt to correct this).

Similarly, if I cook a meal and enjoy it and then leave the dishes in the sink for my roommate to clean up, I’ve externalized some of the costs of the meal (labor) onto my roommate. Continue reading

Memories of dishes: sharing a house with roommates



My last post talked about dishes while I studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador. When I came back to the U.S. I lived on campus for a semester, which made dishes once again a non-issue since there were people being paid to do them in the cafeteria.

My final year of undergrad three friends and I rented a house off campus from a professor who was on sabbatical. After graduation I participated in the Summer Institute for the Truman Scholarship, living with three other scholars in a two-bedroom apartment at George Washington University. I then spent a year in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, living with four roommates in a house in Northeast DC, near Catholic University.

I remember dishes being an issue that would come up from time to time during this period, but I don’t remember being nearly as angry as I got in Brazil. In college, I do remember coming home to dishes everywhere from some sweet dish (I think it was cider?) with ants crawling all over and telling a roommate “I can’t live like this.” The person who made the cider apologized and I think things were pretty good after that.

At the apartment during Summer Institute the roommate who shared my bedroom and I were of the school of thought that says you should wash your plate right away. The other two were of the school of thought that says pile the dishes in the sink and do them every few days. At one point the roommate, now an incredibly accomplished physician and scholar of public health, washed all the dishes that had piled up and then hung up a sign telling people to wash their dishes. He also drew a copy of a smiling place with the caption “happy plate!” Continue reading

Memories of dishes: college semester in Ecuador


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Source: Wikimedia Commons

So far this series of posts about memories of dishes has taken us to Alaska and California. Now we head to Ecuador.

I spent the fall 2000 semester in Quito, Ecuador. This meant being there when they adopted the U.S. dollar and repeatedly being asked if my country had a president yet. But on to the dishes!

Part of the program was staying with a host family. My family was a really sweet couple whose children were a bit older than I was and had already moved out of the house.

Some students stayed with families with live-in maids, but my family had someone who came a few days a week to help my host mom out around the house. Continue reading

Memories of dishes: adolescence in San Jose


My first post in this series was about doing dishes with my dad in Alaska. Now we move on to the less happy teenage years.

My mom met my ex-stepfather when I was in 5th grade. The summer between 6th and 7th grade we moved from Chugiak to San Jose, California and where they got married. (They separated my second year of college).

In San Jose my sister, my stepbrother and I had to do the dishes. Once my stepbrother moved out it was just Annie and me.

My stepfather would tell the story repeatedly of how when he was growing up “mom cooked it, dad put it on the table” so the kids did the dishes. I always thought that was weird, since my mom was both the main cook and the primary income earner, so by that logic he should be washing dishes with us…

Some thoughts: Continue reading

Memories of dishes: childhood in Alaska



As promised, here is the first post reflecting on my own history of doing the dishes at home.



We moved to Chugiak, Alaska the summer before I started first grade. When my parents separated the summer before I started third grade, my dad moved to a two bedroom house a couple miles away in Eagle River in the same school attendance zone. Under the custody agreement he had us Tuesday and Thursday after school and every other weekend.

The house didn’t have a dishwasher, so everything had to be done by hand and my sister and I took turns helping him do the dishes. He had a divided sink with a drying rack to the left side of the sink and open counter space to the right. He would stand at the right sink and wash the dishes, the sink full of soapy water. I would stand at the left sink to rinse dishes and put them on the rack, letting the sink fill up with rinse water so I could use that water instead of water from the faucet. If the rack filled up and we still had more to wash, I would towel dry some of the dishes. I also played quality control, occasionally noticing when my dad had missed a spot.

I’ve come to realize many of my beliefs about the “right” way to do dishes by hand are simply how I learned to do them with my dad. One thing that I still see as cut and dry: not putting sharp objects under soapy water. I remember one time when somehow a knife ended up under the suds my dad used a drinking glass like a glass bottom boat to be able to see through the suds. That was fun.

These are fond memories. Time alone talking with my dad, the warm water on my hands, doing something useful.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about it is the approach of teaching a child to do housework: doing the work together.

Next post in series: Memories of dishes: adolescence in San Jose.