Feminism, Household Work, and Bleach
Feminism and environmentalism are at odds when you consider that many (most?) modern conveniences in household management also degrade our environment. Since research is pretty clear that females more likely to take on more hours of household upkeep even when working outside the home, stepping back from modernity puts a disproportionate burden on the female member of the household.
Our household, like many of our 30-something generation, does show a softening of both the disproportionate time split and strict gender roles in the actual chores performed. Whoever arrives home first cooks the evening meal, but I do the meal planning and shopping. I am actually more likely to install the dishwasher. My husband takes on the lion’s share of childcare during non-business hours; we almost split evenly during the workweek. He does more of the laundry but will not launder the bedding. I am not sure at what point it would occur to him to pick up a broom, vacuum, or dusting rag. I know for sure that he had never dusted his apartment in the 3 years prior to our marriage; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him dust regardless of the fact that he has less tolerance for ‘mess.’
This division of labor works for us, but it is tenuously balanced. So I am seriously torn when he finally takes on cleaning the bathroom. Why? Not because he doesn’t do as good of a job. Rather because he insists that a toilet is cleaned from all ‘nastiness’ better with bleach.
You see, while I know that it has its purposes in some settings, I long ago replaced bleach in regular household cleaning as chief shopper and ‘deep cleaner.’ It coincided with my time working as a researcher in a national lab where my duties included, among other things, analysis of the National Dioxin Monitoring Network (NDAMN) data. I’ll refer you to a FDA/EPA fact sheet on what dioxins are and why we should be concerned. Suffice to say that dioxins can cause skin lesions from high (generally purposeful) exposure and that cancer and reproduction concerns are also warranted. Amazingly enough, even though intentional production of such chemicals are banned and background levels in the environment and our bodies are declining, we continue pollute mother earth with dioxin compounds. How? The two most common cited reasons are unintentional byproducts from combustion/burning processes and industrial chlorine bleaching processes. (This is why you need to stop buying bleached paper products if you purchase them at all.)
Which brings me back to household bleach.
Bleach is also terrible for the environment and our health. It is a respiratory and skin irritant; this is particularly rough for people with asthma. It has the potential to react with remnants of other products to produce a whole host of other nasty chemicals including pure chloride gas and dioxins – both of these things are probably even worse than the bleach itself. Production of bleach is also problematic, creating dioxins as an unintentional byproduct.
Have I convinced you that you should rethink bleach?
Well, we re-thought it too and went a long time without it. And then, being the prepared Mormon I am, I decided I needed some to disinfect our emergency water when living in San Francisco. Since it is almost impossible to buy a tiny bottle of bleach, we had extra. Once in the house, my husband cannot resist that ‘extra something’ when cleaning the toilet. He even bought a NEW bottled the other day. And now I’m in the obnoxious position of choosing between inhaling bleach and rocking the household division of labor.
Do you have bleach in your house? Do you relax your environmental standards to encourage certain family members to help?