Sunday, October 01, 2006

Have Today's Women's Cleaning Skills Gone Down the Drain?

Has the 'Queen of Clean', alias Anthea Turner of BBC television's 'The Perfect Housewife' programme, exposed a problem amongst today's generation of women? Each week, two slovenly contestants go to Anthea's 'perfect housewife school' to learn the basics of home management and then battle it out to be crowned 'Perfect Housewife' for the week.

Anthea herself runs a pristine, highly organised and efficient home which is an oasis of calm and beauty. In the long run, she insists, running a home in this way simply creates more time for the more enjoyable moments with family and friends. After the years of feminist rejection of housework as drudgery, it seems it is now 'cool to be a housewife'.

Many of Anthea's tips on effective cleaning are helpful, such as the use of more natural cleaning elements like lemon juice, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, instead of today's toxic cleaning products that pollute the environment. This sits well with those of us who either have green tendencies or allergies - I have both! Her hints on organising a home can help to save time (now where was that electricity bill again?), and her hostessing ideas encourage women to plumb the depths of their creativity and find surprising skills and gifts.

However to me, the really interesting aspect of the programme lies in the people stories. It's fascinating to look at the 'gunk' in people's homes and be given an insight into the forces that have shaped them to live that way. Some contestants, when taken on a video walk round their homes, shed tears when they begin to realise just how badly, and begin to consider why they have allowed their homes to sink into the mess they're in- a poor balance between work outside and inside the home, a lone parent struggling to 'do it all', or sometimes just plain laziness.It seems the malaise of a messy home is often a symptom of an even deeper malaise.

And has the programme, I wonder, tapped into an unmet felt need amongst particularly young women and wives for some mentoring in household management skills? Once upon a time, girls were taught these things at school, and formal tuition was backed up by watching their mums at home. But since the increase in the number of girls going into higher education and having full time careers, home management skills have been cut to a minimum. Girls sometimes have the role model of an exhausted mother bringing home a 'chippie ' after a hard day at work or bunging a convenience meal into the microwave, and maybe even buying in cleaning and ironing services.

Watching the programme has made me consider how my christian faith should be worked out and apparent in the way I run my home. And Titus 2 seems as relevant and necessary today as it ever was when the Apostle Paul exhorted older women to get alongside the younger women and teach them how to live and run their homes. I'd love one of the older generation of women to teach me how to darn socks! (All applications will be considered...)

It's really great that Anthea has raised the value of running a lovely home that's a joy to live in instead of a mess to be escaped from - especially in these days when often a woman's sense of worth can unfortunately be linked to her job. But just a word of warning though... I do wonder if Anthea isn't walking a fine line between a 'healthy' degree of organisation and obsession. I just have the feeling that probably all the can labels in her cupboard are lined up facing the same way... Some viewers have declared that the programme has made them feel a failure for not managing to live up to Anthea's standards of perfection. My own response is that 100% perfection is not possible 100% of the time, so take on board whatever hints you find helpful, but know where to draw the line in the quest to run an efficient home'. I wonder where you draw the line........?

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