Who's doing the washing up?

Posted July 27, 2014

Who's doing the washing up?

“Washing up would break my soul!” exclaimed the girl. She delivered the line with such heart rending emotion that I thought I’d wandered on to the stage of a nineteenth century melodrama.

I was, in fact, in a cafe, enjoying a toasted teacake and a pot of tea. The cafe owner was sitting nearby, taking a female staff member through the following week’s rota. The girl wasn’t happy. She was training to become a chef. Dishwashing wasn’t part of her career progression plan. “I want to grow,” she said, throwing her arms wide to emphasise her point. “To get on. You must understand that.” He didn’t look as if he understood at all. 

What’s her problem with washing dishes anyway? Michael Dell, the founder and Chief Executive of the multinational computer technology company that bears his name, started out washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant. He was only twelve years old at the time. If the sight of pruny fingertips drove the young Michael to aim higher, it worked: he’s now worth an estimated $15 billion. 

A spell of scrubbing dishes didn’t stop George Orwell from becoming a highly successful author (although, in fairness to the girl in the cafe, he did find it soul destroying at the time). In Down and out in Paris and London, Orwell's first full-length book, he draws upon his firsthand experiences as a plongeur (dishwasher) in Paris restaurants. It is a horrible, servile existence. Trapped in the lowest of jobs, the dishwasher, he says, “has no escape from this life, save into prison.” Maybe the girl was right to avoid it at all costs, if only to save herself from a custodial sentence.

Soon to be published research by psychologists, however, sees dishwashing in a more positive light. The study suggests that fathers who perform household chores, such as doing the washing up, are more likely to raise aspirational daughters who look beyond the traditionally female jobs when choosing their career.  

The girl in the cafe has set her sights on becoming a chef, a role that is still predominantly male.  Do you suppose her dad did a lot of the washing up when she was little? 

Image: Woman Washing Dishes in Kitchen  allposters.com 

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