Should Household Appliances be Celebrated for their Role in Liberating Women?

In the UK, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of women first being given the vote – admittedly for a limited number of middle and upper-class women, but nevertheless a big leap forward on the road to equality. In the United States, the vote was first granted in 1920, so America will be celebrating in a couple of years’ time. When scholars and historians discuss the most significant landmarks in the history of women’s liberation, they inevitably mention the vote, the contraceptive pill, equal pay, equal rights and sex discrimination law. There is, however, a less obvious, but some would say equally important contributor to women’s freedoms, and that is the humble household appliance.

Women and domesticity

The traditional family structure revolved for centuries around a husband being head of the household, earning money by working to support his family, and the wife taking care of the household and the children. There are a hundred variations of this blueprint, but they all boil down to a simple premise: men do paid work, women do housework. In the 20th century, the rights of women began to be recognized, due to the tireless campaigning by suffragettes and women’s rights activists. Women were finally being seen as equal to men in all respects, although even now there are areas in which this has yet to be fully embraced.

How washing machines helped women into the workplace

The difficulty women had in pursuing a life and career beyond the home was that they were still expected to perform all the household and childcare responsibilities that they always had. The real breakthrough came with the advent of time-saving household appliances like washing machines, vacuum cleaners and dishwashers. The hours of arduous work cleaning and doing the laundry were reduced to a far more manageable level and quite literally freed women from being tied to their domestic duties.

How appliances still help working women

The technological advances in electrical goods have meant that doing household chores has become easier and more efficient over the years, allowing women to pursue demanding careers and raise a family. The humble vacuum cleaner now has robotic versions that can clean the floors without you even having to be in the room. The range and capabilities of vacuum cleaners is extensive, as you can see on specialist websites like From this point of view, there is indeed reason to celebrate the role of household appliances in the liberation of women.

While this all sounds like good news, there are a couple of caveats. Firstly, although women were freed from much of the drudgery of basic chores, they often felt compelled to replace this labor by piling higher expectations upon themselves – having an even more immaculate and well-ordered home and garden, feeling the need to cook more, spend more time with the children, and worrying more about their appearance. Secondly, the expectations of society remained static; women were still expected to look after the home and care for the children, but were also expected to work as well. These attitudes are the ties that bind us to the past. What needs to change is the perception that women should be domestic goddesses as well as being mothers and having careers. Until the division of domestic responsibility is shared equally and becomes a societal norm, true equality is still a long way off.

Thanks to Christine Kovach

Speak Your Mind


Copyright 2014 @ A Celebration of Women™ The World Hub for Women Leaders That Care