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In this weeks reading, I was interested in the concept that electricity was supposed to be something that made women’s lives easier, but also had many other effects. Nye points out that critics of electricity claim that it doesn’t promote freedom, but actually promotes corporate control of mass-produced goods. This is supported by today’s lecture when we discussed how the availability of more clothes encouraged the need for a washing machine, which in turn, created a desire for more clothes. The idea behind electrically powered tools is that they would allow for more leisure time, but instead, women ended up entering the workforce and having two jobs; one as a homemaker and the other being her job outside the home. Electricity did not free women from housework, but instead freed men from helping. Women were still responsible for just as much — if not more –housework, while men no longer were expected to assist. In addition, electricity raised the standard of living, therefore also increasing the amount of work women were to do. Electricity was also not for everyone, as the lower class could not afford these luxuries for much longer. The wealthy families also saw it as a novel technology, not as a labor saving device. Electricity was spoken about in terms of practical use, but was also being used for non-utilitarian products, such as Christmas lights and toys for wealthy families. This is another example of how what we decide to produce has many more affects than what was originally intended.
Both Pursell and Nye relate to our class lecture on electric household goods and the impact they had on women. Nye makes the points that electric production does not free up the time of women but simply allow them to not spend as much time on one task so they were able to get jobs outside the home. With the use of electric washing machine, laundry could be started in the morning, and then finished at the end of the day. House work still never went away it was only made it easier. As we discussed in class relating to the electric washing machine. Pursell talks about electric in a more sexual way involving women and advertisement. As it is stated on page 117 “Marketing of these goods, therefore, requires camouflaging of the design purpose in a verbal and visual rhetoric that conveys to the knowledgeable consumer the item’s selling points without actually endorsing its socially prohibited uses.” Marketing played a major role in technology and being able to sell products to the pubic promoting the good in them and how one can benefit from purchasing the latest technology. Relating back to class lecture and the electric washing machine advertisements were mainly directed to men pointing out how they could benefit their wives and save a lot of physical labor and time. This was one of the major selling points especially with the textile industry growing and people were buying more clothes. Along with labor saving devices being produced this meant that standards were raised. Women’s hours of work actually increased, and men were free of the household production now. If a woman is still going to work as many, or more hours, what would be the purpose of purchasing the electric washing machine you may ask. Many ended up purchasing them as a status symbol, men thought it was what their wives wanted. Also, with the electric washing machine women no longer had to lift tubs, carry boiling water, and have their hands soaking in soap. Women could now do two jobs at once in the same amount of time.
Both Nye and Pursell recognize that electricity did not always make things easier. Nye specifically addresses the idea that even with electrical improvements, women still had much work to do. With the invention of the automatic washing machine, women were expected to do laundry more often because they were not doing it by hand. When women had to do many indoor chores by hand, men were there to assist with the process. Unfortunately, electricity and new inventions made men not a necessary part of household work. This meant that women were singlehandedly responsible for the home. Electric appliances freed up time for the men but extended the women’s day. As we discussed in class, standards were raised with the arrival of new inventions. If things could be done, they should be done because appliances were easily accessible. This is not to say that these were not extremely important advancements, but many times more stress was put upon having a clean and organized home because it was now possible.
After hearing Rachel Maines speak at UMW, reading her work “Socially Camouflaged Technologies: the Case of the Electromechanical Vibrator” was a particularly interesting. I had no idea that early technology for vibrators began in 1880 and was recommended for medical office use. It was interesting to read what medical purposes they were used for, including the very broad diagnosis of hysteria. The fact that vibrators were advertised through the medical community and not for female sexual pleasure shows how taboo embracing female sexuality was in the era Maines studied.
While Nye brought up the issue of electrify creating new problems when it “fixed” old one, I was particularly interested in the descriptions he mentioned of housing. Here we see there was a selection process, just like we have studied with all are other elements of technologies. Nye describes different types of housing between the apartment style living, single-family homes, and a sort of communal living. The selection process of course favored single-family housing, and that is the ideal that many Americans strive for today. However both apartment style living and communal living are still present. While American society is a strong proponent of single-family housing, apartment housing is the second most common housing and still embraced by many Americans. Communal living is the least present in America today, the notable exception being dorms on college campuses. Nye sites the feminist ideal that communal living meant that individuals had more freedom from chores like food preparation or laundry, and focusing on the food side college residence halls embrace this concept. Reading through Nye’s chapter I found it interesting how electricity functionally shaped the way that Americans chose to organize space and living situation.
After seeing half of Washington, DC come to a halt yesterday from the ripple effect caused by a failure at a power station, it is easy to see the social and cultural changes that electricity brought about. The readings by Nye and Pursell also made it easier for me see just how deep the roots of the private and public spheres really run. I never realized just how much electricity helped in establishing the gender roles and family dynamic that we still experience today. As a mom of two kids, I can definitely see how technology can not only change the way a home is built but also change how the family interacts in that home. IPods, iPads, laptops, television, and smart phones present another obstacle to getting a family in the same room together. I have implemented an electronic free dinner zone in which we all eat dinner at the dinner table every night as our way to touch base and be a family. I also try to use technology to bond with them (and to not feel older than I already do…lol) so I play games against them on downloaded apps or snap chat them (even though it took me a hot minute to figure out how to use it). Things are definitely different than when I was a kid so I can imagine the differences brought about by electricity.
As for the gender roles, it seems ironic that the inventions created to make the life of a woman easier only made it harder by giving them the time to hold down a job while also taking care of the household. I took the Gender and Society course a few semesters ago and we talked about how men have more leisure time than women do. After this week’s readings I now understand how that happens. And with all of the inventions powered by electricity and making it so that women have more time on their hands, there is definite validity in women thinking that they can have their cake and eat it too by having a family and a career. Just one of the many social and cultural impacts that electricity created and is still making.
I find the relation between the increase in women’s housework and the acceptance of electromechanical vibrators slightly ironic. Maines notes that female hysteria reached epidemic proportions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I can’t help but wonder if the changing standards for women created in part by technological change, in addition to misunderstandings about female sexuality, helped cause some of the symptoms of hysteria such as anxiety and irritability in women and girls. Electromechanical vibrators also offer another example of a technology that was meant to benefit women also reducing men’s workloads and keeping women within their domestic “utopias” filled with technology powered by electricity.
These readings really mirrored the lecture about the rise of mechanized housework. While washing machines decreased physical labor like hauling water and scrubbing clothing, they opened up the ability to purchase more clothing. Owning more clothing meant washing more clothing. So while laundry because less physically strenuous, it did not become much less time consuming. Electric appliances tended to affect women’s work – electric appliances in the cooking, electric appliances for cleaning. Since these chores were now ‘easier’ it was expected that women should do them with more frequency and with less complaint. One would think that making housework easier would allow for more help from men, when in turn it only made the gender divide wider.
This week’s readings seem to merge well with the topic on Tuesday. I also feel like it this merges well with the readings from Week 10. To me, they both seem give happiness some sort of value with Electricity = Pleasure = Happiness. The Pursell reading described pleasure with the vibrators and how husbands thought figured there wives would automatically be happy if they bought them as gifts. This is similar to what we talked about in class with the washing machine and how husbands also bought them for their wives as gifts even though they made things a lot easier for the husbands than they did for the wives.
It’s interesting how in the Nye reading there was a passage about how having electricity and using electrical appliances would help change the brains and nervous systems of wives to become more like their husbands. I have to say, that is a strange vision for equality. Also, I am curious as to why poor homes had a larger total number of washing machines than average homes on the table. One would think that the average home would have more and the poor would have less.
Both readings talked about how more electricity does not really make lives easier, as we see with the washing machine, people now have to wash more cloths, which takes a long time. I thought Pursell picking out the Electric vibrator as the electric device that was created to make wives life easier, was interesting. The reason for that, is because from what he said, it was not uncommon to have one, people probably talked about have one at function, now if you have one you don’t tell people you have one. I find it funny that people thought that making life easier for women, by creating more electric devices would also change women to think like a man. It’s kind of like technology now where even though we have more automated things, it still takes time to do everything.
When electricity came to homes, the expectations on women’s work were increased. The idea was that these devices saved women time and energy, so they would be able to do more things more thoroughly while taking much of the burden off of them. However, this is not how it actually happened. Men stopped assisting women with the heavy labor because it was no longer required. Additionally, women were more dependent on men to buy these new fancy electric gadgets and to pay the electricity bill.
In both the Nye and Purcell reading, we got a sense of just how far removed – and cleanly divided – the spheres of living and the family’s dynamics had become. With the spread of electricity into more and more homes, previously two-person tasks like laundry or food preparation were simplified. With artifacts like the washing machine, women were able to complete a task in the household by themselves. However, even though these were supposed to be “time-saving” devices, as we saw in class, this only created more work for women as families were able to buy more clothes. In addition, the invention of “easy to use” electric cooking and cleaning devices made it seem as if women were expected to do *everything* in the course of one day, with no complaint. Meanwhile, their husbands were no longer required to help with the chores, and were free to pursue their own leisure outside of work.
It’s ironic that the industry that created this extra stress on women was also the one to claim they could relieve the “hysteria.” Women who were bored or otherwise unhappy with their lives were seen as hysterical or mentally ill, and electric vibrators were bought to “cure” and relax the women. This, of course, was before people understood how female sexuality worked.
We are learning a lot this week about things that are being created to make the women’s job around the house easier and take less time, but because they are becoming easier, then they can spend more time doing other things. The reading is talking about electricity and how when that was created, it was supposed to cut women’s time working down but it just made them have the ability to have more jobs. The washing machine, electricity that made cooking devices much easier to use and they were starting to be put in all types of homes, made it so that women could do everything, eliminating the man’s job completely. One interesting point that was made was- the expectation of women’s work increased.
I really enjoyed the Nye reading this week. I found that it interesting to read the ways in which electrifying the home changed the decor of the home. I recently went on a tour of the Kennmore plantation and the guide gave a lot of background information as to why the house was laid out the way it was. I found it interesting that it was electricity that allowed for the front parlor to be taken out and a short doorway to be put in. The door way use to be used as a sitting room because it allowed air to come in as well as sunlight. With electricity you can have better air systems put in and light bulbs can illuminate places better. We also went over the color scheme of the house. Dark green wallpaper was reserved for wealthy classes because it had copper in it. In addition wall paper without designs were used to show that the walls were made well and didn’t have many cracks and weren’t dirty. I thought it was interesting how the reading talked about the ways in which gas light would make the walls, ceilings, and curtains dirty. I also found it fascinating that electricity allowed for more options when it came to the arrangement of furniture in ones house. I was a bit confused about the way rooms worked. I understand that before about 1910 people in the house shared rooms for sleeping and everything and there were more rooms that had a single purpose but I didn’t understand how allowing for individuals to have their own bedroom but taking away the single purpose room would have taken away privacy. Wouldn’t it have allowed for the same amount, just in a different location?
I didn’t understand really how vibrators fit into all of this though? Was there purpose always for genitalia? Could it be used for men? I feel like there isn’t a good way to actually hide what this is all for. I guess I also never thought women during the 19th century were very sexual therefore wouldn’t understand what to do or why. In addition I found it surprising that doctors would want to give it to women to use, I feel like they would have to understand what the vibrator was really doing. I was sort of grossed out reading this to be honest. Very out of my comfort zone.
While it is widely agreed upon that electricity completely changed the typical American household, there seems to be some confusion as to how and what it changed. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Hearth,” Nye explores the ways in which electricity changed American households, generally by increasing divisions and boundaries between the genders and socioeconomic classes. The social reform movement had long encouraged Americans to treat their household as a way of displaying their morals and values; electricity and the scientific home economics movement that followed only promoted this ideal further. Home economics promoted the reformation of the single family (Nye 252) and argued that the home was becoming a place in which to consume, rather than produce (257). (We discussed this in class in regards to the electric washing machine, although in the case of the washing machine it ensured that the home was still a place of production, rather than consumption.) Electricity made many Americans feel like they were being more productive, and that work was either being simplified or completely eliminated, which made the daily life of the typical homemaker much easier. In actuality, electricity only made life easier for a very specific class of people (the upper class) and only served to highlight inequality between the sexes. As we discussed in class, electricity conveniently eliminated traditionally “male” tasks, while leaving work behind for women. Electricity did not, as previously assumed, democratize the American household.
In the Nye reading, I found it interesting that the practice of spring cleaning came from women having to clean their whole house from the soot of the gas lights. I was confused about what an “electric girl” was? Are they humans or robots? Electricity forever changed how society functions and it enhanced gender stereotypes by having boys have/do one thing and the girls another. Apartment housing became more apparent with the invention of electricity and the idea that everyone can’t live in single-family homes forever.
In the Pursell reading, the electromagnetic vibrator was aimed at women who had the tendency to have fits of “hysteria” and would be used to calm them down. As electricity became more popular, it lessen the labor of the physician who was performing manual massages and used the then considered medical device.
Both readings shows the importance that we talked in class of the idea of lessening the load for people, especially women because they were at the head of the home who performed most of the work, and providing pleasure to their lives so that they would feel more content with their role in society.
The “social camouflageing” is nothing new. Technologies are theoretically social constructions– they are “deliberately shaped for social purposes.” (Pursell 116) Often their truly intended use is not advertised. Society dictates that sex and drugs are taboo; all things associated with the aforementioned become equally taboo. Objects such as cigarette papers (frequently used for marijuana) and electromechanical vibrators (frequently to “massage … the female genitalia” [Pursell 117]) are two examples of material objects that require marketing techniques of “camouflaging of the design purpose in a [way] that . . . knowledgeable consumer[s understand] without actually endorsing its socially prohibited uses.” (Pursell 117) “Motors have been applied to lawn-mowers, to carpet-sweepers, to shoe-polishers, and, in fact, there is no household operation capable of being mechanically performed of which, through the motor, electricity cannot become the drudge and willing slave.” (Nye 247) According to research by Rachel Maines, “the electromagnetical vibrator [was] introduced as a medical instrument in the 1880s and as a [motorized] home appliance between 1900 and 1903.” (Pursell 118) The social camouflage of the vibrator is its medical use.
Massage therapy coupled with abstract definitions of diseases or conditions vibrators could relieve became a popular cure-all in the 1920s. “Hysteria was the most common of all diseases except fevers.” (Pursell 119) Loosely defined, Hysteria “might encompass almost any set of ambiguous symptoms that troubled a woman or her family.” (Pursell 119) A large percentage of physicians treated hysteria, and the demand for a portable massager arose. Formerly, “early socialization emphasized that boys were to use electricity as producers, while girls need not understand it as they would only consume it.” (Nye 247) The modern era believes it is hysterical that male doctors thought they had a better sense on a female’s body than the female patient. Today, vibrators and other electronics, are no longer produced by exclusively men. In 1899 a company, Vibratile, began to advertise to women in the home. Subsequently, “vibrators with water [and air] motors . . . were marketed [to both] teens” and adults. (Pursell 124)
Not every magazine advertised vibrators. Only magazines falling within range of prices associated with women that had access to electricity advertised vibrators. Still, social camouflaging continued. David Nye comments “in the 1880s [electricity] was a luxury item of conspicuous consumption.” (Nye 242) Advertisers also struggled with where to subject the object. “In the case of the vibrator, the issue is one of acceptability, but there are many examples of similarly marketed technology of which the expected use was actually illegal . . . Although changes in sexual mores have liberated the vibrator, social camouflage remains necessary for stills and many other modern commodities, including drug paraphernalia . . . The marketing of socially camouflaged technologies is directed to consumers who already understand the design purpose of the product, but whose legally and/or culturally unacceptable intentions in purchasing it cannot be formally recognized by the seller.” (Pursell 127-128)
In the Nye reading I found it really interesting how with the new technologies there was the idea that there was also the expansion of corporate control. I found myself agreeing with this idea because although American’s were used to receiving water and gas prior to new technologies, the way the go that changed. Corporations became the new middle man on the process of delivering water and gas. I also really liked reading about the concept of transforming the house with the new electricity. There was the debate over taking domestic work and making it communal, or exporting it to other locations to complete which is something I had not really thought about before.
Another interesting aspect that I have noticed with most new technology readings is that the elite always want to be the first ones to have it. It was funny to see how in this case they would use the light bulb to try and decorate the house and use it as a symbol of power and wealth. Now a days the light bulb is commonplace, yet back then it had much more significance. Lastly, it was interesting to see the conversation over how the word “light” came about. Specifically, how the meaning was debated but ultimately represented a way to find ones self.