I have a deep and abiding interest in how people behave and its relation to the human soul. And this is even more the case when it has to do with women, since, in addition to my innate curiosity about other people’s lives, I am an actual specimen, and am intrigued by any thing that can shed a little light on my existence, that can make my own life more comfortable and intelligible.
And so, with this goal in mind, I had a chat with Grandma, something I do frequently. My grandmother is one of my favorite sources of knowledge, because she is always accessible, and at the same time, represents a distant and almost fantastic reality.
My grandmother has been a widow for more than twenty years. She never had another man after her husband died, which is something that seems unimaginable for women of my generation. But two or three years ago she had a beau.
They talked on the telephone, lunched together, became friends, but nothing more than that. I was mystified. He was a respectable gentleman, intelligent, well-mannered. A good match. I wanted to understand her motives. What led her to not be interested in going further?
After she cleared up a few points, I could begin to understand my grandmother’s logic, and that of a good portion of the women of her generation. The romance went no further, simply because it had gotten to the point where sex was inevitable. She knew that. He knew that.
But she could only accept sex if she were to get married. Please note, this only has to do with her case. It wouldn’t make a difference to her if I had sex outside the context of a marital relationship. But for her, the notion is simply unthinkable.
So we moved onto more investigations and queries. Was he a “cafajeste” (a heel)? He didn’t want to get serious? He didn’t want to get married? Not at all. He DID want to get married. He wanted a friend, to invest in a stable and companionate relationship.
And here I felt stymied. After all, didn’t she want something serious? Didn’t she want sex with commitment? Well, in reality, what she didn’t want was the commitment. She didn’t want to live together. Didn’t want to have to get used to different snores. No new weird habits. Didn’t want to have to lose her individuality. And most importantly, she DIDN’T WANT TO HAVE TO WASH HIS UNDERWEAR.
So now we have come to the crux of the problem, the principal point: for her generation, sex=washing underwear. The right to pleasure is bought at the cost of periodic washing of the undergarments of the partner in question.
To exculpate your sin, you have to spoil your nails. As she DIDN’T WANT to wash underwear, she couldn’t afford to give herself the right to have sex. She gave up on it simply so that she wouldn’t suffer.
Since her pleasure seems like an ill-gotten gain, something that is not hers by right, her choice is easy, and seems obvious. She completely ignores another possibility, that of having pleasure WITHOUT washing underwear, because that would mean believing in the RIGHT to pleasure, something that women of her day did not have. At the most they had a temporary contract.
I think that feminism, the movement for women’s liberation, for the recognition of women’s rights and desires, must have an intimate connection with the invention of more modern washing machines.
The less time that women spent washing the intimate garments of their partners/husbands, the more time they came to have for themselves, and for the discovery that yes, they could and ought to have pleasure.
With the modernization of washing machines, my God, even men can wash their own briefs, saving important, precious time for their relationship with their significant other.
We owe a great deal to the inventors of the washing machine – our modern possibility of being independent, mistresses of our own desires, of our sex, and of our destiny.
We ought to drink a toast to the buttons, the detergent, the fabric softener, our soft, smooth hands, to our relationships based on love and not on convenience.
And ought never to forget those who came before us, who grew up in another reality, who believed what they were told, and who, today, simply cannot get free of underwear and obligations, whether real or imaginary, which oppress and dominate.
Translated from the Portuguese by Tom Moore – firstname.lastname@example.org.