Ask Surly Amy : Laundry is Not Work

Dear Surly Amy,

This was posted on Facebook by a teaching member of the faculty at my University.

“Allow me to apologize in advance for this post: Doing laundry does not constitute “work”. You put the friggin’ clothes in the washing machine and turn it on….ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! For any spouse who doesn’t have a paying (money) job, DOING THE LAUNDRY IS NOT FRIGGIN’ WORK!! It’s a BLESSING!! So instead of complaining about it, thank your spouse EVERY DAY for allowing you to do it!!!” This was followed by another comment of his, “It’s my job to teach.” and “It doesn’t apply to my mother……she’s a saint”

Besides contacting the University, which I am doing presently, what do I do with this? It’s so, just, sickening.

Oh and did I mention I’m the VP of the SSA on campus? And he (was) our faculty advisor? Sigh. Help Surly Amy!


Dear Kate,

First of all HUGE props to you for being involved with the Secular Student Alliance on campus! Very, very cool. Taking a leadership role and helping to promote secular values is a wonderful thing. You should be very proud of yourself.

Second of all, I am sorry to hear that your past faculty advisor is a person who seems to be so angry at people who do laundry. It also sounds like a thinly veiled attack on women in general.

For many years before the invention of automatic washers and dryers, laundry was an even more extreme job (yes, I said job) that often required strenuous exercise. Scrubbing, hiking to get water, hanging clothes on lines, ironing and folding were activities that could easily take the entire day. In current times it pretty much goes without saying that laundry has gotten a heck of a lot easier but that does not mean it is not work. Anyone who has ever had to drag their dirty clothes to a public laundromat knows this to be a fact.

I’d like to ask this faculty advisor, if it is not work then why aren’t you doing it yourself in your spare time? If it isn’t work, why aren’t there laundry clubs we can all attend. Should we invite all our friends to come over for a laundry party? Hey everyone! Come on over Friday night and and hand-wash undies! And later, for a real treat we can iron pants! If you are really good, maybe I’ll let you vacuum!

The denial that housework is actual work is embedded in the idea that traditional women’s work is of lesser value than a job done outside of the home. Thus feeding into the idea that women in general contribute less then men do. It’s bullshit.

I’m willing to ignore the religious wording this person used, although the ideas that women are subservient to men, that laundry is a “blessing” and his mother is a “saint” are clearly coming from a religious mindset. As long as he isn’t spreading religious messages inappropriately on campus, is no longer involved with the SSA and is just saying these things on facebook I think it’s ok. It’s not correct in my opinion, but he can say it if he wants to. It really sounds to me like this is just an angry person who thinks he works harder than the rest of the people who raise families and take care of the home. Sounds like he isn’t fond of his job either. My advice, other than reporting this incident, would be to continue kicking ass with the SSA and to use this as an example of how not to act.

In the words of Elyse:

And I agree. Doing laundry is not work. That’s why I signed up for that at our house. However, folding? That shit is work. I don’t fold. Except diapers. I swear I spend 35 hours a week just folding and stuffing goddamn diapers.

It’s all fun and games until you actually have to do the work yourself. Right, professor?

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

Related Articles


  1. I had this problem with my ex husband (one of the reason’s he is an ex). While i was diong my PhD thesis i was also expeced to keep the house clean, cook all the meals, do the washing up etc. If i didn’t do it a half-hearted attempt would be made by my artner, which usually involved him starting off with the floors (serious? clean them last, they only get dirty again if you do it first).

    It got particularly bad when we rennovated our own house. He and his father did all the cool “manly” stuff suh as assembling cabinates, fitting lights etc while I and his mother were expected to cook them meals, do the cleaning and laundry (including ironing, which I refused to do so his mother always did it for him). He resented the fact that I was a career women and if I didn’t play the role of little wife he would get very pissy with me. i still have guilty feelings when the apartment is messy left over from that time.

  2. This post is either a troll or so sufficiently mindless as to be indistinguishable from a troll. Regardless of who it comes from it’s just another opinion on the internet. I wouldn’t do anything other than ignore it.

  3. I am the Primary Breadwinner(tm) in my family. My wife does freelance work, but also maintains the house. I’ve always been a fairly progressive sort of dude and consider that it is part of my job as a member of the family to pull my own weight in addition to funding the whole scheme, particularly as our kids are too young to be reliable forced labor.

    Housework is work. It’s right there in the term. Work. Laundry is a freaking beast (and yes, putting it away is the hard part as I don’t bother with niceties like separating stuff for my laundry or the kids’). Cleaning? Also real work. I’ve been responsible for the whole shebang on my own when my wife has been out of town or recovering from surgery. The shit is hard, tedious, and unending.

    Anyone who views it as otherwise is delusional or a dick. Possibly both.

  4. Laundry is not work?

    Have a listen to this podcast on Chinese Laundry Kids

    “But when the gold rush ended and the railways built, the Chinese immigrants were no longer wanted. They were socially isolated and struggled to deal with a growing tide of racism. They gravitated to jobs shunned by the white community, jobs like washing clothes. But hostility and racism persisted and was often expressed in violence and sanctioned by law.

    Despite these obstacles, the Chinese laundryman persevered and they endured so that their children would have a better life.”

  5. Laundry absolutely is work and of the housework that we all do it is probably to most time consuming and frustrating part. My family has six people in it and between all the towels from showering, the days clothes, pajamas and everything else we dirty we create two loads of laundry every single day. Putting closthes on the washer and dryer is not the hard part but folding and putting all of that stuff away can take a long time. I can’t even tell my wife’s clothes from my eldest daughters clothes and have to go find them to ask. Then chasing all over the house to put everything away and hoping that none of my kids knock over my nice neat laudry piles that I have created while I am out of the room. Making sure that my work clothes are folded rignt and ironed if needed so that I can actually wear them to work takes time and attention. Then there is the worst part….mating socks!

  6. There are some people who might agree with the professor that housework isn’t “work”. Some of those people might also think that being a “professor” isn’t really work either.

    1. I have been a professor (adjunct) and kinda prefer it to laundry. It is less frustrating.

  7. I’m the breadwinner in our household, and my (male) partner doesn’t have the same definition of clean as I do. However, if given a task like ‘clean the kitchen’, he’s actually more thorough than I. Which explains why he doesn’t start without prompting. Since I’m currently putting in more off site hours that he is, he’s carrying the heavier load on chores. We find this equitable.

    As for the prof, if you don’t like his views on FB, unfriendly him. If his views are reflected in how he advises the SSA, find a diffent prof willing to sponsor the group.

  8. Wow. Laundry is, indeed, work. Not so much the washing and drying, but the folding, hanging and putting away.

    In my first marriage, my husband used to make excuses, like, to explain why he didn’t put away the already washed, dried and folded clothes, “Most of it’s yours.” (One bra atop a stack of jockeys made it mostly mine.)

    My son, from that marriage, starting doing his own laundry as a teenager, and, if I did his for him, would thank me.

    In my present marriage, we just do laundry as needed, then fold our own and sometimes even each other’s.

    1. “(One bra atop a stack of jockeys made it mostly mine.)”

      It’s the Smurfette principal at work. One token female (or female-associated thing), is seen as equal representation. I’m only half-joking.

  9. In some ways, laundry is more of a chore now than when it was done by hand. The expectation now is that people will wash their clothing after each wear. It didn’t use to be like that. Some clothing was never washed and most was only washed weekly (at best). My small family of 3 can easily generate 10 loads of laundry per week and sorting, washing, drying, folding and putting those clothes away is work.

    So, maybe Prof. Doodyhead just needs to shut up.

    1. His wife should just pull his laundry out of the dryer, put it in a basket and let him deal with it from then on.

      With luck their house will have a cat like one of ours that likes to pee on a basket of clean clothes. He was supposed to be an indoor cat, but not anymore!

  10. We do not know the full context in which this message was placed so we may be misreading as a result. We do not know what the post is replying to.

    It is an insensitive remark. Laundry is certainly a pain, can be boring and tiresome and is hard “work”, very different from not doing anything, but it is also very different when compared to a job for someone else such as teaching. No less “work” but using a very different set of skills and if you do have a job, something that you have to do in addition to the work you are paid for. So, if you are in a position where one partner works and the other doesn’t, then isn’t it only fair the non-employed partner does some if not most of the housework, including laundry?

    1. It might be fair, if there is a non-employed partner, if the couple doesn’t have children that are also the stay-at-home partner’s constant responsibility and if the contribution of the stay-at-home partner is acknowledged as the work it is.

      No one is arguing it doesn’t take a different set of skills. Most paying jobs involve different skills from other paying jobs, as well. Doesn’t mean they aren’t all valuable. Just as the unpaid work that a stay-at-home partner does is both valuable and work.

  11. I’m quite surprised to find out that washing machines have become so advanced that they sort, fold, iron, hang up, and put away clothing with no other input.

    Also, does laundry suddenly become work when you get paid to do it? Because that used to be common and it still happens often enough.

    Incidentally, stuff like this is why I would never even consider marrying a man who has never lived on his own.

  12. Teacher by occupation,
    Jackass by avocation.
    Seriously, does he believe the “more manly” chores, like lawnwork or vehicle maintenance, aren’t work either or is it just the “womanly” work that is easy.
    Housework should be shared equally, in whatever way the housemates deem is fair, but sometimes people have different ideas of what is fair. There are days when I come home after working 10 hours to find a sink full of dishes that need to be done after I make dinner but before I am asked to give my unemployed wife a footrub.
    Granted, that’s not often but when I’m told I don’t hold up my end of what’s fair they tend to stick out.

  13. Nicely said Amy.
    I’d also point out that in addition to devaluing women’s work, it’s also able-ist and embedded in class privilege.

    He’s assuming that a laundry machine is something that you have IN YOUR HOUSE which is not the case for most Americans, I’d bet. It’s expensive, you need extra plumbing, and you need space for the machines.

    Hauling one’s shit to the laundromat is a major hassle. For folks with temporary disabilities–try balancing hamper on crutches–or more permanent disability, laundry is not only work but a major production.

    Laundry is painful for me, because it involves lifting, bending over, and reaching over my head with my arms.
    I’m fairly mobile–I just have a lot of pain. How about someone with a major physical disability?

    Dude’s a schmuck. Tell him another professor says so ;p

  14. I have very low standards, and will never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself, and will do essentially what ever my partner asks me to do if it isn’t illegal or unethical or too expensive (but she has to ask, none of this mind reading crap). I have never asked anyone to wash clothes for me, or pick up after me, or clean for me, or cook for me. It is hard for me to imagine doing so. I have volunteered to help my partners on many occasions and don’t mind at all being asked to help at what ever.

    I have two containers for clothes, clean and dirty. When the clean one gets empty I wash what is in the dirty one. I have never found folding to be necessary, but I remember one time visiting my sister, she asked me if she could iron the shirt I was wearing because it was so wrinkled that it bothered her to look at it.

  15. I’m a little disappointed that several here are calling this man names for doing no more than holding an opinion that differs from their own, and which doesn’t affect them in the least in any real way.
    Also, the supplied portion of the professor’s post does not mention his relationship status, who does the laundry at his house, nor does it contain the words “wife” or “woman’s work,” though more than one post here did. Before I jump to the same conclusion all of you have, I’d like to see the entire posted thread. Anyone got the link?

    1. Reverend, it does mention his gender and he uses the term spouse. That makes it equivalent to the term wife.

      This is wrong in many ways.

      The way it is most wrong is that issues between partners or spouses as to household chores and employment status of said partners or spouses should not be aired on FB, and certainly not in rant-like manner the way this seems to be, as a way to apply public pressure or to intimidate the spouse the rant it directed at.

      If he finds the arrangement he has with his spouse unacceptable, he and his spouse need to work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement. Airing their “dirty laundry” (pun intended) on FB is unacceptable. It isn’t something that will strengthen the relationship, and it opens him up for retaliation about his now presumed sexual inadequacy. I mean seriously, any married guy who complains about laundry or housework is obviously not thinking enough about sex. Bringing up his mother just confirms it. Any guy who brings up his mother in any argument about his wife is obviously not thinking enough about sex.

      I am not sure that this is a problem that the university can solve. Clearly he is not suitable as a faculty advisor, but unless his spouse is a student or faculty member, what he says about her isn’t a university matter. It might be helpful to her to check in with her about domestic abuse and to give her support if she needs or wants it and to know she has support, even if her spouse is a dick.

      1. This is part of what amazes me about the post. Some colleges and universities have rules about what sort of things can be posted on social network sites that you share with students. At my school we’re not supposed to let students on our personal FB, but we can create a separate FB site where we can friend students. The sort of mixing of personal and professional this guy is doing is not appropriate.

        Personally, as a college professor who shares the laundry chore with her spouse, laundry is work. The more people you have in the household, the more time you spend doing it. The sorting part of things became more complicated when we added children to the mix.

      2. Yes, it does mention his gender, and he does use the word “spouse.” You cannot, however, rule out the possibility that he’s married to another man, or even single. Irrelevant in any case. He never used the term “woman’s work,” at least in the section we were shown. That’s why I was hoping someone here would post a link to the actual page.

        Kate said she was contacting the University. To what end, I wonder? “That man holds an opinion that differs from mine! I insist you fire him or change his mode of thinking!” Kate, I’m using hyperbole to make a point. Please don’t take offense. I don’t see where he did anything wrong. Arguably stupid, yes, but not wrong.

        1. Reverend, even if his spouse was a man, he is still a dick for treating him like a pos.

          If your relationship with someone is predicated on treating them badly and holding power over them, then it sucks to be in a relationship with you and no one should want to abuse themselves that way.

          1. While I agree that the guy’s kind of a dick, I think you’re still missing my point, and the *fact* that he’s a dick wasn’t it. Perhaps I’m being unclear, so I’ll go into annoying detail. Sorry.
            The OP re-posted this guy’s opinion, that he had posted on *his own* FaceBook page (so he wasn’t trying to force his opinion on anyone who wasn’t “friended” nor was this aired in his classroom), and asked “What do I do with this? It’s just so sickening.” My answer would be “Nothing. He posted an opinion that you don’t agree with, and there’s nothing here that even states unequivocally that he’s in a relationship and treating his spouse as a drudge. Even if he is, it’s none of your business, and shouldn’t concern you or the University. All you can really do is thank FSM that you’re not his spouse, then get on with your life, which will continue to be filled to the brim with the opinions of others that sicken you.” Even though I personally don’t like him, the guy did nothing WRONG, but the OP implied (when she said she contacted the University)that he should in some way be punished for expressing his thoughts in a forum in which you must have been invited to participate. Some here SEEM to agree with that.
            Many of the posts here have focused on whether or not laundry is actually work, instead of whether the guy needs to be “re-educated” about having a right to speak his own mind. On that front: I’ve done my own laundry my entire adult life, and don’t consider it work. It’s just something that eventually *needs to be done,* like mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, or eating chocolate.

  16. Oh how pathetic. Setting aside the gender-laden “women’s work” vs. “man’s work” / housework vs. “paying” work, doing laundry hardly rises to the level of work. It is a chore, it can be a series of irritating interruptions, requires a minimal amount of planning, and takes some time (what 5 minutes per load?).

    I’ve done my own laundry since I can remember, did all the laundry when I was married, do all of my own laundry again these many years divorced. It’s not that big a deal. You can even use it as a meditation practice.

    Now dusting? Don’t get me started on dusting… Seriously, I F-ing hate dusting.

    1. Congratulations on owning your own washer and dryer. Not all of us are so lucky. For me, laundry DOES take planning and more than ‘5 minutes’. It takes me an entire evening, which takes time away from many other things I could be doing, since I have to walk to the laundromat while carrying a shit-ton of heavy laundry bags, wait for empty machines and then hang out for 30 minutes while the wash is done (not worth it to walk home and back in that time). Repeat for the dryers. Then I have to carry it back and fold it all. It is work. Meditative, it is not.

      1. Yes, an in-unit washer has been a requirement in my housing decisions. On the other hand, given that you have internet access, I am going to assume that you don’t have to take your laundry down to the nearest river and beat it out on rocks. So congratulations to you on that! When I was a student, I used the time waiting to study, so the investment of time in laundry was minimal because I was going to have to study some time anyway. If you are in a life situation wherein you have to use a laundromat and can’t use the wait time usefully, then that definitely sucks. Hopefully it won’t last too long.

  17. What? You don’t have laundry clubs?

    Each time I think I know the extent to which the US is backwards and disadvantage something like this pops up and proves me wrong. No laundry clubs? Absurd!

  18. Wow, all this uproar over what I’ve always considered one of the easiest household chores. I figure anything I can do while watching a Doctor Who marathon doesn’t qualify as work. But as they say, your milage may vary. We all have chores we hate. Give me this one over mowing the lawn any day. The question I have is why is a member of the faculty posting this at all? If one of my teacher’s had gone off on me about a disagreement I was having with my wife I would be furious.

    1. On rereading it seems he’s posting a fight with his own wife, not posting to the student’s page. In which case, he’s just an ordinary jackass and I imagine his wife will sort him out soon enough.

  19. I’d like to point out that this is a simple matter of short-sightedness on the professor’s side.

    It is likely that this man is simply a product of his upbringing and requires some enlightenment. My guess is that he was brought up in an era when women were expected to be the happy house-wife and gain full satisfaction from such work. Perhaps the students can respond to his Facebook post with some intelligent information to fill in the missing pieces of the world he has built for himself.

    Most of us have agreed that putting the dirty Laundry into the washing machine, then moving it into the dryer 45 minutes later is not a significant amount of work. (And, presumably, not as difficult as making a decent lesson plan for the next class you must teach.) However, there are two tell-tale signs that this man does not DO the work. The first is that “doing the laundry” from start to finish involves quite a bit more work than using the machine–It does take a more significant amount of time to do the folding, sorting, hanging, and putting away. And the second is that stay-at-home-spouses are likely doing much more around the house than just the Laundry. In all likelihood, he/she is doing a lot of cooking, cleaning, and child-raising; That’s a heap of work for one person who has at least one child who has not reached school-age yet. . . .

    Adding Clothes to the machine? Not work.
    — time consuming? no.

    Doing the Laundry: all of it? Work.
    Doing the Laundry: Physically or mentally taxing? not really.
    Doing the Laundry: Time Consuming? yeah, but it shouldn’t take more than an hour a day for one person, even a small family.

    Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, would probably argue that there is more at work here than meets the eye. (If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it highly!) Two short points here:
    Women (or MEN!) who are a “housekeeper/parent” will tend to expand the time it take to do the chores to the fill the time available.
    And the point which I think the professor was making is that the housework is neither physically nor mentally taxing in any way, and here the professor implies that this makes it not “work”. It is simply mindless work that must be done, and there is little satisfaction that anyone can expect from it.

    1. I’d like to point out that I’m totally aware of my bias in my post towards the suburban setup, where a person can do laundry in his or her residence, without stepping outside, and that it totally ignores people in physical situations that lie outside the norm (specifically people with pain or other disabilities).
      This is by intent, since it most closely addresses the professor’s presumed setup.

  20. I think this kind of comment is no different than looking down on someone for having a profession deemed “low class”. I’ve met plenty of Business types that would never consider a mechanic or a fry cook as important as them so therefore it’s lesser work.

    It’s a form of class distinction usually practiced by those who have no class.

    But that being said I find house work easier than my regular job. I freelance and have had many periods of unemployment where I was the househusband. rarly did it take longer than half a day to get everything except dinner done that was needed. My wife who is in the same position now seems to say the same thing, her day gets hard when the kids are out of school and need to be ferried to and from activities.

    But laundry is still work, it’s just work I can do in front of the TV.

    1. Awesome, of course I am picturing a clean laundromat where all the driers work and the people are beautiful and the beer is cold. :) Bring on the party…I mean laundry!

      1. We used to have a punk rock club here in Seattle called the “Sit ‘n’ Spin.” It was a punk rock bar, restaurant and laundromat. So you could, indeed, have a beer while you did your laundry, and listen to great punk rock. I saw the Groovie Ghoulies there at least twice.

  21. In a previous relationship my partner had me quit my job to focus on the housework. i did all the cooking, cleaning, and shopping for the household. It’s quite a lot of work, especially when your partner and her daughter are messy people by nature. But i think it can be a little less laborious if it’s appreciated. But the same can be said for any job.

  22. If doing laundry isn’t work, why do so many people avoid doing it like the plague and try to get someone else to do it?

    I rest my case.

  23. It seems that all of us that live alone should sit back for a bit and let the praise roll over us. We have a paying job (full-time in my case, but maybe part-time) AND do all of the housework, cooking, etc. Apparently, it is like having two full-time jobs. I should quit the housework and cooking, get a second full-time job, and hire someone to do the housework (for less than the hourly wage of the second job). That seems to me like too much work, so I’ll stick with the current plan: have a job, have a clean house, clean clothes, and food, and not be a whiner.

  24. If laundry is a ‘blessing’ then perhaps this man’s wife can reserve him the duvets. Y’know, as a treat.

  25. Laundry is a giant PITA. IF you’re lucky enough to have a place with a washer and dryer, the actual doing is just annoying, but folding and putting away takes time. Even if you’re dedicated to a wardrobe the doesn’t need ironing, like I am.

    If you can’t afford a place with an in unit washer/dryer, then it sucks by leaps and bounds. You have to get yourself and your crap to the laundromat, if you live in a crappy part of town, you have to hope that at least some of the machines will be functioning and not eat your coins. You have to hope that someone who only does laundry once a month for a family of 8 hasn’t gotten there ahead of you and is taking up all the machines.

    While you’re doing the laundry you can sit and read or study, as long as someone’s kids aren’t running like while animals on crack all over the laundromat, crawling over you and your shit, and in general being horrible.

    If you’re lucky, and if the laundromat has an attendant who thinks you’re cute, he might tip you off when machines you can’t see become available, or help you move your stuff from washer to dryer. BTW wet clothes are heavy as hell. And you get the added bonus of playing, “Do I flirt with this guy to get my laundry done faster? Do I suck if I do that? Oh, god, what if everyone else leaves before I’m done? What happens then?”

    If you’re a dude, or not “cute” enough by the attendants standards, or if there is no attendant, you’re on your own.

    So, yeah, laundry sucks. A lot.

    Fortunately the place we’re moving to in July has a great washer dryer set AND a place for me to set up a clothesline for line-dried clothes. Which I prefer.

  26. Hmm, interesting. When I was in boot camp I was a laundry PO, which means my job in the unit was to do laundry and coordinate sending out laundry and reciving laundry (the only thing we washed in-house was socks and underware). Since that was one of my duties at the time I would say that part of my military pay at that time was because I did the laundry. I got paid for it, it required physical effort, it was time consuming… sounds like work to me.

  27. I’d like to recommend this excellent and classic feminist essay (written by a friend of the family) The Politics of Housework.

    It was written in 1970, so it’s a bit dated, but IMO it’s not nearly as dated as it should be, given that it’s now almost half a century old.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button