laun·dress [lawn-dris, lahn-] –noun
a woman whose work is the washing and ironing of clothes, linens, etc.
[Origin: 1540–50; obs. launder launderer]
What image springs into your mind when you hear the word "laundress"?
Nothing too appealing or interesting, I'll bet.
Female, most certainly. Chafed hands, a weary slump, a weak mind, a faint smile? Maybe a disheveled hair-do? Not an admirable picture, that is for sure. Not threatening, not scary, not anything. Nothing. Almost invisible? Are you having trouble imagining a laundress, because you are nodding off or getting distracted before you can even form an impression?
Anyone thinking: "Ooh, laundresses are so sexy, intelligent, sparkling with scintillating wit? Nah, probably not... That is understandable. I won't hold it against you. This blog is my awkward attempt to defend myself (and other middle-aged, middle-class moms) as people with more going on that you might expect. Or at least more going on than a rinse cycle. Have I unintentionally but decisively been proving just the opposite?
Anyone else visualizing a pissed-off golden-haloed Madonna?
Probably not? Laundresses are usually anonymous, performing good works that are largely unrecognized. Hardly costumed superheros, closer to ghosts.
The Laundress of this blog is fascinated by dictionaries and words and sounds (and also lingerie). Look at the lovely meanings found here, from the scrumptiously-browsable Online Etymology Dictionary ("... a map of the wheel-ruts of modern English. Etymologies are not definitions; they're explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.") Here, dear reader, are the results for searching "laundry" in this fine resource:
c.1530, from O.Fr. lavanderie, from L. lavendaria, pl. of lavandarium "things to be washed," from lavare "to wash" (see lave). The verb launder "to wash linen" is from 1664; criminal banking sense first recorded 1961, from notion of making dirty money seem clean; brought to widespread use during Watergate scandal, 1973. Laundry list in figurative sense is from 1958. Laundromat is from 1943, originally a proprietary name by Westinghouse.
1835 (but not in widespread use until 1852), from Fr. lingerie "things made of linen," also "laundry room, linen shop" (15c.), from O.Fr. linge "linen" (12c.), from L. lineus (adj.) "of linen," from linum "flax, linen" (see linen). Originally introduced in Eng. as a euphemism for scandalous under-linen.
"to place (papers) in consecutive order for future reference," 1473, from M.Fr. filer "string documents on a wire for preservation or reference," from fil "thread, string," from L. filum "thread," from PIE base *gwhis-lom (cf. Armenian jil "sinew, string, line," Lith. gysla "vein, sinew," O.C.S. zila "vein"). The notion is of documents hung up on a line like drying laundry. Methods have become more sophisticated, but the word has stuck. The noun first attested in Eng. in the military sense, "line or row of men," 1598, from M.Fr. filer in the sense of "spin out (thread), march in file." The noun meaning "arranged collection of papers" is from 1626; computer sense is from 1954.
Oh boy. Catch that last word -- file-- in particular? The Laundress is also a librarian (another word with a full compliment of negative stereotypes). She is a generation or more too old to be part of the Hipper Crowd of Shushers and far too cranky for any wussy-drink involving blueberry vodka. However, my how she does love to string things up!
"This little laundress is charming, but she's a rascal I wouldn't trust an inch."
The comment above refers to the image shown at right: Jean-Baptiste Greuze's 1761 painting, La Blanchisseuse (The Laundress). Greuze created quite a stir at that time with his sexy and provocative laundress.
Have you heard of Greuze? I hadn't. New discoveries -- both the painting and the artist -- created a lot of excitement for me, first learning of them 242 years after their initial splash. Ah, to be an artist and create works that intrigue and captivate viewers centuries later? What a legacy. Never mind that Greuze has long been viewed as a sentimental populist, one who incorporated heavy-handed moral tales in his work.
Greuze was acclaimed and highly successful in his lifetime, but died poor and forgotten. The painter who idealized family life and domestic virtues was done in by his own vanity and spendthrift habits, plus a mysterious, beautiful wife who embezzled his fortune. He died penniless, in the care of a faithful daughter.
What a fascinating teaser of a tale! Far surpasses the meager offerings of supermarket tabloids. Here is a fun fantasy I had at the checkout line today: what if "In Touch" and "Us Weekly" had headlines about "The Truth Revealed: Jean-Baptiste's Sexy Embezzling Wife"? Who the hell really cares about cute little Jamie Lynn Spears and her baby daddy? Impatience on my part, I am eager to find out more about Greuze, his artistic and his personal life. But there is not too much information readily available, I am going to have to take an afternoon off and visit the art museum's library to satisfy my curiosity. Crap. Wish I could pick the details of hot news like this up at the grocery.
I have learned a rough sketch of his life and career and viewed a smattering of his works from a dozen or so brief web articles, mostly on museum sites. I want to learn more. Viewing art images online is frustrating, so much is lost on the monitor screen: colors, details, size, texture. There are a few museums in my region where I will be able to view some of his works. Meanwhile, I need some books. Good heavens, I am delighted to find out there is an entire (short) book published by the Getty Museum, devoted to this and other laundresses painted by Greuze and the broader social relevance of Greuze's paintings. There are other enticingly longer works on Greuze as well.
Er, wait, when titling this post, did I mean Oxydol morons? Or perhaps oxy-doll morons?
You did know Oxydol was the product that put the soap in soap operas? Check out this fascinating comic strip about queer Aunt Martha (nope, not Aunt May) and her unique wedding gift! Plus, Oxydol sponsored a fine set of collectible Pogo figurines. Yep, this fine old brand has a venerable history closely entwinted with the folklore of laundresses.
(Very bummed to find out that Redox Brands special site for Oxydol is currently down. Gee, what kind of traffic do you think a laundry soap draws when it bills itself like this: Have you ever been to a place where it's OK to GET DIRTY? Visit our special EXTREME CLEAN website at: www.the-extreme-clean.com.)
The Redox folks are trying to appeal to Gen-X by putting sexy back in laundry soap:
"We're proud that Oxydol kicks some mean bootie in the washing machine."
Redox Brands is a start-up founded by former Proctor & Gamble executives. The wives of the two founders do their respective household laundries. Hmmm.
The Laundress is now re-visiting some territory that she thinks she covered pretty damn well in previous posts. So far, she has not made a discernible difference, therefore hacking away on this theme yet again. The topics are: women and laundry and respect. Or lack of respect.
The Laundress works full-time outside of the home. She works full-time inside the home. She works full-time in her yard and garden. Yep, she basically works 24-7. Three full-time positions, two of which are unpaid.
She does not save lives or transform national policies in either her paid or unpaid employment. She is not a witty conversationalist, most of her sentences begin with "Ummmm" and end with "Errrrr". In between, she expresses her opinions on laundry soaps and other people fall asleep or back away slowly. You get the picture?
So, what gives? Why so pissed off over laundry detergent? Other viewpoints welcome here. Honestly, I am not sure what is up. Ummm, not too articulate... errrrr, help me out?
Here are front, rear, and side views of a limited edition Mary JaneWatson statuette. A collectible Spider-man figurine. Sideshow Collectibles decided to represent Peter Parker's "better half" doing his laundry. Washing his dirty Spidey suit -- or at least loading it into a teensy little hamper?
The Mary Jane statuette drew a lot of criticism, along the lines of "Mary Jane as a sexy laundress has Spider-Man comic fans in a lather".
Ahem. Mary Jane is viewed as too intelligent, too independent, too admirable to be turned into a laundering bimbo? All kinds of negative press, in all kinds of media. The statuette, officially known as the Mary Jane Comiquette, was created in a limited edition run of 2,000 and quickly sold out.
This controversy has left me swinging wildly back and forth. On one hand, screaming for an explanation on why the fuck a smart, successful and independent woman might be scorned for also doing laundry?
Is it because she is not wearing a head-scarf and a suitably-whipped and humbled expression?
Is it because Mary Jane Watson is a wealthy and gorgeous international supermodel -- a special breed of person who never does laundry?
Should a middle-aged or older Aunt May type female be washing Spidey's suit? Aunt May in a pink thong? Is the outrage about who is doing Spidey's laundry -- or just that MJ is too cool to do any laundry?
Or is the controversy because there is no complimentary statue of a hot-looking "off-duty" Peter Parker, perhaps in a ripped t-shirt and baggy jeans with a substantial amount of boxer shorts showing, as he lathers up one of MJ's outfits? Or perhaps, as shown in the image at left -- in his thong and mask? That is certainly an eye-catching depiction, a parody featured on beloved Boing Boing
Wait a minute. Who actually buys comic book collectible figurines? I have my Shmoo vinyl figure, which is butt-naked except for a red ribbon around it's neck. Oh, but Shmoos are famous for transforming themselves into whatever humans desire, which makes them very dangerous. Pork chops, that is what I think they usually turn into. I do sorely desire the Oxydol Pogo figures, but who the hell doesn't?
Not sure that this sexy Mary Jane statuette actually shows her "doing" his laundry. Maybe she is just sniffing his suit?
I am waiting for the corresponding Spidey statue. I think it will show PP gleefully clutching that pink thong that MJ is wearing? Or maybe not...
Laundry is an everyday fact of life. It is not glamorous. It is not sexy. It just is and it needs to be done. But the person doing it might very well be a lot of other things (besides a laundress). He or she is NOT subservient or servile.
Who does the laundry in your household, if you are cohabiting with two or more adults and one or more children and/or companion animals? Does your family have one of those trained laundry service dogs? A monkey? A skilled child?
The Laundress is just thrashing about on this one and has a whole lot of additional material that will need to wait for another post. Meanwhile, feel it is necessary to share that I always wear a full cake-face of make-up and a thong when doing my household's laundry. Nope, not to excite Peter Parker or any fanboys.
Just because it pleases me. And I think it looks just fine.
Friday, December 28, 2007
laun·dress [lawn-dris, lahn-] –noun