On the seventh day of my self-imposed Covid-19 quarantine in mid-March, just when I was hotly debating with my husband whether we needed to dip potatoes in Clorox after they have waited three days on the balcony, I received a call from my editor-in-chief. As heads of editors had been falling from all bureaus for the last two months, I was hardly surprised when she started her with her by-now-famous ouverture, “We have decided to move your position to Washington.”
It is one of my greatest regrets to this day that I was not witty enough come back with a chirpy, “Great, when do you want me to move?” Instead, I simply uttered the usual sweet nothings, hang up and poured myself a drink. After three decades of messy break-ups, cowardly flights and blocking-on-phones, one divorce, jobs at two newspapers that went out of business and an international company that finally sold its Turkey business, I know that the least said during a break-up the better.
“One thing I cannot forgive my editor is depriving me of a legitimate excuse to remain in a room and leave most of the housework to my super-finicky husband throughout the pandemic,” I confessed to my best friend. “The good news is that I have a one-month notice and hopefully this may blow over by then If not, I will just pen this long read I always wanted to write.”
Instead, as soon as I stopped working full time, my Turkish housewife gene took over. Before I knew it, I was zealously washing, wiping and cleaning so that the spiky green virus would not dare enter my flat. The homemaker skills, learned at a posh girls’ college in my teens and promptly forgotten, crept over me - I dusted, aired, arranged and rearranged rooms. My hands started smelling of Clorox and my body exuded lemon-scented detergent, with undertones of pine tile cleaner. Loading and unloading the dishwasher twice a day flattened my stomach and arranging shelves and dusting toned my arms – the broom was my exercise bar and the outdated, heavy vacuum cleaner was my dumbbell. I lost five kilos in the first three weeks by cleaning and two more as I kept moving the furniture around to get to the corners – a Turkish housewife’s sado-macho porn!
I was hardly alone – neither at the media sector nor overall – to lose a job. Newspapers, magazines and digital publishers from the Los Angeles Times to BuzzFeed have come up with pay cuts and layoffs as ads have dried up. In April, the New York Times reported that the pandemic has left some 36,000 news workers with reduced salaries or unemployed. I can only guess the numbers in Turkey, where most of the press has already been operating with a skeletal staff and fees for contributions range between meager and non-existent.
Neither was I alone in going from full-time professional to full-time housewife – a term that has a derogatory ring to it since 1968. More often though, my female friends had become fulltime professionals plus fulltime housewives and mothers. (“If I have to attend one more zoom meeting either for work or for PTA, I will simply break my computer,” confessed one.) All the work that we, professional women, had outsourced came back to us as our helpers were forced to stay away. “Women were the coordinators of all activities related to the house,” explained Prof. Deniz Kandiyoti, a sociologist and author, to Duvar. “With the pandemic that drove away the helpers, they were also forced to become doers.”
In the first two weeks of my endeavors as The Beginner Housewife, I discovered that most everything I had outsourced for the last two decades, from ironing to dying my hair to a mani-pedi, was quick, easy and much cheaper than what I paid for them. In five weeks, however, I realized that what made their outsourcing necessary was their repetitive nature. After weeks of cleaning a house that gets dirty immediately, food that gets consumed right away, you begin thinking that Sisyphus, who was punished by Gods to pull a rock up a hill to see it slide down for a whole eternity, must have been a woman.
Jokers on social media claim thousands of men have learned to iron, cook and care for their kids now that they were home. Even if these men exist, they are not in Turkey! I think many of them cooked, cleaned and ironed for the first one week so that they could boast about how well they were doing it. Once the novelty wore off – and they realized that cooking and cleaning is not one-down but a regular job – they simply let their wives, live-in girl-friends and mothers, take over. We, the women, obliged – perhaps out of a sense of duty or perhaps just out of vanity, knowing we’d do all they did faster, better and more efficiently.
“Anything you can do, I can do better,” sang Betty Hutton in 1946 musical “Annie, Get Your Gun.” 75 years later, it is this vanity, this self-challenge, that leads us to take over the bulk of work – at work and at home.