What is important to us is not only the possibility of gendered unpaid housework turning into OCD, but also the negative effects of these cleanliness-dirtiness or order-related repetitions on our writing ritual.

Random spread of dust from a vacuum cleaner for just a few days (Image: Merve Çeltikci)

Since I read Howard Becker’s book a few years ago during my graduate studies, titled Writing for Social Scientists, translated also into Turkish, which started by talking about “academic preparations before writing” and gave advice to social scientists about writing in general, −probably because unpaid, repetitive domestic labor permeates every moment of my daily life− the following sentences of him always reminds me of the influence of gender when I write: In the introduction of the book, Becker asks a female student attending the class that “Louise, how do you write?” But the part that interests me most about Louise is the fact that she had to clean the house before she started writing − since she’s a woman. Even more interestingly, Becker states that this is a very common routine among women (Becker, 2013: 24-25).

Just like Louise, one of the routines of many of us, including me, before, during and after writing or even reading, is to clean the house and/or to give care. More precisely, repeating the same housework before starting our academic studies (reproductive work). So, what do we mean by housework? Feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir describes housework in The Second Sex as such (1952: 51; cited in Bora, 61-62):

“This type of work is based on the negative: cleaning is the removal of dirt, tidying up is the elimination of disorder. And in conditions of poverty no satisfaction is possible; despite the woman’s sweat and tears, the midden is still a midden: nothing on earth can make it pleasant. The women’s divisions continue this endless struggle without winning a victory over the dirt. (…) Few jobs are as similar to Sisyphus’ torture as endlessly repeated household chores. The clean gets dirty, the dirty gets cleaned, again and again, day after day. The housewife is outside of time; she does nothing; she only drags the present.”

It is the basic principle of both socialist feminism and materialist feminism that women’s unpaid work at home is a reproductive activity. This also helps to make women’s invisible labor visible and draws direct attention to the benefits that the capitalist economy derives from women’s daily activities. Like paid labor, women’s unpaid domestic labor is composed of a series of boring, repetitive and alienating burdens (Abel and Nelson, 1990: 6).

Housework is calling you![1]

In addition to gender, class is the second largest factor in the burden of housework and care. Because the class perhaps comes into play the most at the point of whether we can employ a person in the house or not. However, employment of a housekeeper or careworker in the house is a very complex issue, so this would be a general inference that I can’t make precise statements for now. In addition, since housework, care and class are intertwined, it is very difficult to make a sharp class distinction between the two, even if you live alone or with a family, but I still want to exemplify this as follows. When there isn’t (can’t be) employment at home, it is very important whether you live alone as a woman or with your family. In other words, whether you are economically dependent or independent in terms of time spent on household chores is a determining factor. Because housework is almost in flesh and bone and it seems as if acting according to demographic characteristics of each house (population density, ethnicity, class, education, age, income, gender, etc.). Also, in my opinion, while the housework of single women is more liberal, for example, housework in the family house is more dominant and oppressive than the others. Its sanction is heavy in many ways. The most striking point of this is that after a while you are not doing it, it is officially calling you! For example, you avoid looking at the floor at home to avoid eye contact with crumbs (note, there’s feminist humor!).

Many of us, especially those with a feminist consciousness, are well aware that repetitive unpaid housework and caregiving are “not freely chosen activities, and that various material and ideological forces are compelling” (Abel and Nelson, 1990: 6). If I draw attention to the title of the article at this point, what is (are) the main source of our metaphorical ordeal about writing as female social scientists? And when our keyword is “repetitive”, what consequences does this have, especially for female social scientists? More importantly, who benefits from this repetitive work?

From repetitive, unpaid, gendered domestic labor to OCD

I would like to detail what kind of consequences our cleaning routines before writing can lead to with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Because from time to time, these repetitive behaviors related with cleaning before writing seem to me to turn into OCD in women. Accordingly, what is important to us is not only the possibility of gendered unpaid housework turning into OCD, but also the negative effects of these cleanliness-dirtiness or order-related repetitions on our writing ritual. It is known that most of the behaviors that characterize OCD, about which psychological and/or evolutionary psychiatric explanations are usually made, are related to limits, order, rules or non-compliance. The Turkish Psychiatric Association defines obsession and compulsion as follows:

“Obsessions are thoughts, ideas and impulses that a person cannot prevent from entering her/his mind and cannot get rid of. They come against the person’s will, are considered irrational by the person, and cause intense distress and restlessness, that is, anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive behavioral and mental acts performed to reduce or eliminate the intense distress and restlessness caused by obsessions.”

Although the Turkish Psychiatric Association stated that “despite OCD starts at an earlier age in men, it is more common in women in general” [1];  it did not explain why it is more common in women, so the answer to the question “what causes more obsession of cleaning in women?” is left hanging in the air. What matters to our content is that for many of us, whether we’re at home alone or not, the unpaid, gendered pre-writing ritual of cleaning is likely to turn into an OCD-like obsession. Thus, the answer to the question of who benefits from the possibility of OCD being more common in women, especially when women are not (or can’t be) alone at home, becomes clear: patriarchal capitalism.

It is also possible to come across studies showing that OCD exists in every culture. However, there are hardly any studies that address these disorders from a gender perspective. This shows us why OCD should be examined in terms of gender. However, in spite of the limited numbers of the studies, there is a study that can be given as an example: The article by Anish Cherian et al. (2014) titled Gender differences in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Findings from a large Indian sample. As the title of the study suggests, in the study, gender differences in OCD are handled through the example of India, and patients who applied to the OCD clinic in a large psychiatric hospital in India for more than 5 years consecutively are evaluated. As a result of the study, it is concluded that there are following differences between men and women:

“It started at an earlier age in men compared to women with OCD. It was seen that the tendency to have more sexual and religious obsessions, pathological suspicions, controlling, repetitive compulsions and social phobia was higher in men. In addition, compared to men, women are more likely to be married. In addition, fear of contagion, depression and suicide risk were higher and more common in women (2014: 18).”

Of course, it is difficult for now to give certain answers to the question of when this turns into an obsession among women who are unpaid domestic workers or whether it really turns into an obsession like OCD. In addition, our pre-writing gendered routines may also differ among women. However, as social scientist women, when we adapt the question “Louise, how do you write?” to ourselves with the possibility of the repetitive unpaid domestic labor turning into an obsession, it is not difficult to guess the answer most of us will give. Moreover, issues such as cleaning, caregiving and order, which have become a pre-writing routine, play directly into the hands of patriarchal capitalism. Especially in cases where women do not (can’t) live alone at home, our cleaning routines -that are disruptive for women’s academic production- before, during and after writing or rather our metaphorical ordeal as similarly gendered unpaid housekeepers and caregivers,  are also not without any reason.


Abel, E., Nelson, M. (1990) “Circles of Care: An Introductory Essay,” Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women’s Lives, der. E. K. Abel and M. K. Nelson Albany: State University of New York.

Becker, H. (2013) Sosyal Bilimcilerin Yazma Çilesi [Writing for Social Scientists] (çev. Ş. Geniş). Ankara: Heretik Yayıncılık.

Bora, A. (2010) Kadınların Sınıfı: Ücretli Ev Emeği ve Kadın Öznelliğinin İnşası (The Class of Women: Waged Domestic Labor and the Construction of Female Subjectivity). İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları.

Cherian, A., Narayanaswamy, J., Viswanath, B., et al. (2014). “Gender differences in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Findings from a large Indian sample”, Asian Journal of Psychiarty, 9, 17-21.

[1] https://www.psikiyatri.org.tr/halka-yonelik/29/obsesif-kompulsif-bozukluk

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Gülcan Ergün

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

[1] Adapted from a fast food chain’s advertising slogan “The fire is calling you”.


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