Just sharing my reflection paper on Rosling’s talk on the Magic of Washing Machine for one of MA classes
When we think of development as a means of acquiring desirable change, the only change we can see is through the Western eyes. Hans Rosling’s metaphor of washing machine reflects a simplistic yet ethnocentric view of development. Rosling presents a good case that industrialization and modernization are necessary for improving the lives of many women. But is industrialization the only means to an end?
Technology is arguably considered gender blind and elitist. It is often debated whether it is friendly or harmful to many women. But the bigger question is: Who has access over technology? Does it favor a chosen few? Who enjoys the benefits of technology such as washing machine? Many women would like to have washing machine and other machines to improve their daily chores but does it dissolve the disparity between third world women and first world women?
Rosling sells his idea on industrialization, the way capitalists would sell their washing machine. He points out that through the invention of washing machine, women can have more time for themselves to learn, and more quality time for their children. His points are very valid and persuasive. Any woman would want to have more time. But washing machine is not a basic need. Education through reading and studying is secondary when we think of food, shelter, clothing. Food security is the primary concern of every household. People prioritize what is urgent and beneficial at a given time. Making more time for children to read books does not resolve their immediate needs. The world does not need more scholars,or academicians. The emphasis of education is overrated by which the value of manual labor is under appreciated.
Rosling is also selling a capitalist idea on individualism. He looks at the benefits of washing machines to individuals but it is only one part of the picture. Modernization can be good but it will take time for third world women to benefit from it. To a first world woman, a washing machine brings magic, but to a third world woman, it takes a lot of work for her to fully realized the wonders of magic machine. It is not a simple trick at all for most women.
Indeed, technology helps a lot of women have a convenient life but technology is not readily available to most women in the world. What do we do with women with limited resources? Does technology fills in the gender gap? Instead of selling washing machine, we can sell the idea of better social and gender relations at home because technology is not the only means to an end.
Nonetheless, Hans Rosling shows that an industrialized society can still work for our advantage. It is a matter of stewardship of resources and not necessarily technology alone. We can still work on sustainable development in a consumerist capitalist society by changing behaviors.
The traditional definition of development sees people all over the world homogeneous. Practices and culture vary from one place to another but there are some things that remain universal such as food security and reproductive work. People from different parts of the world can find their own ways for survival. As what Hans Rosling said we should not give advice on what to do and not what not to do.