The Art of Public Maintenance

According to the Oxford Dictionary Maintenance is defined as:
– the process of preserving a condition or situation
– the state of being preserved.
– the process of keeping something in a good condition.

The act of Maintenance is demarcated into discrete categories or spheres, public and private, locked into the binary narrative of gendered roles.

Public Maintenance jobs (just to name a few):
– cleaner
– janitor
– maid (hotel staff)
– laundry mat
– dry cleaners
– sanitation workers
– plumbers
– repair workers
– garbage collectors

Private Maintenance or domestic unpaid labour can still be summed up in one word:
– housewives

Public Maintenance is performed by both genders (though of course the job titles and types of jobs are gendered), whereas private Maintenance has been traditionally the domain of the woman (whether she liked it or not)!

As Mierle Laderman Ukeles would say: “Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.) the mind boggles and chafes at the boredom. The culture confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay.”

Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Facility Coordinator Elise from a government contracted company, contracted to maintain public spaces.

The public spaces they maintain include:
– parks
– roads
– footpaths
– parking metres
– street furniture (park benches)
– bridges
– wharves
– public toilets

Job titles like Facility Coordinator, Elise’s job as you can imagine is not to clean public toilets per sa, she doesn’t wear PPE, no high vis vests or casual tradie gear. Elise wears your typical office outfit of pencil skirt, blouse and flats. Wearing office clothing essentially allows Elise and her coworkers to blend in with their surrounding in Sydney, a city of business. The sight of Maintenance and Maintenance workers in process troubles the established order of things; do you think the cleaner works out of office hours because otherwise they would impede workers by being in the way!

Elise’s job of maintaining public toilets involves monthly inspections to ensure that they are being maintained in an orderly fashion!

Monthly inspections are preventative checks for:
– cleanliness of toilets, mirrors and the space
– bins, are they empty!
– graffiti detecting
– ensure the plumbing is in working order and above board
– record and report any damages, such as: smashed pipes, smashed brick walls, smashed mirrors, smashed toilets (clearly someone or some ones are compulsive smashers…), over enthusiastic litter bugs and the list goes on!

The public toilets that Elise, her coworkers and the company maintains include seven lots, three located in The Rocks and four in Darling Harbour.

Public toilets are a public good, maintained with tax payer money! Which only serves to high light the pure stupidity of acts of vandalism and I do not mean graffiti, which is rather low on the damages scale when compared with smashed plumbing which can cost up towards of $20,000 depending on the extent of the damages.

The gendering of public toilets reinforces the binary narrative, whereas in the domestic setting the humble toilet is a free-for-all, the only gender belongs to the users as nature intended.

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