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Those little hotel soaps

Came home. Unpacked. Set a large hotel laundry bag in the bathroom closet.

The bag is filled with thin bars of soap, mostly rectangular and lacking fragrance. They are destined for battered women, because that is what we women do when we travel. We scoop up the freebies in hotel bathrooms, and then give them to our local women's shelter.

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What gave rise to such philanthropy? The answers range from pragmatic to philosophical. Around the country stand hordes of hotel bathrooms and a distressing number of battered women. The Best Western chain alone has more than 302,000 rooms. That's a lot of soap.

I see that this collecting is a "woman thing." Not even the kindest men I know grab the soaps. Maybe it is a habit passed down by women to their daughters and granddaughters that dates back to knotting bits of string and smoothing out silver foil.

This answer I reject. Instead of blaming frugality, it has more to do with empathy and guilt. There is an element of "there but for the grace of God" about it as we unpeel in a bathroom we have not had to clean. We are free and unharmed.

The soap reminds us. Sometimes, as I lather up in an unfamiliar bathroom, I hear myself quoting Lady Macbeth after she initiated a mortal attack on her husband's foe, "What! Will these hands ne'er be clean?" So the spoils of motel bathrooms have, too, a symbolic meaning.

One of the ideas that launched the "movement" was to ensure battered women something of their own. Possessing even a cheap little bar of soap was preferable to using the institutional kind or the pink liquid in public restrooms.

Do we expect gratitude from this giving? If we collect all we can, are we able to sleep more serenely until roused by a wake-up call? Domestic violence crosses ethnic, racial, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religious, and socioeconomic lines. So does the need for soap.

• Jane Manaster is an education writer.


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