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Yet, despite the rhetoric of “common humanity,” Auster already acknowledges sexual difference: “New York can be dangerous, so you must be careful. If you prefer, smile only at female strangers. (Men are beasts, and they must not be given the wrong idea.)”

Calle seems to reiterate this throughout her daily account. On the first day she notes: “During the night of Tuesday, September 20, 1994, I take over the phone booth. I start by dusting and polishing. Two men are watching me. One of them asks, ‘Do you do windows too?’ Am I supposed to inaugurate my smiling task? I choose to postpone it until tomorrow, I don’t answer, for as you said yourself Paul, men are pigs.

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Welcome to English StackExchange, Chelsea.

The expression, "Do you do windows?" means "Do you wash windows?". The source for the passage is Gotham Handbook in "Double Game" (1999).

In the mid-20th century, women who did janitorial work or were house maids were usually overworked and poorly paid. Washing windows, like cleaning wooden baseboards, is an especially tiring domestic task. Everyone knows this who does any sort of cleaning or pays other people to clean. So, the limitation for a cleaning person might be, "I don't do windows".

These country and western lyrics by H Cochran and sung by Willie Nelson (1980), refer to the same sentiments as Sophie:

I'll do the clothes if you won't come unglued
And I'll clean the stove to keep you in a good mood
But you've been mean to me sometimes
I think I better tell you what's on my mind
I don't do windows...

An article in The Chicago Tribune (published in 1992) about Microsoft Windows opens with this sentence,

"Do you do windows?" was once a question asked of the hired help.

As time passed, "Do you do windows?" became more of a joking, slightly sarcastic expression, to indicate awareness of asking too much of someone who was working for them or with them, in any context.


Gotham Handbook documents a project by Sophie Calle and author Paul Auster. Paul gave instructions to Sophie about how to improve life in New York City. Calle chose to aesthetically upgrade a phone booth (hey were still common in 1994) by painting it and adding flowers. This is puzzling to New Yorkers walking by. One man jokingly asked if Sophie "did windows" (cleaned windows) too. Sophie's train of thought indicates she considered it a misogynist remark ("men are beasts"), but a woman could have been curious and made the same comment to Sophie, with friendly intent.

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When a person who cleans houses for a living is asked "Do you do windows?" the question means "Is cleaning windows one of the things you are willing to do when cleaning a house?" And so they are addressing her, jokingly, as if her occupation was cleaning houses.

That form of question needn't be confined to house-cleaners. A person who runs a garage might be asked "Do you do motorcycles?" or "Do you do electric vehicles?" Do you repair those kinds of vehicles?

A caterer might be asked "Do you do children's birthday parties?" or "Do you do formal black-tie dinners?" Do you provide food and drink for such occasions?

P.S. The meaning of do is contextual. If I had to gloss this meaning of do generically, so the definition would fit a variety of contexts, I'd say something like

do transitive verb: "to include (something) in one's repertoire".

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    Yes, because there was a habit among some house cleaners to announce at first meeting, "I don't do windows." Commented Feb 29 at 12:48
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    There's are various discussions of "I don't do windows" as a cultural reference or metaphor online, e.g. here here here, meaning "I may do menial work but I have limits" or just "I'm not your maid". Although the Auster quote seems more literal.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 29 at 13:52
  • @EllieKesselman Here we discuss the lexical meaning of words and try not to stray into discussions of cultural and sexual stereotypes.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 29 at 15:05
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    @TimR The expression is idiomatic. The context for the passage makes that clear. We most certainly DO include cultural and sexual stereotypes if that is relevant context. There are numerous examples. I have been active on this website since 2011 so I know of what I speak. I am not a feminist or women's lib person, but the passage is referring to "men as beasts" etc. so it is relevant to OP's question. Commented Feb 29 at 15:54
  • @TimR Oops sorry, I meant to add this but ran out of time. OP tagged the question with "expression" which indicates a question about an idiom or metaphor to me. Commented Feb 29 at 16:01
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To complete TimR's answer, here is the specific definition:

do (v.)

12 To treat or deal with in any way typically with the sense of preparation or with that of care or attention:

a(1) To put in order : clean

Was doing the kitchen

a(2) Wash

Did the dishes after supper
M-W

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