Saturday, January 07, 2006

On housework

An only partly light-hearted item about gender and housework, posted at Club Troppo and then cross-posted to Larvatus Prodeo by Nicholas Gruen, has generated a number of comments on both blogs and spun discussion off into others. So here's my two cents.

1) Ideology is the enemy of housework. As a feminist all my adult life I have always resisted the idea that making a mess and not cleaning it up is somehow worse if you're a woman, or that the many activities traditionally lumped under the heading 'housework' are in any way gender-specific. On the other hand, I also have political objections (weakening as I age, but still strong enough to prevent it) to the idea of employing a cleaner, particularly since almost all cleaners are women. I can't quite shake the idea that there is something simultaneously undignifed and anti-democratic about not cleaning up one's own mess.

2) I therefore live in a much bigger mess (speaking of undignification) than I would like. Nothing chez moi actually smells or festers, and the bathroom does not look as if I am developing a new species of penicillin in it, but the untidiness is chronic and in one room in particular the chaos would be regarded by some as a mental health issue. There's a proliferation of displaced or homeless items in this room that it would take three or four weeks to sort, deal with, throw out or find a home for, even if I could get the carpenter in to build the cupboards I can't afford in the space I don't have.

3) The bringing-up of children and the cooking of meals are both arts. Housework is a chore. Under no circumstances should they all be considered as part of the same deal.

4) If you're a woman, it's all about your mother. You have either internalised her standards and followed her example, or wildly over-reacted against them. This applies at both ends of the spectrum, whether she was an unutterable slob or Mrs Sparkle incarnate.

5) Ironing is less unbearable than cleaning the bathroom.

6) The piano looks better without the paw prints.


Nicholas Gruen said...

I agree with most of your points PC. You obviously feel the expectations on women to do housework much more than I notice them. I certainly don't expect women to do housework and I'd be pretty pissed off if anyone started making assumptions about what I should be doing.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I've been lucky -- the blokes I've known well enough for it to matter have all been rather better housekeepers than I am, and certainly better than most men.

I think the expectations in question are largely internalised (which is why I constantly agonise about the state of my house, and would love to be a better housekeeper) -- but unfortunately, it's also true that women who have very high standards of housekeeping can be very snotty about women who haven't. It's like that line about how women dress to impress other women rather than for men: in both cases, it's not that simple, but it does have an element of truth in it.

Anna Winter said...

I remember friends of both my partner and me judging the state of my partner's home as being my "influence" or responsibility even before i moved in with him.

As a messy person myself, i always struggle with the idea that everyone is judging me for the mess, rather than the both of us. I hate people seeing the house messy because i know they'll assume it's my fault, and my partner has never understood why i care so much.

Although I do disagree over the bathroom/ ironing point.

elsewhere said...

I think I've inherited both sides of the binarism -- i.e. I seem to have internalised my mother's guilt about being a bit slobby AND her need to clean to meet some invisible perfectionistic standards (her mother's). I don't know how one rebels against this double whammy -- hire a third world woman cleaner? I write this as an exceptionally virtuous person who washed the venetians yesterday.