Men, Women, House Cleaning

An essay in the Guardian, entitled “Want to be a male ally? Start by cleaning the house” and the discussion of the essay over on Metafilter has prompted me to have some thoughts about house cleaning and relationships. These are in no particular order:

1. Essays like this feel purpose-driven to make dudes establish their bona fides as good guys, i.e., “Well, I do work at home! I will now enumerate all the things I do around the house!” So let me buck this trend by saying Krissy definitely does more work around the house than I do and pretty much always has. I can and do do work around the house, but Krissy does it more frequently, and more thoroughly.

2. With that said, with regard to our particular situation, I wonder how much of it is rooted in gender and how much of it are other factors. For example, Krissy’s housecleaning industriousness appears to come from her father, who kept his own house in tip-top shape (as well as doing more than his share of cooking — he had a menudo recipe that could knock you on your ass). My own somewhat less assiduous housecleaning style is something of a family tradition on my side — all of us have, shall we say, a fairly high level for chaos. Athena, I should note, appears to take after me in this.

This is not to say gender expectations do not play a role. They do, and I’m not interested in trying to minimize that aspect of it. I’m just curious as to how those expectations are engaged in the overall mix of who we are as people and how that affects housework.

3. This discussion also led me back to think about how I kept my home clean before Krissy came on the scene. I did not, in fact, live in squalor when I was a bachelor; my apartment was reasonably sanitary. The answer to this as far as I can recall is that I kept everything minimal so that cleaning was really simple. For example, I think I may have had two plates, two bowls and two sets of cutlery, so a) cleaning up was never a problem, b) if I delayed cleaning up, I’d run out of things to eat food on. Likewise I would always have clean clothes (the one thing I absolutely demanded in apartment was a washer/dryer combo), but I’d pick the clean clothes out of the dryer and deposit the dirty ones directly into the washer. When the washer was full, time to do laundry.

I’m not a dirty person — I don’t wallow in filth — but it’s certainly the case I am a messy person, and I have a tendency to let mess accumulate. Which, again, was why my solution when living alone was to minimize the number of things I had that could create mess with. This worked fine when I was 24 and living alone. It’s a less viable solution now.

4. Krissy and I have lived together for more than a quarter century now and we have a pretty good understanding how to do things in the house. I do less housework, and when return when Krissy asks me to do something for her, regardless of what it is and when she asks it, I pretty much drop what I’m doing and do that task immediately — in part because I know that she’s letting me get off easy overall and therefore she deserves my attention and participation when she does ask for something.

This doesn’t mean I wait to be told to do simple things, like rinse off the plates when I’m done with them or take out the trash when it’s full. I mean, I’m not an animal. It does mean I understand the “price” of being allowed not to take the lead in house cleaning is making sure I am an absolutely reliable and uncomplaining support act. That seems, in the grand scheme of things, more than fair.

5. I do also have specific house cleaning tasks. I clean up all things that issue forth from any animals we might keep; I handle pests both arthropod and vertebrate; I’m generally the person who deals with taking the trash to the curb (which is no small task when the curb is a couple hundred yards away, especially in the dead of winter). There are other things, too, but you get the point. I do these things without complaint and generally without being told because these are long-standing tasks.

6. “But you shouldn’t have to be told to do anything; you should just do it.” Well, yes, and also, no. I agree as a 50-year-old man I should have some understanding of basic housekeeping and perform those tasks without being told, and indeed I do those things and have gotten better at it as time has gone on. But it’s also the case that there are things Krissy wants done that either I don’t know about or that I don’t see as being an issue — as noted before, I’m comfortable with a higher level of chaos than she is, and also, sometimes I’m just plain lazy. Sometimes I need to be told, and I appreciate when she tells me, so I can make her happy by doing those things.

This was a thing that Krissy had to spend a little time getting comfortable with — both to get over the idea that I should inherently know what she wanted in terms of housecleaning, and to be comfortable asking me to do those things. The good news for us was that was all settled a while back and now it’s a thing that works for us both. And yes, I did ask her: We had a nice long chat about this general topic before I sat down to write this piece (and then read it to her before I posted it).

7. What would I do if Krissy decided to stop doing housework? Would I step up and take of all the work myself? No, because I know her standard of housecleaning and I know my own, and there is, to put it mildly, a gap there. I would keep the house clean by having someone else do it. We already have someone come in every couple of weeks to do a deep clean of the house; I’d have them come in more often. And yes, I’m aware we’re fortunate that we have the option. Again, I wouldn’t let the house collapse into squalor between housekeeping visits — remember, messy, not dirty — but I would definitely outsource this particular task.

8. Along this line, as long as we’ve been together I’ve always made it clear to Krissy that I don’t ever expect her to do the housework; if she were to stop doing it, I would not attempt to take her to task for shirking her “duties.” To repeat, I am well aware how much of a break she’s cut me by doing the majority of the housework over the years, and also, it’s not her “duty,” outside of the general sense of “hey, if you make a mess, clean it up,” which applies to everyone. It would be disingenuous for me to say I’m not happy she decides to do it. I make sure to let her know, on a regular basis and in various ways, how much I appreciate what she does for me and our house. But it’s not her job, and I’m not her boss.

9. Which I think is to the point. Any dude who has the expectation that a woman should be taking care of the housekeeping, leaving him free to play video games or whatever, is doing it wrong. I think it’s fine if one partner is more inclined to do housework, but I think if and when that happens the other partner should consider themselves to be getting a gift, and be ready to compensate their partner for their time and effort, to be an aide for their partner when needed or wanted, and to make sure they are doing other things in the relationship that are comparable to the time and effort and care their partner is putting into house cleaning. Let’s not pretend this is always the case.

35 Comments on “Men, Women, House Cleaning”

  1. 1. Again, I read this to Krissy before I posted it, to make sure I was not misrepresenting her, and otherwise accurately representing our particular household dynamic.

    2. This is not meant to be read as a “this is how you do it” piece; this is how we do it in our household.

    3. While I try to be a decent human, which also means being a decent person to women, I make no claims of allyship; it’s for others to decide whether they consider me an ally.

  2. At the individual household level this makes sense (in fact, in econ grad school it was a game theory homework problem involving roommates instead of spouses), but when you look across all households and realize that usually it’s the woman who has been trained to want the house cleaner and the man who has been trained to be fine with squalor (and the woman is more likely to be judged for such)… it’s less good. (We have a post on this from almost a decade ago “cleanliness is next to cleanser in the dictionary”) And, of course, there’s that whole emotional labor piece about who has to remember and figure out to do crap (recommend “you should’ve asked” comic by ) .

    I am (female and) comfortable with clutter, but I am a rarity. And I’ve never had to worry about say, the CPS judging our housekeeping skills as a measure of whether or not we get to keep our kids. And we have a really nice financial cushion when someone drops the ball, so remembering all the time isn’t vitally important.

  3. Seems reasonable to me, probably because that’s almost exactly what my wife and I do, and we’ve been married 32 years. I’ve never found it acceptable that my wife should shoulder the entire burden of housework by herself, since she has a full-time job, same as I do. Both my parents worked outside the home and that was pretty much the policy my mom made all of us follow.

    I frequently have a second job, and when that’s the case, she (and now my daughter) pick up a commensurately larger portion of the housework. I will say that yard work, car maintenance, and home repair are almost entirely up to me — that gets counted as part of my “share,” if you will. I’ve been unemployed a couple of times and during that period I did *all* the housework. Kept me busy and kept things clean.

    I’ve also got a firm policy of “everybody needs to know how to do everything, even if they don’t always do it.” I watched a lot of elderly relatives who were completely helpless after their spouses died, and I’m not going to have that happen to me or let it happen to my family. My daughter doesn’t have to mow the lawn, but she does have to know how the lawnmower works and how to use it. Same with cooking and laundry.

  4. I think the reason I sometimes roll my eyes at these kinds of articles is that there is a presumption that there is only one way to do thing as a couple and that is to split EVERY task right down the middle. Without regard to inclination, interest, or capabilities.

    Let me give a for instance. I put away the dishes from the dishwasher. The reason is that I am tall (6’2″) and have reasonably ape-long arms perfect for placing dishes onto a pile of other dishes, even if the pile is on the top shelf.

    My wife is 5’0″ and she loads the dishwasher. Putting away the dishes takes less time and effort (and depending on what was on it, is somewhat to WAY less nasty) than loading just because rinsing a dish is not something that has to be done as you put it away. But she has a cow about how I load the dishwasher. I am not “efficient” enough. She is so efficient that she also saves power and water by being mystically unable to press ‘go’. That too is my job.

    However, and this is the point, THIS IS WHAT WE’VE AGREED ON. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do anything as a couple as long as neither partner feels taken advantage of. And people who feel a need to pull out a time study to divvy up all housework exactly equitably really ought to make sure they marry someone who feels the same way.

    I and my wife, on the other hand, felt it was more important to agree on mayonnaise vs Miracle Whip (although I *did* compromise on….nuts…in Thanksgiving Stuffing…).

  5. I am basically a neat person – I never got why it is easier to throw your dirty clothes on the floor rather than in the hamper. Also, for decades I worked at home while my wife was teaching. But that said, there are things I have always done, like the dishes and the laundry (my wife can barely find the laundry room).

  6. I read the Guardian article. I also followed the link to the discussion, and read a biggish chunk of that. I clicked a NYT link within the Guardian article, to an opinion piece on the same topic. I read John’s post.

    And I STILL don’t know how I feel about this. I have a part-time away-from-home job. My (male) partner works mostly from home, when not on the road.

    He wants to help. And in many ways he IS helpful. Utterly reliable for some things. I will always find the dishwasher emptied and the dishes put away in the morning. I will always find the trash bins on the curb on the correct schedule. I almost never stumble over dirty clothing laying around anywhere. The toilet seat is always DOWN, bless him. If he spills, he attempts to wipe it up (not always terribly effectively). Mostly, if he uses stuff, he puts it away when he’s done using it. These are all good habits and I appreciate them.

    When our dishwasher broke, he wanted to do dishes. I let him, until I kept finding dirty dishes put away in the cupboard- not because he hadn’t washed them, but because his notion of “washing” is: swish a dishmop over them once, hold them under running water, then drain and/or dry. Nowhere does “look to see if all the crusty bits are gone and scrub them away if they’re not” enter into his skill set. Nor even, “run your damp fingers around the surface to check for invisible crusty bits”.

    He would stand by with the drying towel when I washed, after a shared meal. I’m not as bothered by still-partly-wet dishes being put away.

    He has an endless tolerance for spattered toothpaste around the sink and on the bathroom mirror, and an unrinsed sink after teeth-brushing. My tolerance for that is less than his. Guess who cleans the sink, no matter who used it last?

    My notion of “making the bed” involves removing pillows, pulling back blankets and coverlet, pulling sheets smooth and re-tucking them at corners if needed, then adding blankets and coverlet back, pulling them smooth and evenly hanging on both sides, then whacking pillows plump again, and laying them evenly at the top of the bed. His is “pull up all the covers more or less so they are smoothish.” Guess who makes the bed?

    My notion of doing laundry involves reading care tags, separating loads accordingly, examining each dirty garment and pre-treating spots, and folding clean dry items in a consistent and space-minimizing way or hanging them up right out of the dryer. His is separating dark from light, doing one load of each on “permanent press”, tossing the loads in the dryer, unloading the dryer into a basket, carrying the basket (eventually) to the bureau and/or closet, and putting each item in its appropriate drawer in a semi-folded state. Guess who does the laundry?

    He simply doesn’t see the need for the level of detail I apply. I do. I do it to make ME happy.

    Do I wish he’d get in the habit of dampening a paper towel and wiping down the sink and counter after he brushes his teeth? Well, yeah, that’d be nice. Maybe I’ll ask him. But on the whole, I love him the way he is, I’m delighted to live with him even if his notions of acceptable completion of household chores aren’t mine and I therefore end up doing them.

    And this is partly facilitated by the fact that he has never once questioned my allocation of funds to a helper who comes in weekly to do floor mopping and hoovering and dusting, even though the process of having someone come in to do those things is inimical to him. He quietly packs up his iPad and parks himself in a coffeeshop while the helper is there, without a murmur of complaint. And when I was not gainfully employed for a while, he had no problem at all with the charge on the exchequer even though I could, theoretically, have done it all myself.

    We’re reasonably happy.

    Am I oppressed?

    I dunno.

  7. At one point early in our marriage, Tina and I realized that each of our ideas of 50% didn’t match up with reality or visibility. So we decided to split the work 75/75. Each of us try to do 75% and it kind of ends up near 50%.

    We also learned what matters to the other person. I made the bed every morning for six months before I found out that Tina does not care whether the bed is made.

  8. These are good points. I’m a strong proponent of finding an arrangement that suits each individual couple. (Others have pointed out some of the built-in problems that have to be dealt with in that process, such as, if things are dirty women are the ones who are heavily socialized to feel guilty and responsible to deal with it, and so on.)

    I was bothered by these following parts because these are things your particular wife is *already doing for you willingly–but for you, it’s part of a bargain: “I do less housework, and when return when Krissy asks me to do something for her, regardless of what it is and when she asks it, I pretty much drop what I’m doing and do that task immediately — in part because I know that she’s letting me get off easy overall and therefore she deserves my attention and participation when she does ask for something. [She deserves that regardless, right?]

    “… I understand the “price” of being allowed not to take the lead in house cleaning is making sure I am an absolutely reliable and uncomplaining support act.” [If she no longer takes the lead in housecleaning, you will no longer be reliable and uncomplaining about housework you do?]

    As you say, the two of you have found a balance that works for you. It comes across here as though she does what she does willingly and freely, while your participation is contingent upon–and done only in exchange for–what she already does.

    It’s an issue at my house, so I’m sensitive to it, as a rational response. I’m glad you’ve found a system that works for both of you and with which you’re both happy and contented. That’s key.

  9. I love it when you write about this kind of stuff! My husband and I have a similar dynamic and it was put to the test this year when I broke my leg (BADLY) in March. I was in a cast AND a boot, both legs out of commission, and he had to do a lot of everything without my insistence or supervision. He did a great job holding down the fort, keeping the house clean enough, and getting our kids situated too. I firmly believe that both people can PAY ATTENTION in a relationship, whether it be men or women or other. And that sure, some people are better at some tasks than others, but we can all help out.

  10. I think societal expectations lead to a certain default. In the early years of our marriage, I had to point out to my husband that I was doing all the housework and that I didn’t like it one bit. Because he doesn’t like working alone, we split tasks down the middle. Dishes: I rinse, he loads the dishwasher. When we unload the dishwasher, I hand him dishes, he puts them in the cupboard. We work together and I don’t want to kill him because he’s sitting on his butt while I’m working.

    That being said, I feel guilty that I’m not cooking dinner. I feel guilty that my house isn’t spotless. I feel judged that I’m not a “good housekeeper.” I realize that my friends aren’t judging me because they are wonderful people. That doesn’t stop the phantom “them” of societal expectation from haunting me.

  11. Some reasons I live alone: I never have to clean up anyone else’s mess, and, if I don’t mind living in a pit for a week or so, nobody calls me on it. When I get a bug up my butt and decide to Clean An Entire Room All At Once No Matter What Else Is Going On, nobody calls me on that either. (I’ve been married twice. Turns out I’m really bad at it.)

  12. My main objection is when it’s called “helping with the housework”, which implies it’s the wife’s job and the husband is being nice to assist. In my view, it should be “sharing the housework” and whatever way of sharing is agreeable to both parties is fine – the key being that both husband and wife are happy with the division of labor. And if one partner isn’t willing to do certain chores, they don’t get veto power over paying someone to do them if that’s what the other partner prefers.

  13. You guys are quite unusual in that you already have a housecleaner. That changes things a great deal; changes the baseline.

    Everyone is different and I’m glad you have a system that works for you.

  14. One issue I think is important to take into consideration in couples with mismatched desires for neatness, is that external influences and culture still do apply. Society judges women more harshly for a messy home. In this case society is represented by visitors to a house. When a straight couple lives in a messy house together, visitors to a messy house will almost always negatively judge the woman for that messiness and not the man.

    This means that even in a scenario where the woman and man both have an equal level of comfort for messiness, the woman will be judged by outsiders. It’s a “cost” of living in a messy household for the woman but not the man. And so in scenarios like the one described, it is important to also recognize whether the woman’s higher desire for cleanliness is at least in part because she has a higher cost of messiness.

    You may read this and say “people shouldn’t care what visitors think” and “visitors should mind their own business” and “it doesn’t matter why someone wants the house cleaner, if that works for them then it works for them.” And I completely agree!!! Honestly, I’m not critiquing Scalzi or anyone in the comments who have a similar working arrangement.

    But even ignoring others people’s judgement can itself take some effort, so there’s still a non-zero cost there. All I’m saying is that even in a perfectly balanced household that works well for both parties in a male/female relationship, I think it’s important to recognize that there are still unfair societal influences that impact the level of cleanliness desire and responsibility.

  15. I always feel called out by the types of essays like the one in the Guardian, even though obviously I’m not the target. But for me, and I think for a lot of women with disabilities or mental illness or executive function issues, hearing about how much of a problem it is, for most women, that men don’t do their fair share of the housework and men have low standards of cleanliness just makes me feel like I’m failing as a woman. Like, I’m more like the lazy / sexist male example than the self-sacrificing, undervalued female example. So what does that make me?

    I guess I don’t want to criticize people who are interrogating how sexism affects our lives; that’s important. But I wish there was a way to make these feminist interrogations more inclusive of women who are atypical or underrepresented, especially along the lines of disability or poverty. Frankly, I don’t know anybody living under the poverty line with a clean house. There are a lot of reasons for that– harder to repair or replace cleaning supplies when they run out, physically exhausted at the end of a workday that’s physically laborious (like retail, food service, caregiving, etc), financial stress contributes to anxiety, which makes it harder to prioritize chores and do things that involve emotional energy, and just the fact that it’s very easy for a small space to get messy quickly because there’s nowhere to put extra stuff (i.e. dirty clothes before laundry day, garbage before you have the chance to throw it out, random crap / gifts / books you have no shelf space for but haven’t gotten around to donating yet).

    And if you’re a man people cut you slack, and heck, maybe you cut the women in your life slack too! But women don’t give other women a pass on this stuff. Rich women criticize poor women, able-bodied women criticize disabled women, white women criticize black women. So, to me, the whole “women do more than their fair share of the household labor” feels very White Feminism. I mean, maybe it’s not? Maybe this is just as serious an issue for women who aren’t me but are struggling with disability and poverty? But maybe not. I dunno.

  16. I’ll echo others in saying that I am glad you and Krissy have worked out an arrangement that works for you.

    It is not that easy for everyone.

    When housemates, partners, spouses or whatever have differing standards for things like tidiness, cleanliness, laundry, yardwork or whatever, all too often, the person with less rigorous standards slips into a default setting of obliviousness. They coast along and simply do not see how much less they do than the other person/people in the arrangement. And when the person with higher standards for orderliness is acculturated from infancy not to rock the boat and not to ask for help, as is the case for many women who grew up in the mid-20th century, well, things can become toxic in a hurry. Even between people who genuinely love each other.

    I think that the real key is awareness. You allude to that in saying “it’s fine if one partner is more inclined to do housework, but I think if and when that happens the other partner should consider themselves to be getting a gift.” True, but the thing is that in order for a person to consider themselves to be getting a gift, they must first be aware that the gift even exists. If a household member literally does not see or recognize that another person is carrying a greater burden of the household chores, then they will never see or recognize that they are receiving a gift by not having to do those chores.

  17. You and more so uleaguehub touch on a subject which back in the days really had an impact on me: My dad told my mom if she would like things a certain way, they’d be her responsibilty. So basically if my mom wants things to be clean she needs to be the one cleaning them. He is a lawyer, by the way…
    I found (and still find) this utterly mean. But it also made me aware of unfair assumptions about woman’s responsibilities at a very early age.

    Nowadays though I have the problem that my own need for cleanliness is much smaller than my girlfriend’s. Also I’m quite near-sighted but don’t wear my glasses at home (my eyes hurt at the end of the day). But whenever I do put them on I can see all these crumbs, fluff and so on.

    I try to compensate with doing quite a lot of other things around the house, e.g. laundry (which incidentally I like doing), but still there is some disparity, for which I feel quite guilty. We came up with a rough plan of alternating cleaning weekly, which works somewhat…

    But one thing should be clear, and has been noted before: It’s not like there is a natural order that women have to do the housework!

    I want to add though: if there are different needs in cleanliness with partners, the one with a higher tolerance ought to step up and do more than he/she feels necessary. That’s basic decency.

  18. My house was a major resurrection when I bought it and in 5 years we have improved it to the point it’s a major fix er up er.
    I’ve given up on traditional house keeping.
    My roommates are good about cleaning up after themselves
    But with all the building and remodeling it gets a bit messy at times.
    It’s home and I own it outrite It’s mine!
    My place at the end of the road in the middle of part of the Forrest that didn’t burn down during the campfire fire that wiped out the the town of Paradice. A bit busy, a bit dusty, a little unfinished. But with the help of my roomies the place is comming along and is a comfortable place to be. At 73
    It’s good to be comfortable

  19. I have to agree with lgmerriman – a lot of the whole “men aren’t doing enough housework” shtick is very much WWW feminism (well, wealthy, white), and it’s about WWW women being upset because they feel overburdened by particular societal expectations. Unfortunately, their typical response to this is to either blame someone else for doing things wrong, or to insist they need more help. It’s very rarely to question whether the societal expectation (of the “perfect” advertising fantasy home, in this case) is realistic for anyone, much less everyone. So the WWW response to the societal expectation that “every family will have a perfect home which looks just like the ones in the ads and the soap operas and the sitcoms” is basically to complain about the lack of help achieving this dream, rather than questioning whether this dream is achievable in the first place.

    (This is mainly because for them, it generally is, with a bit of assistance: they have enough money, energy and social capital to be able to afford it.)

    However, while they’re busy standing there upholding the social ideal, all the other women who aren’t well, wealthy and white are being thrown under the bus. We’re trying to single-handedly keep places which aren’t anywhere near as spacious as your average television or movie set (or even your average upper-middle-class family home) cleaned to a standard which is only really achievable by a team of professional set-dressers, while also dealing with the challenges of things like: other people existing in the family (and thus creating mess); the energy demands of work; the energy demands of commuting; the energy demands of illness (both physical and mental); the practical limitations of illness (both physical and mental[1]); the energy demands of the extra effort required for being non-white (like being non-male, the “solution” for this is to be twice as good for half the social recognition); and so on. Because, again, what the WWW women aren’t doing is questioning why a particular social ideal exists in the first place (quick answer: advertising, or in other words, selling product), and they aren’t speaking out against it as unrealistic.

    Would the jobs of women who aren’t www women be made easier with regard to housework if men chipped in a greater share? Almost certainly. But they’d be made even easier still if we just accepted the “houses” we’re seeing on TV, or in real-estate ads, or in the glossy “home and garden” magazines (and which set the standard by which our own performance as housekeepers is being judged, particularly by ourselves) are a fantasy of “houseness”, and this fantasy is neither realistic nor achievable. Most of us non-www women have accepted this as being the case… but the WWW women are still the ones writing the articles about housework, and setting (and chasing) these unrealistic standards.

    The big problem with WWW feminism as far as I’m concerned is it’s the only sort of feminism which has actually achieved anything that can be pointed to as a success. Things like voting rights and property rights are pure WWW feminism, because they were based on the desires of upper-class and upper-middle-class women in the early 1900s. Once they had those, the WWW women dropped out of the movement – they had what they wanted, they didn’t need any help with anything else, why should they stay? Working rights are another piece of WWW feminism; what the WWW women wanted wasn’t access to the workplace per se – working class women and non-white women already had that in droves. What they wanted was access to the professions – and because WWW women wanted it and organised for it and campaigned for it, that’s what we got. But working class women still have problems getting access to the trades, because the WWW women weren’t interested in going into those. And again, once they got what they wanted, the WWW women largely dropped out of the movement, and haven’t returned since.

    (You can see similar things happening in multiple other activist movements – the wealthiest, wellest and whitest (or palest) members of a particular activist group will set the agendas, campaign for the things they want, and then drop out once they’ve got it. Often near-crippling the movement when they do).

    [1] To give an example: I’m on the autism spectrum, and I’m susceptible to noise. I can not and will not do vacuuming, because the noise of a vacuum cleaner is enough to overload me (actually, most household appliances hit pretty high up my “too noisy” range). I also can’t be around when the vacuuming is happening, because overload. We’re just lucky our current place doesn’t run to carpeting anywhere!

  20. @megpie71

    You know, that was weirdly reassuring to read. I mean, you’re right; why not question where the standard comes from? Frig, I dunno whose house is clean because they literally pay others to do it. Maybe there’s actually almost nobody who has a clean, tidy house without professional help, and it’s not wise to hold myself (or others) to a standard that was invented to tell made-up stories and sell you home and garden supplies.

    Personally, I think the standard should be, “will this mess make me sick?” And if so, cleaning it has to be a priority. Any mess with food or garbage has to be dealt with, gotta wash clothes and do personal hygiene stuff, gotta keep kitchen and bathroom surfaces clean, gotta vacuum enough to not get dust mites.

    But, heck, piles of books and papers and empty grocery bags lying around aren’t important. There’s no visible surface on the sink because of all the (capped!) meds, dental stuff, a few lipsticks and concealer, deodorant. I’m sure in the Good Housekeeping magazine all that stuff is behind a mirror or tucked away in drawers but…why judge people over something like that? Why judge yourself? Why spend time and physical effort if you don’t want to? I’m just probably never going to clean the toilet or bathtub. I’m never going to wash the windows or dust or “deep clean” the fridge. I’m never going to repaint a wall that’s gotten scuffed or got the odd ink mark on it.

    The standards of housekeeping are as bullsh!t as the standards of beauty. Maybe even though a lot of WWW feminists left the movement, there are still opportunities to create new norms, even if they’re just sub-cultural norms rather than broad cultural norms, so people of all income and ability levels feel less shame about doing our best and choosing to prioritize our own health and well-being over meeting an arbitrary standard.

  21. I’m OCD neat, my wife is emm less neat. I also don’t work as hard as she, so have more time,
    so I have no problem, cleaning, laundry, cooking, and most of the home chores etc. Two things I avoid is Ironing and child chauffeuring, my clothes don’t ironing, and I hate crowds and people.

    22 years married and we’ve found this balance of household workload mainly based on who’s got time spare and who is better at that task. It wouldn’t even occur to me to say I’m not doing that because I’m a man – even when it involved nappies!

  22. I usually don’t have a problem chipping in with the shared housework. I do make thinks easier for the wife as I do my own laundry and cook for myself (being the solitary diabetic in the household basically requires it). Dishes aren’t a problem since I’m a firm believer in paper products/plastic utensils. I do drive the family slug nutty when it comes to expiration dates of food, but that’s another story for another time.

  23. I was raised on a Farm in a very traditional family. Man head of family, women responsible for kids and house keeping. She would receive a stipend to do grocceries etc.

    Because my parents divorced, I was doing house keeping when i was 14 years old. (Girl)

    On our farm we had a very high hygienic standard, and every thing was orderly. Since working with aimals can be chaotic, the rest had to be organised.

    So i was raised to be subservient, obedient house wife. I think that if I had been a boy, there would have been a house keeper instead of me doing the household. Luckily I was also put to work with the animals and with technical repairs/ working in the garden etc. So I learned how to take care of animals, vegetables and machinery.

    Now I have 4 kids, two boys and two girls. And guess what, all have to learn to clean, cook and repairs. In short all have to learn how to be responsible capable adults. I try to teach them how to think for themselves and how to reason and refelect. And what consent means. How you have to make sur you and partner are comfortable with what is happening

    All partners in all relationship shoud know how to communicate open honest and curious.
    So, shake off the shackles of society and think/ act for yourselves. Its the only way to change society,

  24. I think it is also important to acknowledge your partners efforts around the house. My wife and I have been married 35 years, and we still thank each other for performing whatever task it was.There is nothing worse than thinking your efforts have gone unappreciated.

  25. One aspect of the conversation my wife and I have around this is how rewarding the task is (we also take a fairly broad view of household management when talking about how things are apportioned). For instance, no one wants to wash dishes, scrub toilets, vacuum floors, etc., so we try and split those tasks almost exactly 50:50. On the other hand, cooking is my wife’s hobby, so she does nearly all of it (and buys the groceries/keeps track of pantry stock so she has ingredients on hand). This is probably the biggest imbalance in our household management division, because these are still chores that take up a lot of her time and that she doesn’t always want to do (I cook when asked, but that’s maybe twice a month). On the flip side, it wouldn’t be fair for me to do all the scrubbing and sweeping to balance hours, because cooking is rewarding to her in a way that no one cares for cleaning.

    Gainful employment is another one of these rewarding chores — do I love my work? Yes. Is it a necessary part of the household management? Of course. If someone gave me $2M tomorrow and I didn’t need the money any more would I cut my hours down to a couple days a week? Quite likely. I don’t subscribe to the ’50’s breadwinner-homemaker binary, but supplying the budget is part of our broader conversation on household management.

    (Another aspect of “rewarding work” is the social planning and emotional labour [e.g. family birthday cards] — I’m trying to pull my weight better here, but just because it’s fun to have friends over doesn’t mean organizing it isn’t work, and it’s shockingly easy as a married dude to offload all of that on your partner without noticing.)

  26. Let me just pop back in here with a defense of clean, orderly environments to live in. Stipulating that everyone has a different “mess threshold”, and that not all untidiness equates with dirt, okay? True.

    Nevertheless, there IS a reason beyond The Great White Corporate Oligarchic Conspiracy that clean, orderly home environments became valued, over the millennia of human evolution.

    There’s a “sweet spot” between “so obsessively clean and germophobic that the children’s immune systems never have enough challenge to develop normally” and “levels of dirt and disorder that allow harmful molds, bacteria, mites, bedbugs, flea-carrying rodents, and other serious health threats to flourish”.

    There’s also a thing called “herd immunity” that applies where if one home in an area provides a congenial environment for bedbugs, roaches, or other inimical critters, it’s more likely they’ll find their way into neighboring environments, too.

    And while disorder, in and of itself, may not facilitate that (piles of mail and newspapers/ magazines, in and of themselves, don’t necessarily attract or potentiate harmful organisms), lots of disorder does two things to make maintaining a basic level of cleanliness difficult:

    First, of course, it’s a lot harder to clean the disorder stuff itself and/or clean around it. A relatively orderly room takes a lot less effort to clean than one where you’re working around lots of stuff that doesn’t, strictly speaking, need to be there.

    Second, piles of stuff and other blobs of disorder can make it difficult to perceive where/when potential and actual problems are lurking. I was once involved in cleaning out a place where although things looked relatively clean (it had obviously been vacuumed and the various piles of books, papers, record albums, etc. had been dusted), when we actually started moving the piles, we found mold on the walls behind them, from old leaks around the windows, spilled whatever, who knew.

    Those of us who value clean orderly environments aren’t necessarily entirely dupes of an oppressive system trying to manipulate and exploit us, and we’re not necessarily all trying to collude and maintain that system for the sake of our own weak, biased and bigoted psyches.

  27. “Want to be a male ally? Start by cleaning the house”

    Thats weird. The societal assumption that cleaning is womens work is what creates the pressure on individuals to conform to the sexist trope in the first place. This headline is just saying men should conform to the societal expectation, and then it wont be sexist anymore. Its weird. It would be like telling men that women being expected by society to wear the outfit in Handmaid’s Tale is sexist, and the solution is for men to wear it too. Thats equality of symptoms yet ignores the underlying problem.

    What the article does NOT do is tell society to bugger off, cause its none of their damn business what someone’s kitchen sink looks like. Or to tell society to bugger off and stop looking askance at the woman of the household when they see dirty dishes in the sink.

    The article does challenge the 1960’s myth of society:
    “Women vocally rejected the patronizing myth that they were fulfilled by a middle-class domestic life ”

    But the article doesnt ever question societal expectations today. It says women do more housework than men, but it never asks how much of that is women trying to conform to a societal expectation of what a home should look like has never moved beyond the “I Love Lucy” set.

    How much housework do women do because society still implies on some level that its the womans responsibility to keep a clean house? The article showed the awareness that societal pressure was a real thing in the 60’s but doesnt question its existence or possible effects today.

    If we could remove that societal pressure of sexist expectations, then what would be left is individual couples in individual households who would work out who does what on an individual basis. I know couples who both dont care about the housekeeping, the house is messy, but they dont care and its no one else’s business. If both are neatfreaks, then it likely works out well for them too. If one is a neat freak and the other is messy, then as long as the neat freak isnt the woman because society has programmed her with decades of sexist expectations, if its just because thats how they want to live, then the couple will have to sort it out on their own. Because its no one elses business.

    Whats funny about the article is its almost as if society is saying the problem isnt society, the problem is men arent also caving in to society’s expectations. The article is society reinforcing its assumption that it has the right to judge what a couple does in their own house. The article is society reinforcing that it gets to dictate what individuals do in their own private lives.

    Not once in the article did it show the self awareness that the root of the entire problem is society itself, or that the ultimate solution is to tell society to bugger off cause its none of their business.

  28. My husband and I are still figuring this out. Turns out, neither of us are particularly interested in housekeeping. He came from a house with a legitimately OCD parent who did ALL the cleaning, and I came from a household that wasn’t dirty, but we were good at accumulating stuff. Especially papers.

    We’ve spent the last 11 years figuring out how to work together to keep our home clean when neither of us wants to take the lead. It’s been a struggle, and it took a lot of open communication and self-awareness. There were days when I’d be shitty, upset at the state of our house (usually the kitchen – we love to cook), only to pause and recognize my own behavior and how I contributed. It’s been a challenge, but I’m really proud of where we are and how we worked together. We’ve never been a couple for gender norms and we’ve always done our best to be a team. I think that’s what really matters.

  29. You’ve clearly given this some thought, and not only since you read this particular piece. And you have some reasonable individual reasons for a lot of the particular choices you’ve made. But there’s a big thing I think you’re missing here: Most of what you’re saying is the same exact thing that a huge, huge number of men say. And the end result of what they say is the status quo of women taking care of men in the home and doing much more of the housework. “She does a better job at it than me.” “She likes it cleaner than I do.” “She actually hates it when I try at this stuff because she says I don’t do it right.” These are very familiar concepts to all women everywhere. And every guy thinks this is somehow unique to them and/or their partner/relationship. It’s not.

    The only way this stuff ever changes is if people push through the pseudo-commonsensical reasons why things are the way they are. It’s annoying to follow something other than the path of least resistance. The path of least resistance seems like a pretty great path when it comes to something like housework – who wants to make that any harder than it is, especially if the people involved are basically content? But the path of least resistance in this society is going to be sexist, so some pushing back is required. Some awkwardness is required, if you want real equality.

    Are there some exceptions to the general trend? Sure. Are there valid reasons for these arrangements? Yes, but also at the very same time kind of no.

    Are there more important issues to be dealt with by feminism? Sure, though this is at least in the general category of thing that can really grind down women on an individual basis, so maybe it’s worth considering seriously.

    I won’t tell another woman that she should be more unhappy about the division of labor in her home than she happens to be of her own accord. But that also doesn’t mean that division of labor is the best one or the right one. If a woman doesn’t feel super guilty that she’s not doing more, than she’s probably doing too much. That’s how BS sexism works.

    I really like the stuff you have to say on this blog. I really like the way you think and explain. I am disappointed that you seem to have gone about half a layer down on this one and then just threw up your hands and stopped.

  30. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that generally, the cleanliness standards you adhere to as an adult come from what you grew up with, much more than gendered expectations. Our house when I was young was generally very clean, with some room for messiness around the edges, but mostly elegant and nice.

    Also, it can be a positive good to go through a slob phase in your 20s, just so you come to know what you’re missing. I lived like a pig for a few years (out of laziness, not a love of squalor). After age 30 I can’t stand an unmade bed or a sink full of dirty dishes. Took some time to realize it, but glad I got there.

  31. When we had young kids we tried to maintain what we called an “optimum level of filth.” Enough to challenge immune systems, not enough to have the Health Department down on us. Now we enjoy relative neatness, and adequate cleanliness starting with a monthly commercial deep clean. Having the cleaning people in makes us tidy up, so they can spend their time cleaning, not moving crap.

    My husband shoulders most of the physical tasks, as my gimpy knees don’t let me stand or walk for long. So I do things that permit sitting down, including paying bills, folding clean laundry, and managing our business. But neither of us are obsessive about tidiness. I’ve had to release my need for control of the *way* things are done if I can’t do them myself. I no longer care if dishes are needlessly cleaned before the dishwasher is loaded. Much.

    And all our children learned all the aspects of running a house. Cleaning it, maintaining it, and paying for it.

    My first husband & I subscribed to a cyclical routine…clutter and dirt (you have lots of dirt with up to 9 cats, even when you sift boxes every day) accumulated until we couldn’t stand it anymore, we’d raise our heads out of our respective books and spend a weekend thoroughly purging, cleaning and organizing, and then let things go again until the next spasm of cleanliness hit. Neither of my spouses has had any particular need to divide tasks by gender. Both were properly raised to realize that work in the home benefits the entire family unit, and no one should shoulder a disproportionate share.

  32. I am exhausted every day by the things my partner doesn’t do. Yesterday I came home from hospital after an operation. I needed to ask him to take out the recycling, which was overflowing. I grabbed my daughter’s school jacket off the couch and put it in the dirty washing pile, then asked the partner to put on the washing, knowing I’d also have to ask him to put it in the dryer afterwards. I unpacked most of my own hospital bag. We had a nice dinner because I’d prepared it before my operation.

    After ten years of marriage, he knows that cleaning the kitchen after dinner is his job. He never actually finishes that job: the bench and table are not wiped unless I request it; he leaves recycling stuff on the bench, unrinsed; he does hand washing but for some reason always leaves a few items for another night… sometimes for weeks.

    Yeah, I do more housework than my partner. And 99% of the mental work. I’m also disabled, and he’s able bodied. Fuck the patriarchy.

    The sad thing is that my partner IS one of the good ones. (It should be noted that he has ADD, which makes him more oblivious to the average man. Yes, I’ve told him this stuff many times. He apologises with great sincerity but doesn’t actually remember the conversation afterwards.) I’m so tired of being his supervisor.

  33. I am profoundly lucky I can afford to pay people to clean my place every couple of weeks, because I would definitely be living in filth if I didn’t (I speak from experience of my less well earning days). I would go without meals before I would go without someone to vacuum, dust, and keep the stove, counters, and bathrooms from becoming science experiments.

    There are two parts of cleaning I insist on doing myself: laundry and dishes. No one ever does them right, where “right” = “the way I prefer them done.” Those dishes need to squeak. The clothes need to have the correct amount of the correct detergent. And yet I will allow the dishes to stack up in the sink for days, and I have three laundry piles: clean, worn once, and wash.

  34. I was also going to say that an actual home does not look like TV homes. Ever. They look like what you see in the background of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Poorly decorated with hand-me-down furniture, worn fabrics, mess here and there. Kitchen counters full of appliances, not enough books, and a TV in every room. Real life.

  35. My husband and I have a similar arrangement for the division of world knowledge. After an initial referral period the kids picked up on who to ask what questions. He answers questions on all science (including medicine and technology), art, Spanish, and Shakespeare. I answers question on social science, humanities (except art), literature other than Shakespeare, and languages other than Spanish. Questions on movies and cinema depend on the genre and specific film.

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