[Originally published May 17, 2013.]
Which is all to say, it’s seen as socially admirable and masculine for a man to be on diaper duty or to sous-vide a steak, but there are no closet organizing tips in the pages of Esquire, no dishwasher detergent ads in the pages of GQ. Considering the strides that have been made in getting men to share the labor in other traditionally female domestic areas, why has cleaning remained the final frontier?
At its most basic, a reason why a lot of men don’t want to clean is obvious: it’s not fun. The rewards of the other two traditionally female household tasks—childcare and cooking—are palpable. Your kid’s smile, a delicious meal. But not so with cleaning. Drew Magary, a Deadspin columnist and the author of the forthcoming parenting memoir Someone Could Get Hurt, says that men will never take the initiative and clean without being asked “because it sucks.”
…With all these obstacles to real gender parity of chores, what’s a working woman to do? Philosophy professor Alexandra Bradner suggests on the Atlantic’s website that couples sit down with a list of questions like, “Do I do half of the laundry and half of the dishes every day?” to figure out where they’re slacking off in comparison to their mate. This sounds exhausting and impractical. If I do one load of laundry, it’s easier for me to do the second rather than wait for my husband to mosey over. (Bradner also says that when men do traditionally female chores, they’re enacting “‘small instances of gender heroism,’ or ‘SIGH’s”—which, barf.)
Cooking meals and taking care of the crotchfruit are necessities; mopping and scrubbing are more like bonus options. Eating out all the time would be expensive, and society tends to frown on child neglect, but it’ll take a while for the accumulation of filth and vermin to actually become hazardous, and my experience suggests that most people, regardless of gender, lean more toward being lazy slobs than neat freaks.
I had to share a room with my brother until I was twelve. My parents used to jokingly call us Felix and Oscar over our diametrically opposed personalities. Once I finally convinced my mom that he was capable of having his own room without needing supervision (she’s always been an overprotective worrier), I started doing my own vacuuming, laundry, dusting, etc. and never looked back, while he turned every living space he inhabited into a landfill.
Honestly, I enjoy doing chores. It’s very satisfying to make messy things clean. Clutter affects my soul like being forced to listen to the strumming of a hundred guitars, each out of tune in a unique way. I can accept that life itself is chaotic and unruly and prone to make a mockery of all our best-laid plans, but I nonetheless have a deep-rooted psychological need to create simple, streamlined tidiness out of disorder within my living space. Without the opportunity to channel it like this, who knows how that control-freakishness might otherwise express itself?
This led to an amusing culture-shock moment with my girlfriend, who comes from a family where resentfully-performed chores serve as passive-aggressive pawns to be skillfully deployed for Machiavellian advantage on a psychological chessboard. In short, it took some convincing for her to accept that things here were exactly what they appeared to be, that I washed dishes, scrubbed toilets, emptied trashcans and hauled firewood because I had long ago accepted them as basic, inevitable aspects of my routine, aspects that I didn’t particularly feel strongly about one way or another. As I’ve said before, I consider myself mostly honest, not because of any burning devotion to abstract moral principles, but because I simply don’t have the patience or love of intrigue to bother weaving tangled webs of deceit. Way too much trouble. Same principle applies here. I’m a simple fellow, baby, I said. I see something that needs doing, and I do it. It’ll just gnaw at me if I try to ignore it. Besides, I did all this for years when I lived by myself, I’m in the habit of it, why should that change now? But why not ask or demand that the other members of the household do it? she asked. I stared at her like she was a madwoman.
Because, one, I’m a firm believer in the adage about doing things yourself if you want them done right. And two, I get far, far more satisfaction from getting something done when and how I want it done than I would from asking someone else to do it, waiting impatiently for them to get to it, which would no doubt be too late for my liking, and then being forced to restrain the urge to kibitz their efforts or brush them aside and do it my own damned self. A perfectly-divided pie chart of chore distribution doesn’t mean shit to me. I laugh at your weak, puny notions of dialogue and parity. I am the motherfucking tyrant of my domicile, the love-child of Alexander the Great and Mr. Clean, and the linoleum will run with the blood of any who dare oppose or hinder me (not for long, though, because that stuff’s hard to get up once it’s dried).
Gender heroism? What a laugh. Could that previous paragraph sound any more patriarchal?