My significant other is really, really into comics. And I’m really, really not.
Now here’s a hypothetical: suppose he started complaining because (he said) I haven’t been doing enough to keep the household comic collection in proper shape. “I’m trying to take them out of alphabetical order and move Swamp Thing next to Promethea because it makes more sense that way, and Jennifer’s not doing a thing to help me!”
Truth is (and I don’t mean to sound callous) I don’t care how his comics are organized. He could put them in boxes at random and I would think no less of him as a man.
He feels the same way about my collection of 50-year-old View-Master reels. And I feel the same way about women who complain that their husbands don’t do enough housework.
Where housework is concerned I possess perfect insight into the stereotypical guy mind because mine works the same way: housework, like life itself, is an unwinnable battle against entropy. It’s a battle you must fight anyway, but don't let unnecessary skirmishes sap the strength from your main force.
The key word is unnecessary. If you have kids you should probably clean them as soon as they poop or throw up on themselves. And when you drop food on the floor, cleaning it up is a lot easier than dealing with the resulting bug infestation if you don’t.
But most housework is just hyperventilating into the wrong paper bag. If you must push a few books aside before you sit on the sofa, does this detract from the subsequent sitting? It does not. And so long as you’re conscientious enough to vacuum the spot whenever you knock over an ashtray, over the course of a month or so you’ll wind up vacuuming most of the rug anyway. Make sure you buy one of those hand-held vacuums that plug into the wall.
My significant other, by the way, has very different cleanliness standards. For example, he does most of the laundry because if I still have something clean to wear I just don’t notice details like a dirty-clothes pile that’s grown taller than I am.
Whenever he gets into one of his unaccountable housecleaning moods I usually feel vaguely guilty about relaxing while he’s doing all this work, so I’ll wander around in an attempt to help. But the place always looks fine to me, and I just wind up getting in his way so I retreat into my office until he is done, playing music loud enough to drown out the vacuum cleaner.
Ms. magazine would be appalled by my attitude if I were a man, and explains why in this article, a review of a book called Get To Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World by Linda Hirshman. The book decries those women who gave up lucrative and rewarding careers to raise kids at home, arguing that such behavior degrades women everywhere. That topic is worth a debate in itself, but Ms. takes for granted that its readers agree and uses the review as a springboard to leap into a rant against men who don’t do enough housework:
Once a year Americans celebrate their independence from government tyranny with parades, apple pie, the beach, and family get-togethers. We don’t think too much about personal independence – being free from various mini-tyrannies in our own lives, be they personal or vocational . . . .
. . .Quit taking responsibility for all or most of the housework, the scheduling, the driving, the worrying, or as [Hirshman] puts it, “managing the butter.”
This is good advice. If the “choice” to stay home is so great, why don’t more men choose it? Why is the laundry “women’s work” anyway? Is the floor cleaner because a woman wields the mop? It comes down to our national belief that men own the jobs, and women own the kids and all the clutter of life outside the workplace. As long as we believe this, we’ll never be equals, and equality starts at home.
So this July 4th, ditch the guilt and declare your independence. Read Hirshman’s book with a beer in the backyard while he assembles the picnic, finds the beach towels, gathers up the dog, and makes sure the kids have their flip-flops and sunscreen. And when it’s all over, sit back and enjoy the game while he unloads the car, launders those beach towels, bathes the kids, and checks on overdue homework.
Whose idea was this picnic? If the man really wants it he’ll make sure it happens. If it’s your idea, what gives you the right to insist he do it? And if your kids got in trouble for overdue homework a few times, maybe they’d learn more from that than they do from you hovering over them.