The Vacuum Myth

Via Alas, Emma at gendergeek discusses the myth of the liberating vacuum cleaner in response to a commenter’s contention that technology had a greater impact on gender equality than did feminism, because technology set women free from domestic drudgery.

Except, erm, it didn’t:

The notion that women were saved from a life of Little-House-on-the-Prairie style, cornbread making, dust sweeping, gingham sewing, fire lighting servitude by the wonders of modern technology is very popular. In this re-imagining of the history of housework, the labour market is veritably clamouring for the talents of the ladies, who are prevented from taking part in paid work only by the vexatious inefficiency of their current tools for picking up dust and cleaning clothes. The evidence, dear reader, spins an entirely contradictory yarn. Michael Leonosio, writing on the dollar cost of domestic labour in the Journal of Forensic Economics in 1981, describes a forty-year survey of the time women spend doing housework.

A striking finding is that while at the beginning of the time period [the 1920s], the average hours devoted to housework by full-time housewives was 52 hours per week, by the 1960s weekly housework had risen to 55 hours.

In fact, over the 40-year period average hours fluctuated within the 51-56 hour range. Thus, despite the introduction of presumably labor-saving appliances in the home and the drift of the population from rural to urban settings, hours of housework for full-time homemakers did not appear to decline.

Emma notes that the labor-saving devices themselves may have contributed to this rise in the number of hours spent on housework, because they serve as a reminder that there were things that needed doing:

Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, in For Her Own Good, provide a likely explanation for this phenomenon.

Washing machines permit you to do daily, instead of weekly, laundries. Vacuum cleaners and rug shampooers remind you that you do not have to live with dust or countenance a stain on the carpet. Each of them – the dishwasher, the roll warmer, the freezer, the blender – is, the material embodiment of a task, a silent imperative to work. [Emphasis authors’ own.]

This is a very good point. Back when you had to beat your rugs to get them clean, your rugs stayed dirty until there was time to take them up and beat them. If laundry had to be taken down to the river or all washed by hand, it was more efficient to do it all at once rather than a bit each day. Time was spent on the tasks that were more necessary, as opposed to the fussy stuff.

But if you have a vacuum and a washing machine, there’s no reason to let things go that long. Standards go up, expectations rise, and more pressure is put on women to meet them.*

I, personally, am somewhat of a slob, but I feel a lot of societal pressure to make my home neat, especially for guests. I’ve gone so far as to refuse to let people in if the place is particularly messy, and I’ve taken a lot of shit from my brothers about my housekeeping habits (theirs are better than mine, admittedly). Of course, that they feel entitled to comment on my housekeeping habits and I don’t feel entitled to comment on theirs (nor, really, does my sister feel entitled to comment on mine) points to the fact that we were raised with a very gendered idea of housework. And I’m not living up to my assigned role, which is to keep a clean home.

What would truly liberate me from housework would be being able to shed that nagging voice that tells me that I will be judged by the state of my home. Or rather, that it matters that I will be judged, because judged I shall be regardless. I’d love it if I could be free of worrying what people think of my housekeeping, or free of feeling that I can’t even let people in. I’d love to be able to accept that I’m perfectly comfortable with a certain amount of dust and clutter (nowhere near Collyer Brothers proportions) and everyone else should be, too.

Men I know with worse housekeeping habits than I have seem to have no issue with letting me into their apartments, and seem to feel no embarassment at the state thereof (with the exception of the bathroom, usually). I would imagine that the guy who lives downstairs from me, whose apartment I was in this morning to get photos of the water damage caused by the cleaners I hired, would not be terribly embarassed that the super let someone into his very, very messy apartment.

But me? I stress that people in the apartments on the other side of the courtyard can see the mess in my kitchen. I was mortified when I found out that my dogwalker, in order to get stuff to clean up poor sick Junebug’s diarrhea, had taken a trip through parts of the apartment not visible from the doorway and not clean. And my place wasn’t even that awful! And when I called the cleaning service to complain about the damage to my plumbing and the general crappiness of the job they did, the first thing the woman I spoke with did was tell me that I was a slob, so it was all my fault. I have to be honest, that one hurt, and I spent a lot of time stuck on that instead of sticking to, Hey! You broke my fucking plumbing!

There’s no good reason I should be alloting any mental real estate to this. But it’s one of those things, like weight, that women are conditioned to expend a lot of thought on, to the exclusion of other things.

I’m also well aware that I get somewhat of a pass on all this because I’m single and live alone. If I lived with a man, or had kids, I would probably feel even more pressure to keep things clean because of the expectations I grew up with that women took care of things for men and children. It’s astonishingly easy to fall into those kinds of patterns, too, even in a non-romantic-relationship context, as I found when I shared a secretary with a male attorney and decisions about gift-buying and whatnot were by some tacit agreement taken on by me.

In the meantime, my efforts at training the cats to do the dishes have come to naught.

* I can think of at least two other areas where improvement in technology has raised standards and expectations: papers and mixed tapes. When I was in college, almost nobody had a computer that was worth a damn, but nearly everyone had a typewriter or one of those Brother word processors. Papers usually looked crappy — I know that I just about never hit the bottom margins right, and just gave up on footnotes. By the time I got to law school, computers were more widely available, and the profs expected you to have clean-looking papers. Same thing with making mixed tapes — because you no longer have to cue up the tape just right and can instead just start the digital track, the finished product is always cleaner.

44 comments for “The Vacuum Myth

  1. February 1, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    if there were no vacuums, ridiculous carpets would be a lot less prevalent. if there were no kitchen appliances, you bet julia childs and french cooking never would have caught on. “labor-saving” devices just made us consume more things to clean, slice, and dice.

    slobby dudes are a great catch for the (let’s admit it) messy woman who can shut up the nagging perfectionist voice in her head. if he doesn’t clean, why should you?

    it sucks that your cleaners called you a slob. IF they’d said the same to a man, it certainly wouldn’t have cut him the same. men get harrassed about being slobs in a very different way, like it’s cute that they’re so helpless. even their mothers do it. i guess we gals just have learn to make it cute that there’s something orange and mysterious dripping off the coffee table.

    also, here are some things i make it a point never, ever to get volunteered for at work:
    making coffee
    bringing treats
    planning parties
    making copies
    ordering supplies

    if i ever notice that an even number of men are doing those tasks, i might begin to pitch in. until then, i’d rather surf the internet and assume someone more gullible (some other woman) will use up her spare time to do it.

  2. Morfydd
    February 1, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    Your cleaners – who broke your plumbing – called you a slob when you called to complain? Are they crazy?

    (I briefly cleaned houses for a living, and I saw some *horrible* houses. But the only reason that might come up would be if we took longer than expected, and we’d negotiate extra time/money by using the word “cluttered” at the worst. And if we did any damage, we groveled. A lot. And we were bonded and insured for just those accidents.)

    As far as the rest of your post: Certainly technology made menial tasks easier. But as you say, it just gave women time to do more things around the house – it didn’t push them out into the workforce. If the factors that *did* push them out had occurred without the new technology, I have a feeling that we’d just see dirtier houses and/or more housecleaning servants.

  3. mythago
    February 1, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    and I’ve taken a lot of shit from my brothers about my housekeeping habits

    “Hey, bro, shut the fuck up.”

    Note that the ‘striking finding’ is an increase of a whopping three hours of work per week.

  4. February 1, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    jami, your kitchen appliance theory doesn’t really explain, you know, France.

  5. Bonkers
    February 1, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I say let’s raise the bar and call male slobs “Slobs” and make they feel ashamed for their unhygenic habits.

  6. Hershele Ostropoler
    February 1, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    I thought everyone new that.

    Let me put that less insultingly. I thought it had long become common knowledge, at least among people with an interest in this sort of thing, that “labor-saving” devices simply raised the standards, rather than actually saving any labor, and for that very reason.

    (Also, if we had a dishwasher, we’d probably wash dishes at least three times a week rather than when we can no longer stand it. And we wouldn’t use nearly so many paper plates.)

  7. zuzu
    February 1, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Note that the ’striking finding’ is an increase of a whopping three hours of work per week.

    Sure, but the premise is that the tasks that were done in 1920 should have taken less time in 1960 because of labor-saving technology developed in the meantime. That the overall amount of time spent did not go down substantially indicates that more tasks were being performed to fill the time.

    “Hey, bro, shut the fuck up.”

    Golly gee, I would *never* have thought to say that had you not enlightened me! Thank you thank you!

    “Taking shit” does not entail letting it go unanswered. Trust me, the dynamics in my family are such that no matter how many “shut the fuck ups” I give, they accomplish nothing because the sense of male entitlement is so great. And now that my mother is dead, I no longer feel compelled to have a relationship with three of my brothers, the ones who were most egregious about this kind of shit.

  8. February 1, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    I say let’s raise the bar and call male slobs “Slobs” and make they feel ashamed for their unhygenic habits.

    Go right ahead and try.

    But I think we’ll probably go on not caring.

  9. EricP
    February 1, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    I thought it had long become common knowledge, at least among people with an interest in this sort of thing, that “labor-saving” devices simply raised the standards, rather than actually saving any labor, and for that very reason.

    The irony is that women tend to be the ones with the higher standards. This is a generalization, which doesn’t even apply to me since I like things cleaner than my GF, but women tend to be much more into having the house “perfect” than men. Women so often refer to men as slobs because of their “good enough” attitude that it has become conventional wisdom and an easy laugh. The fact is that women usually impose the standards of cleanliness on themselves and except for the rare male (which I have only seen in movies) if they decided to halve their effort no one would care but themselves.

    mythago’s situation is probably pretty rare. I’d be pissed if I were her if my family had tried to make me responsible for cleaning up after them. I bet that there were other issues there as well. However in just about every adult relationship I have seen, it is the woman who worries about the cleanliness of the house and even when the man tidies up so that he is satisfied with how things look, it isn’t enough for her.

  10. February 1, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    You know what always gets me? When people comment on how clean my place is “for a single mother”.
    You know what? I’m anal. That has nothing to do with me being female, male, single, married, maternal, or if I eat my own offspring. There is no genetic/social/economic heirarchy for cleanliness.

  11. EricP
    February 1, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    I want to add that society may put presure on women or that they may feel it does but seemingly men don’t feel that same pressure. However as soon as a man enters into a relationship, there is usually pressure. Not from society but from the woman they are with. It strikes me as odd that women resent being pressured to have a perfect home but will presure the men they are with to do the same. This happens even if they don’t live together. If they do, God help him.

    Of course, men aren’t immune. Try living in the suburbs and not keeping your lawn tidy. It isn’t the woman of the house that is judged for that;-).

  12. Bonkers
    February 1, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    EricP, you’re right. I exert pressure on my mate to prevent slobbiness and most women I know act similarly. In fact, many males have it worse than women (if we grant the assumption that females are under this crushing social pressure to not be slobs), since they have to take the daily complaining about the lawn, dirty toilet, etc… I honestly do not feel the crushing weight of society to keep my house clean and neat. I keep my sorroundings in good condition for the same reason I shower, brush my teeth, etc…

  13. mythago
    February 2, 2006 at 12:01 am

    It strikes me as odd that women resent being pressured to have a perfect home but will presure the men they are with to do the same.

    Think that could a result of the men living in the same house, and therefore contributing to its imperfect state? If you lived in the suburbs, and your lawn was a mess because your wife had no problem letting the kids dig holes in it and letting the dog pee on it–you might, perhaps, be a little annoyed that she left all the lawn care to you. Especially if she used the lawn for playdates and got annoyed with you if it wasn’t green and pretty.

    For you, zuzu, no charge.

  14. February 2, 2006 at 12:14 am

    Yeah, but the people who have the problem with the imperfect state are WOMEN. If my lawn was a mess because my wife trashed it, I would be annoyed *that she trashed it*, not that lawn upkeep is my job. The person who desires a lawn that looks good is me. (Well, she does too, but me a lot more than her.)

    Now there is perhaps a strong case to be made that the Oppressive Conditioning Patriarchy is what has instilled all these the-house-must-be-Stepford-perfect memes in women. Could be. But for whatever reason, it’s women now propagating the memes. Honest to god, most of us guys could give a damn. If there aren’t mice living in the piles and the bathrooms don’t stink, I’m happy. (And since cleaning the bathrooms is my job, no worries there.)

  15. February 2, 2006 at 2:52 am

    This is interesting. I am a bit of a slob, and my husband is a *huge* slob, with a weird cleaning ‘style’ (one time he spent hours cleaning out the inside of his printer with a toothbrush while sitting in a room surrounded by beer bottles and cigarette butts…) so you can imagine what my house looks like.

    I have to admit that I do a fair amount of harping on my husband about cleaning, but mostly because people *do* make judgements on me based on the state of our house. Every time my father comes over he mentions it…but only to me, and our friends seem to think our house is the land of ‘anything goes’ where they don’t have to pick up spills or ash their cigarettes in an ashtray.

    My mother is the worst. Now that we’re having a baby, my biggest fear is that my mother will call child protective services if the house is too messy and we’ll get the kid taken away.

    Not to mention all the ads for cleaning products that feature handy and capable moms with rolled up sleeves and a bottle of Mr. Clean. The few ads I’ve seen recently with men in them are either of the ‘use this and your nagging wife will shut up’ type or the ‘so easy to use even your idiot husband could figure it out’ type.

    Being a slob myself I really don’t have that much of an issue with the actual slobbiness (although I do draw the line on some things, like when my husband doesn’t seem to mind when the cat pukes on the floor, and leaves it there all day to crust over)…I’m just tired of being the only one catching heat for it.

    As in, “I’m not the maid, why should I be the one cleaning? Husband, get in here and help me clean!” Let that go with no response for a few hours and my tone will shift more towards “…before I call a divorce lawyer!!!”

    So, to sum up, I think the pressure that women put on men inside the home to keep stuff clean is more a direct reaction to being tired of being held responsible for doing all the cleaning than everything else

  16. Cristina
    February 2, 2006 at 7:31 am

    I study antidepressant ads. There is an amazing ad from 1960 for a particularly nasty brand of antidepressant, Dexamyl, which shows the drawing of a woman vacuuming happily, yellow rays of sunshine stemming out of her (see a B&W version here: http://www.fantasypieces.org/AJP_1960_Dexamyl_2.jpg). I guess I now see it in a new light. Vacuum=liberation=antidepressants. Cool!

  17. February 2, 2006 at 7:43 am

    I have always been disliked for my philosophy, which is – if you dont like it, clean it.
    I work just as hard if not harder than any man I have ever lived with and yet when we discuss cleaning I say “Let’s hire a cleaning lady” the response is always “Nah, we can do it.”
    What they usually mean is – I can guilt you into doing it for free so why pay?
    I think there is definatly truth to the fact that women use cleaning as a way to judge other women – like thank-you notes, it’s always gender-biased.

  18. kim
    February 2, 2006 at 8:43 am

    Although our standards of cleanliness have certainly changed with technology, I wonder if it’s more simply our standard of living that has created more housework. We have more clothes to wash, bigger houses to clean, more varied and interesting diets, etc. If I lived in a 2-room apartment, had only a few outfits that I wore more than once a week, and was willing to eat the same meal 4-5 times a week, I’d have much less work than I do now.

  19. Sara
    February 2, 2006 at 9:26 am

    One other factor:

    in the 20’s, many homes were 800-900 square feet.

    Nowadays, people feel they can’t possibly live in any less than 2000 square feet.

    I joke about some of the McMansions that I’ve been in that you’d need a riding vaccuum to hoover those swaths of plush-wall-to-wall carpeting. I can vaccuum my little apartment pretty thoroughly in 15 minutes; I’ve seen my MIL spend that long just on the family room, and she’s got a dining room, formal living room, and 4 bedrooms upstairs to do as well… all for two people who never have guests over and usually are in PJs watching TV in bed by 9pm.

  20. February 2, 2006 at 9:58 am

    In the early 90s, a lot of cleaning product commercials featured men doing the cleaning. The marketing firms were trying to “get with the times”, gender equality, etc. They’ve stopped doing that. Today, as before, women are usualy featured down on their knees cleaning the toilet in commercials. The ads featuring men just didn’t work because men usualy aren’t as “clean freaks” as women are. And when men do clean, they usualy don’t use fancy products or expensive brandnames.

    Even worst, some commercials seem to encourage obscessive-compulsive behavior in women. Everything must be clean, everything must look shinny, every single bacteria must be destroyed!

  21. zuzu
    February 2, 2006 at 9:59 am

    I think there is definatly truth to the fact that women use cleaning as a way to judge other women – like thank-you notes, it’s always gender-biased.

    Funny you should mention thank-you notes. My brother’s mother-in-law FREAKED when she found out he took care of the thank-yous for their wedding. She had very definite ideas whose duty is whose, and she not only felt her daughter was falling down on the job, but that her son-in-law was something less than a man for letting her get away with it. Never mind that he just likes doing shit like that.

    Oddly enough, she never had a problem with the fact that he does housework, possibly because he’s in the military and cleanliness is drilled into them.

  22. February 2, 2006 at 10:07 am

    Sara’s right. If you listen to folks today, you “can’t” raise a family of 2 kids in a rancher or small condo, so you have to move out to a huge suburban Colonial of the type that only the very rich could afford in decades past.

    Fifty years ago, it was common to raise a family of 4 kids in a rancher or modest-sized 2-story.

    I grew up with my parents and sister in a 1-bathroom, 3-br rancher, and we considered it cramped. The family before us had 4 sons and 2 parents in the same house–we always wondered how they did it.

  23. Thomas
    February 2, 2006 at 10:30 am

    Funny you should mention thank-you notes. My brother’s mother-in-law FREAKED when she found out he took care of the thank-yous for their wedding. She had very definite ideas whose duty is whose, and she not only felt her daughter was falling down on the job, but that her son-in-law was something less than a man for letting her get away with it. Never mind that he just likes doing shit like that.

    My wife’s family has a streak of gender segregation in them. My mother in law is in disbelief that I iron my own shirts. At family occasions, she’ll actually say to my wife, “why don’t you serve your husband?, When I expressed opinions on the appearance of my wedding cake, my sister-in-law stared at me in disbelief like it was none of my business. We, of course, politely do things our way. They have come to understand that, while they might pressure my wife, trying to tell me what to do is about as effective as yelling at a boulder is likely to make it get up and move.

    Marian, I think one of the motivating factors behind the demand for larger houses is that we raise families differently (and worse) now. Kids are inside a lot, and almost all of their time is structured. When I was in elementary school, I rode my bike down the street and played sand-lot tackle football, walked through acres of marshland, fished and crabbed, and I didn’t come home until dark. Now, everyone lives in irrational fear of stranger-child abductions, because like shark attacks the national reporting has created an impression that they are far more common than they are. (On shark attacks, the most attack-dense area in the whole world is the Ponce De Leon inlet at New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I’ve been swimming there several times, at the prime dawn and dusk feeding hours for the local bull sharks. I’ve never been bitten, never seen anyone bitten, never heard of an attack there while I was there, and never seen a bull shark there. We tend to ignore the high risks that are familiar to us but unreasonably fear unlikely and exotic risks.)

  24. February 2, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Thomas–interesting. I read that somewhere about the “kidnapping explosion” myth, which began I think in the 1980’s. I remember as a kid being told (in Madison WI to boot, not some huge city) that going to the mall, park, or even backyard alone was dangerous, and that someone would offer you candy, then grab you and force you into their car, never to be heard from again.

    In school we were given kidnapping drills, how to scream “Kidnapper!,” and how just about any stranger that talks to you might try to grab you. It was freaky.

    My mom was reasonable and allowed me to go places alone, but many of my friends’ moms did not. Later on, as I recall, the “skyrocketing rates” of kidnappings were found to be media-inflated and largely a myth.

  25. EJ
    February 2, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    I thought this was a very interesting post, mostly because my husband is a total slob and I like things, as he considers it, “hospital clean.” my sisters (3) and my mother are all the same way. I try to be more relaxed about it sometimes, to convince myself it doesn’t matter. Recently, for example, I have been more busy than usual, studying for a big test, and decided in my stressed out state that my usual Saturday cleaning session (anywhere from 1 to 6 hours!) would just have to go until the test was over. BUT, over the three weeks where I didn’t clean, I found myself still feeling way more stressed and busy than usual. Then, on monday i had a particularly stressful day and had a complete breakdown, where I cried to my husband about all the stressful things, including such silly things as my hairdresser cut my bangs too short, we are eating too much frozen pizza which i’m sick of, i’m not studying enough, and, of course, the house is a pig-sty. he put me to bed and then picked up the house for me (no heaving cleaning, but just putting stuff away). I have to tell you, both because of the thoughtful gesture and because of the clean house, i felt so much more calm and relaxed on Tuesday. The point is, even if it is because of societal norms and pressures, I have internalized the house-must-be-clean myth to the point where it interferes with my sense of well-being. this is not to mention how clean i feel my house has to be for guests.

    In the past, my mother has expressed that she feels a little badly for passing on this neurotic cleaning habit to each of her daughters, and, at least in my marriage, it does seem to follow that the state of preferred cleanliness is a direct result of the cleanliness of the house you grew up in (my husband grew up in a very messy house, and, is slobby not because he doesn’t feel responsible, but because he honestly doesn’t care if its messy or if people see that its messy). This is not true for everyone, of course, but in my family it certainly is. my mother’s father was a naval officer and a neat freak who made the kids pick up the house every night before dinner. And, men and women alike, the majority of her 11 siblings are also neat freaks.

    Anyway, that is my experience, and although i tell myself that its crazy to need my house clean all the time, and that it has no bearing on how good a woman or person i am, i seem to be hard wired to care.

  26. February 2, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    I get the “reminder” argument, and the related “raised standards” argment. But my gut tells me that those are more likely mechanism than root cause. Some mechanism, that is, must be found that binds women to the housework. As technology frees time, some other function must emerge to bind that time.

  27. Ron O.
    February 2, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    When we first started dating, I considered breaking things off with my wife because her apartment was very messy (and she has a dog, who poops on my lawn) I’m glad I didn’t. Among other things, she is a fantastic cook, so she does 90% of the cooking & I do 90% of the cleaning including the yard. Her mom is pretty laid back about things but her step-mom doles out snarky compliments like breath mints. She “Can’t believe P is a good cook.” Nevermind that she’s been doing it for 15 years.

    I’ve feel pressure to keep my place clean. It must be worse for many women, since some people find it impressive that a man can keep the house clean and no-one expects perfection. My cleanliness kick started in college because I didn’t want to invite women into a smelly, messy room. Maybe it is because I grew up with 5 sisters, where we were all expected to do the same chores that we rotated from week to week. It’s probably just because I am anal. I use this social pressure. If I’m having a hard time motivating myself to clean, I’ll invite people over.

    in the 20’s, many homes were 800-900 square feet. Very true. My craftsman bungalo, built in 1923, was orginally about 800 ft sq with 2 huge screened-in porches front & back. In the 50’s they were enclosed to make the house about 1200 ft sq. I bought while single and it was too big for one person, though just right for a family of 3-5.

  28. mythago
    February 2, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    Robert, if all your guy friends and your dad judged you on the state of your lawn, and attached no blame to your wife for letting the dog create dead zones in it, AND you had to spend an enormous chunk of your free time dealing with lawn-fixing while your wife sat around on the lawn with her feet up, I doubt you’d be as mellow about it.

    And when men do clean, they usualy don’t use fancy products or expensive brandnames.

    They probably use whatever their wife bought and put in the cabinet under the sink.

    Though honestly, you’re way better off doing your cleaning-stuff shopping at a janitorial supply store. Cheaper, and better.

  29. February 2, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    Mythago, I wouldn’t be mellow about it under any circumstances. I like having a tidy and attractive lawn. And I regularly go and work out there while my wife “puts her feet up” – just as she quite often is working during times when I’m kicking back. So what?

    My underlying point is that women hold themselves to these very high standards, and put pressure on other women to maintain these very high standards. Mostly, us guys don’t care. The vacuum phenomenon does not appear to be a case of technology reducing the amount of time it takes to clean a house, only to have the Wicked Patriarchy force women to use the time saved to turn around and clean more. It appears to be a case of crazy women devoting all their energy to cleanliness, even when technology makes it possible to hit a reasonable level in twenty minutes. (And when someone dares to step back from the batshittery, the others make her feel like shit until she gets back into line and starts scrubbing again.) This isn’t us being oppressive; this is you being nuts.(Or, more charitably, this is you guys living out your values, and we just don’t share those values.)

    No rats, no fungal towers, no problem.

  30. Jenny K
    February 3, 2006 at 1:49 am

    My male co-workers may not care as much about messes in the break room as the women do – but any managers (male or female) had better care if they plan on not costing the store more time and money because the cafe is missing scores of dishes. That isn’t high standards of cleanliness – that’s the bottom line- and yet, they often don’t have to do that part of their job because the older women take care of it.

    So, no, it’s not us being nuts, it’s society being nuts – and that includes far too many women being crazier than they need to be, and plenty of men being blind to privilege all kinds of other times.

  31. February 3, 2006 at 2:18 am

    Jenny, where does society and privilege enter the picture?

  32. February 3, 2006 at 4:18 am

    Society believes that to be womanly is to serve one’s family, cook/clean/nurture/sexbot etc. Each of the cook/clean/nurture/sexbot roles requires hours of labour every day on top of one’s job-for-pay.

    By contrast, being manly is about earning bucks, and…that’s pretty much it. Then you come home and do bugger all except maybe mow the lawn every fortnight, read the kids their bedtime story and clean the roof-gutters twice a year. So long as they’re not actually fat men are considered to be fulfilling any sexiness requirements.

    So, can you not see the hours-per-week-working-at-home imbalance in the societal expectations of manliness vs womanliness? That’s what privilege is, Robert.

    Sure, one can say “fuck you society”. But how many people actually drop the brainwashing they’ve experienced from infancy and do something totally against expectations? Are there really lots more men who go against society’s expectations than women who do?

  33. February 3, 2006 at 6:50 am

    Society believes that to be womanly is to serve one’s family, cook/clean/nurture/sexbot etc. Each of the cook/clean/nurture/sexbot roles requires hours of labour every day on top of one’s job-for-pay.

    Society believes this? Perhaps you could tell me where this society person lives. I’d like to go visit him or her, and ask for myself.

    Perhaps you mean that there are certain people who believe this. And you may be correct. Certainly, I have known some people who believe something that this is at least in the ballpark of describing. They would tend to use nicer language.

    By contrast, being manly is about earning bucks, and…that’s pretty much it. Then you come home and do bugger all except maybe mow the lawn every fortnight, read the kids their bedtime story and clean the roof-gutters twice a year.

    You know, it’s odd. I know a fair number of people. Pretty few of them believe this or act this way. Perhaps you can expand my horizons by giving me more data to work with – of the people whom you know or can observe well enough to form an informed opinion, how many do you know who follow this pattern? Ballpark it for me. Give me a 1-in-X estimate.

    My estimate, of the people I know, is maybe 1 guy in 10? Maybe 1 in 20? Somewhere in there.

    Be interested to know what it’s like in your circle of friends. Maybe my circle isn’t representative of any large population.

    So, can you not see the hours-per-week-working-at-home imbalance in the societal expectations of manliness vs womanliness? That’s what privilege is, Robert.

    Tig, I’ve been hearing the privilege lecture for about 20 years now. I understand the argument. You can stop repeating its bullet points.

    Sure, I recognize that there is a work imbalance. Speaking very broadly, men come home, ensure that the house isn’t on fire and the kids are alive, and collapse on the sofa. Women come home and do more work. I’m sure there are social expectations that play into this – probably lots of ’em.

    Where I’m differing from you isn’t the existence of the social pressure. It’s the source of the social pressure.

    Look, modern technology makes housework and cooking a relatively minor job, to someone who takes an efficient view and a utilitarian approach. I’m not theorizing; I’m a working parent. It takes time to clean a house and feed a baby and arrange naps and make meals. It doesn’t take nearly the time that mostly-women insist on putting into it.

    And it isn’t men who insist on the time being put in. MEN DON’T CARE. Fine, there is a horrible patriarchy that oppresses women in every area of life. Men get their wishes whenever we care to deploy the awesome Universal Omniscient Penis Ray, the secret source of the patriarchy’s 6000-year dominance.

    Except in this one area – where, I don’t know if you guys have invented a Ray Blocker, or what – we don’t get what we want. Because what we want is for you to grab a beer, sit down with us on the couch, and stop Windexing the freaking blinds already. You can see their original color through the dust, more or less, and if you just run a lighter along the base once it gets really fuzzy, it does a self-cleaning “flame” cycle, just like the oven.

    So be outraged by the creeping horror that is the female cleanliness obsession from now until your fingers permanently wrinkle from ammonia solution – it’s your life, go nuts. But stop laying the blame for it on us. We’ll take the rap for push-up bras and the wage gap, but this one isn’t our doing.

  34. February 3, 2006 at 9:08 am

    I may have missed it, but I can’t believe no one has pointed out the number of days a week it takes to keep a house looking “clean” compared to the number of hours it takes a yard to look “clean.”

    One of the comments that has always stuck with me is when my mother pointed out to my father that his yardwork is valuable, yes, but 100% of the housework versus 100% of the yardwork isn’t equal. If she spends three hours a day cooking, cleaning, and laundering in addition to her paid work, that doesn’t compare to the three hours a week dad might spend on the lawn.

  35. February 3, 2006 at 9:10 am

    And to my dad’s credit, once he retired he picked up some of the housework. We even have a picture from the first time he picked up the vacuum and tried to clean up after himself (mom snuck it — dad was not amused).

    But even just yesterday when he picked up E before I went to an early subbing job, I asked him to throw a sweatshirt in the dryer for E at his house and dad admitted that he doesn’t know how to use the dryer. The invisible hand of women’s work again.

  36. February 3, 2006 at 9:14 am

    You can see their original color through the dust, more or less, and if you just run a lighter along the base once it gets really fuzzy, it does a self-cleaning “flame” cycle, just like the oven.

    You’re going to have to detail this trick because I can’t be bothered to dust the blinds. I keep hoping the dust will recycle itself.

  37. February 3, 2006 at 9:40 am

    Thomas:

    They have come to understand that, while they might pressure my wife, trying to tell me what to do is about as effective as yelling at a boulder is likely to make it get up and move.

    Maybe that’s the same sort of thing, though: men are not to be told what to do, that’s a woman’s role.

    Marian:

    I remember as a kid being told (in Madison WI to boot, not some huge city) that going to the mall, park, or even backyard alone was dangerous, and that someone would offer you candy, then grab you and force you into their car, never to be heard from again.

    Me too. To this day, I’m suspicious of strangers.

    I mean, that probably enhances my avoidant tendencies rather than causing or contributing to them, but I’m convinced it’s part of the problem.

    EJ:

    my husband grew up in a very messy house, and, is slobby not because he doesn’t feel responsible, but because he honestly doesn’t care if its messy or if people see that its messy

    I think it’s mostly men who have the luxury of having that attitude. Women have it pounded into them from childhood that if the house isn’t clean, they’re falling down on the job. Men do not, so it’s easier for us not to care if our houses look like hell.

  38. zuzu
    February 3, 2006 at 10:04 am

    And it isn’t men who insist on the time being put in. MEN DON’T CARE. Fine, there is a horrible patriarchy that oppresses women in every area of life. Men get their wishes whenever we care to deploy the awesome Universal Omniscient Penis Ray, the secret source of the patriarchy’s 6000-year dominance.

    Men don’t care because they’re taught from childhood that they don’t have to care. It will be taken care of. Women are taught from childhood that they’re the ones who are going to be taking care of things.

    I remember reading a Garrison Keillor column on Thanksgiving, and how it was his favorite holiday because, among other things, “you just sit down to it.” I let out a yell, because as much as I love the guy, here’s a fine example of someone who has no idea or appreciation that somebody did the work to get the meal ready that he was just sitting down to.

  39. February 3, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Vaccums made women more subservient. Instead of larger households where women shared the work, post WWs, the emphasis was on just two adults (mom/dad) and the kids in the home. No more extended family. No more sharing the burden. Suddenly the expectation was that mom would take care of everything – children, chores, husband. Then, with the advent of a two income family becoming the norm, instead of sharing the load, father spends less hours doing chores than mom. So, by the time she was able to go to bed, she’d be exhausted.
    Then there’s the women who don’t have vaccuums or washer/dryers. Do the new standards get lowered for them? Nope. They too must have the place just as immaculate.
    June Cleaver is a joke. Even Roseanne’s place was clean. The messes there were staged, not real. But, we are expected to have our places as clean as theirs without help. Even Flylady is very 1950’s with her philosophy of cleaning of going the extra so that your family will happily help out.

  40. WookieMonster
    February 3, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    People keep commenting that, “men don’t care”. Well I haven’t seen that at all. Men don’t clean, but if the woman doesn’t either they start with either the passive agressive, “Gee, it’s awefully messy around here lately,” type BS or outright complaints of how filthy YOU’VE let it become, but never once consider picking up a rag and cleaning up after their own damn self.

  41. Denise
    February 3, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    And it isn’t men who insist on the time being put in. MEN DON’T CARE.

    Wait wait, you’ve been lectured about privelege for 20 years and you never figured out that patriarchy != men? You’re so wordly in the ways of feminism but nobody’s ever pointed out that women frequently support the patriarchy? Well, let me be the first, then, to tell you that women are not all feminists, and there are a great number of women who support the patriarchy and in fact, the patriarchy depends upon the support of women.

    Little girls are told from early childhood that to get a man is the most important thing in the world, and to get a man you must be pretty, well-groomed, made up, stay fashionable, be nice, be clean, love kids, be self-sacrificing, know how to cook, be slim, etc. Then they are told that there are only a few “good men” and you must be nicer, cleaner, prettier, thinner than those around you in order to get the “good men”.

    So of course we compete with each other. Of course we criticize each other for not being up to snuff. The femininity that is thrust upon us is not merely a performance, it is a competition. Women do this shit to compete for men because that is how we are programmed by the patriarchy.

    And of course men don’t care. You don’t have to. Cleaning or not cleaning, it’s not your responsibility. The culture at large doesn’t encourage you to care. And that’s what makes the patriarchy even more disgusting: women are encouraged to fight to be the most feminine and men don’t even appreciate us for it. And what does Mama Culture tell us to do to make men appreciate us for our hard work at becoming feminine? Pick up any mainstream women’s magazine and you’ll find out. And it’s definitely not “stop wasting your time trying to be so damn feminine all the time.”

  42. February 3, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    Women are taught from childhood that they’re the ones who are going to be taking care of things.

    By whom?

    Well, let me be the first, then, to tell you that women are not all feminists, and there are a great number of women who support the patriarchy and in fact, the patriarchy depends upon the support of women.

    OK. Then get your own shit together and stop oppressing yourselves.

    And that’s what makes the patriarchy even more disgusting: women are encouraged to fight to be the most feminine and men don’t even appreciate us for it.

    Yeah. If only you had some kind of organ in your body that would permit you to analyze things like this.

  43. ginmar
    February 5, 2006 at 10:23 am

    And why is Robert here, again? Huh, let me check: feminist blog, non-feminist Robert. What a combination.

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