the national interest

The Strange Feminist Argument for Housecleaning

Get off your butt – there are fixed societal norms we need to conform to. Photo: Roadside Attractions

Jessica Grose wrote a provocative essay assailing men for failing to do enough housecleaning even while they increase their share of child care and cooking. I replied that one partial solution would be for women to accept less tidy homes, rather than assume that the higher (usually female) standard of tidiness is the inherently correct one.

Now Emily Shire cuts to the heart of it by emphasizing that women prefer tidier homes because they’re judged for them and men aren’t:

Chait completely misses the part of Grose’s argument in which she agreeswith him that women have higher standards—and explains that this is a result not of innate gender differences but of the greater societal pressure on women to maintain a clean home. When her husband’s father visits, Grose says, she’s the one who feels compelled to tidy up, not her spouse, because she’s worried she’ll be the one shunned for the mess. And this double standard is not just occurring inside Grose’s feminist head. Witnessing my boyfriend’s bedroom obstacle course of old sneakers and dirty laundry, visitors have asked how I could have let it get so bad.

I agree that there is a vicious societal double standard at work. Here’s what I don’t get, though: Why are feminists arguing that we should accept it? Isn’t breaking down these kinds of ancient societal constructs the essential idea of feminism?

Obviously, in the context of this issue, there’s a kind of logic to it. Women and men have different ideas about cleanliness. To the extent that this is a male versus female issue, the “female” side of the argument is that men should do way more housework to make the home look the way women want it to look, and the “male” side is that women should compromise with the men on what the correct standard is, meeting somewhere in the middle.

To me, blaming the difference in standards on a gendered societal construct is correct, but also should signal that the “female” side of the argument isn’t very feminist at all. After all, men have different expectations from society, too, right? You could say men need to work longer hours or have their wives support them because they’ll be judged for it. That’s true, as far as it goes. The feminist response isn’t, “Well, we have to go along with societal standards, then!” Change the standards! Stop judging women if there’s a little clutter on the floor.

The Strange Feminist Argument for Housecleaning