Any Man Who Won't Clean Is a Terrible Asshole (Or Old, or Both)

If you are a man in a relationship with someone (most likely a woman) who is fed up with you because you don't clean house at all, or as much, or don't do it competently, or have to be asked, or have to be yelled at, or have to, in ANY way, shape, or form, be spoken to like a misbehaving child or an egregious pet, then you are a terrible asshole. That's right, dudes. It's come to this.

Let's throw out some general situations real quick to answer anyone's immediate quibbles with what I've just written.

What if he isn't physically capable of cleaning because of disability or illness?

Jesus, of course, don't even talk to me about this.

What if she just likes to clean and he hates it and it's not gender but it's their personalities and everyone is fine with that?

Hey, whatever floats your Swiffer boat.

What if she wishes he would clean more but he just won't because it's just not his thing and he hates it, but instead they have extra money and they use that to pay someone so no one has to think about that shit?

Duh, if only we all had this answer.

What if he's just an older guy and he wasn't raised like men today and even though she hates that he won't clean, you just can't teach an old dog new tricks and stuff, but he's a great guy otherwise!

Old + asshole.

What if he's a young guy and he cleans more than his father but still not as much as she does because he just wasn't taught to and it's not his fault?

Asshole.

What if he's a late 30-something man and he wrote an essay about cleaning and splitting domestic chores, where he basically said that men don't clean because it's like, not in their DNA to care and no men of the future will ever clean either?

Grade-A Major Asshole Who Should Know Better, Do Better, and Clean More.

If you:

  • Think men and women and all people are equal
  • Live with a woman or a person
  • and
  • Are not splitting the cleaning of things in a way that is satisfactory to all parties involved
  • and
  • Any version of why has to do with the fact that you "weren't raised to do it" or don't think someone with a dick and balls should have to or "don't care as much" or have some intellectual argument as to why you shouldn't want to and aren't doing the work to unpack that and just lift a fucking hand
  • then
  • You
  • are
  • being
  • an
  • asshole.

This is just like being someone who won't come around to gay marriage yet, or still thinks people of different races shouldn't marry, or thinks that a marrying woman has to take the man's name.

If you don't understand that the equal splitting of ALL THINGS related to the managing of a household — EQUAL AS DEFINED BY YOU AND THE PERSON YOU ARE WITH — is essential to ACTUAL EQUALITY, your excuses have run out, the time is up. You are an asshole.

Don't come at me with some "But I mow the yard and take care of all the cars so why should I have to clean the dishes." If your sitch makes you and all other relevant parties happy, I got no beef with you. Again, if you're splitting the duties in a way that is agreed upon, you're fine, even if that falls along gender lines and that's what you like and everyone watches It's a Wonderful Life together while mother knits and father shines his shoes. I don't care.

We are only talking about people who are unhappy with their arrangements, wherein those arrangements involve obvious dumb gendered thinking to get out of shit.

Why are we talking about this again? When we've talked about it before?

A dude named Stephen Marche (look, he is smirking at you) wrote a whole essay about how men are doing only about as much housework as their fathers. Men have undertaken many things their fathers did not do in the past — childrearing, foodie-ism, thinking about their cuticles. But they will not, he repeats, they will not clean. He asks:

So why won't men pick up a broom? Why won't they organize a closet? Why can't housework be converted — as the former burdens of food preparation and child rearing seem to have been for some men — into a source of manly pride and joy? Why would housework be the particular place to stall?

At least one thing is becoming clear: The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it.

For the next coupla grafs, I got no beef with Stephen Marche and his smirking. I don't like to clean. I was raised with all women, so when we cleaned it was only about chores and never so much about a gendered idea that we were supposed to be good at it and get all preciously warm inside when we did. As a result, I'm totally willing to clean, and I know how to clean, and I love having cleaned, and every so often it does satisfy, but by and large, I hate that shit. It just wasn't taught to me as part of girl-ness. However, the difference between me and Stephen Marche is that it was taught to me and that instead of thinking of it as a gender thing, I think of it as a good roommate/partner thing. You do it whether you like it or not because not doing it makes you an Asshole.

Things Stephen Marche is right about:

  • Yes, cleaning a house is more complicated than it seems.
  • Yes, there's no agreed-upon definition of what has to be done in a household.
  • Splitting it equally is harder to figure out than you'd think.
  • Women are now doing less housework, which is good, but still more than dudes.

Things Stephen Marche is wrong about:

  • It may take work to negotiate equitable divisions of labor, but it's not the riddle of the Sphinx here. It can be done. If you can figure out online banking, you can split up some chores.
  • Stephen Marche never looks at WHY there is such discord on the domestic front. Perhaps one major fucking culprit is that we route the genders toward a very different sense of what domestic pride looks like — inside for girls, outside for boys. Girls are given toys and time with mommy and helper errands that signify a place of belonging for them, a point of pride in a certain kind of upkeep, and that upkeep is domestic. We inherit an eye trained toward this presentation, and we are judged more harshly for it, so it's more likely we'll notice when the house isn't clean if guests are coming over, because we've modeled someone doing that, and been talked to about it casually and otherwise our entire lives.
  • For boys, that investment is more likely to involve fixing, building, and outdoor work and activities. Take a look at the differences between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts manuals and you have as easy an answer as you could dream up for the differences we perpetuate.
  • So long as we do this, we will always have men who don't seem to "care" as much about the organizing of the cupboard, the woman who "just seems to notice sooner" that something is messy and is, furthermore, more compelled to do it. And if we choose to ignore our own part in this, it might be easier to throw your hands up and leave the dust to settle (to your wife).
  • Instead, Marche insists that he is right, that Simone de Beauvoir is wrong. And "Millions of young women are deeply attracted to the gloomy vice of domestic labor."

His bright idea is that if everyone cares less and just lets things be messy, everyone wins. But no, see, then you and your children are hanging out in squalor. So. Nope. Apathy works temporarily, but in cases where people could care less, I'm guess they already do care less and are not your (or this) audience. For most of us, a clean house makes everyone feel good, and cared for, and better able to focus on all the other shit you have to do. This is something all family members want and need and we've reached a point where everyone is invested in this together and can take pride in this, not just Mommy and Little Suzie. Catch up already, Stephen Marche. Bus is leaving.

And look, sure, certainly some people enjoy cleaning, women among them. Some of them have made empires and fortunes out of it, and more power to them. But please. Women as a monolithic group are not deeply attracted to the gloomy vice of labor, we've just made the best out of a shit thing we've been saddled with. Some of us like it. Some of us are acting out years and years and years of repetitive instruction along gendered lines so deep we can barely reach them to vacuum out the cobwebs.

Likewise, Stephen Marche is acting out years and years of not having to care as much in the first place about such menial tasks, and wondering why on earth anyone thinks he should bother now, and very wrongheadedly attributing it to something deeper and dirtier and impossible to clean, when in fact it just takes a man not being an asshole to own up to the fact that it's time to unload the goddamn dishwasher. Nice copout to get out of re-caulking the tub, though, bro. Be sure to pass that sweet tactic down to your sons.

Image by Jim Cooke.