Today in tragic news: another man has been hoodwinked by his malicious wife into participating in what some might call Adult Domestic Life.
Writing at the Globe and Mail, unsuspecting victim/husband David Bannister explains that when his wife first floated the idea of hiring a maid to clean once a week, his heart soared, because he thought he was going to somehow be “off the hook” when it came to cleaning—which, as a man, he is apparently hardwired to despise.
Instead, he discovered that it was all a ruse. Bannister writes:
You see, my wife with her innocent question had cleverly – and yes, I would even say sinisterly – caught me in a cold, dark, windowless semantic trap. She had expressly and deliberately used the word “clean,” which, I was to learn, is a slippery little critter.
The night before our first appointment, just as if the fork hitting my plate signalled an opportunity for clarity, my wife announced that we would have to “straighten up” the house for the next day.
Like any male thinking he had been granted a reprieve from housework, I innocently asked if that wasn’t the job for the person coming in tomorrow.
No, she announced. Her job was to help clean, but she wouldn’t be able to clean if the house wasn’t straight.
Wah-wah. This little tale of an unwitting man forced to clean his own home in preparation for the actual cleaner is meant to humorously elicit our sympathy, of course, but it reads instead like the most retrograde narrative of “my wife made me ____” ever.
As for cleaning before a maid comes over, I think the vacuuming he cites is a bit exaggerated, though I understand why people clean up before the maid’s day: it’s because the maid’s job is typically not to organize your clutter—it’s to actually clean your house. You pick up all the mess lying around so they can do what they’ve been hired to do, which is the actual scrubbing, sweeping, wiping underneath it.
So sure, the idea of cleaning before a cleaning can feel ironic, but the writer makes the unfortunate decision to frame this as emasculating. Bannister:
So that night, that wonderful night I’d been waiting for all my life, that night so pregnant with the expectation of freedom, I vacuumed, I dusted and I polished while my wife assessed, directed and adjusted. When all was straightened, the house had never looked so clean.
When I asked if at least the windows would be cleaned tomorrow (for how can you straighten a window?), my wife said, quite matter-of-factly: “Oh, she doesn’t do windows. We will have to look after that next week.”
I had been hoodwinked, bamboozled, conned, duped, flimflammed.
She had me by the balls, see? Between a Swiffer and a dusting glove, I tell ya!
The article is even accompanied by an illustration of a sad, hairy man stuffed into a French maid costume, just to really nail down the perverse indignity of the situation. And when the writer’s wife asked, after some time had passed, if they could perhaps do without the maid after all, he jokes that she may as well have asked, “Do I look fat in these jeans?” Look out, bro! Incoming trick question!
Clearly, for some men, marriage is still framed as some kind of scripted indentured servitude in which wives are nitpicky taskmasters who can’t handle the truth and must be pacified at any cost. Husbands, for their part, are a cross between Tim Allen and Benny Hill—sneaking around comically, trying to avoid lifting a finger until buzzkill wifey charges in to shut it down (Bannister admits he tried to feign both an injury and allergy to cleaning products to get out of cleaning, to no avail).
Lost, of course, is the fact that many women don’t like cleaning any more than they enjoy getting their pubes ripped off, but have accepted that maintenance of a home is simply part of being a decent roommate, a grownup, a human. You just suck it up and do it.
There’s no reason why cleaning should be gendered at all anymore, particularly when same-sex couples tend to divide it based more on negotiation, desire, and skill set rather than sex parts, achieving superior chore equality as a result. And yet, women still do more housework than men, even though households with greater equality tend to produce better marriages and lower divorce rates.
We’ve seen some theories as to why men persist in slacking off on the domestic labor front—reasons range from not “seeing” the work that needs doing to not valuing it, or being too busy with work—but essays like Bannister’s, which frames reluctance to clean as a dude thing all dudes can relate to, make it seem like a deliberate, conscious, sexist ideal of masculinity steeped in a pathetically lazy, dinosaur understanding of what it takes to make a modern, equal household go.
Yes, guilt and embarrassment may lead women to do more than is necessary prior to a maid visit so as to not expose themselves as slobs to other women. I asked a few friends who pay for maid services whether they are guilty of this behavior, and they admitted that they’ve washed dishes and handled any laundry or sheets that were super gross so as to respect the maid’s actual job.
But it’s crazy that we keep circulating this image of the sympathetic man having to clean, especially when it’s women who pay the price in more stress and less leisure time. The fact that this system is such a shock to the writer is only further proof of how little time men have spent immersed in the culture of running a household. His sympathy is aimed not at the women doing all the work, but at himself for having to do any of it.
If you can’t get it together to help out at home and you don’t have one of these handy excuses to absolve you of cleaning responsibility, you’re an asshole. If you’re lucky enough to be able to pay someone to clean your house and yet you still can’t be bothered to tidy up beforehand as is custom, you are also an asshole. Wives and partners of such men: please accept our deepest sympathy.
Image via ABC/Modern Family.