A FB friend posted a thing that is popular in feminist circles. Well, a certain kind of feminist circle anyway. “Emma Clit”‘s comic “You Should’ve Asked” raises some good points. Have a look: https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked/.
Thing is, I think it missed some points too. It’s not that it’s incorrect per se, but rather that it takes a strictly cisheteronormative woman’s point of view to the exclusion of all else, which is not inherently a bad thing except that here we have a whole comic essay where the what is hard to argue with but the why has been glossed over with a handwavy “They don’t care, because they were raised to not care.”
Is that true? To some extent, surely, but that seems heavily simplistic to me.
Do the partners have compatible values for the necessity and timing of housework? I don’t know if any couple ever discusses that before their home life turns into an episode of ‘Home Improvement’. Do the partners have an equal emotional investment in and ownership over the home space? I practically guarantee you that in the above scenarios, they do not.
Think about this for a moment: How often do you hear about situations where in a cishet couple the woman decides on the decor? Certainly not universally, but I’d say as often as the above is true every room in the house looks like what she wants, and is maintained to her standards of what looks good for guests, etc. This is, I believe, a big piece of why this concept of a ‘man cave’ started being mainstream, and before then there was the toolshed. The men wind up building one small space that’s all them, because to them the rest of the home ‘belongs to’ and is defined and controlled by the woman.
If that is the unexamined emotional background, then of course he’s not going to feel much of an emotional need to maintain a space that isn’t his and may not even feel welcoming.
All of this… is the result of bog standard cisheteronormative culture, and a lack of communication between partners. Men should be more fully integrated into and part of their household, both in terms of being responsible for its daily operation and in terms of the decisions about what the space is and who it’s for.
Great point, well put.
I laughed out loud at the dishwasher-unloading bit. Obviously the perspective the author is going for is “look at this thoughtless, inconsiderate arse”, and indeed it’s possible that that is indeed what he was. However, as a man, that was not my interpretation of that action. My first thought on reading that story was “THERE is a man who has unloaded a dishwasher before, at least once, and subsequently suffered a twenty minute lecture on precisely how he did it wrong”. And next time he was asked to take a specific thing out of the dishwasher, he did precisely that AND NOTHING ELSE, because he judged that the “you didn’t unload the rest of the things?” lecture would be shorter and less stressful than the “you unloaded the dishwasher wrong AGAIN” lecture. The crucial thing here is that I’d bet folding money that, although the woman in question almost certainly remembers giving the “you unloaded the dishwasher wrong” lecture, she didn’t think about the likely effect and won’t take responsibility for it… because the way it made him feel doesn’t matter, and those feelings and the actions that flow from them are entirely his fault.
I also laughed out loud at the “clearing the table” bit. This character simply lacks task focus and prioritisation skills. Clear the table. Towel on the floor? Finish clearing the table first, then deal with it. Assuming you’re working alone, you know what? It’s still going to be there when the table is clear. Vegetables left on the side? Who did the shopping? Who paid for the shopping? Not you, demonstrably, because to you the vegetables just magically and apparently infuriatingly materialised on the side above the washing machine, probably because the person who paid for them and brought them home got six inches inside the house and plonked the bags down there when he was instructed to go do something else, and crucially didn’t feel like starting an argument by saying “I’ll do that after I’ve put away the vegetables.” Again, I see a point being made, but I also see an obliviousness too.
Your post resonated strongly with me, approaching my fifth wedding anniversary and with a three-week old child and another just two years old. I’ve lived in this house – MY house – for fourteen years, andmet my wife only six years ago. When we met, my house was still mostly decorated according to the tastes of the ex who had moved out several years before. That soon changed throughout. Until January, there was just one room in the house (apart from the kitchen) that was left as “mine” – lined with bookshelves, big TV and video game consoles, comfy sofa, surround sound etc. January was when that last room was taken away and converted into a playroom for the kids, and redecorated to her specifications. Note: I do NOT resent this. I regard it as part of growing up, part of being a man instead of the extended adolescence I’ve been privileged to be allowed until now. Life now is not about me any more. But your post makes me realise that “being a man” in this context means being expected to suppress my tastes and preferences in favour of someone else. BUT: that person reciprocates in many other ways – not least, carrying and feeding my children. I never underestimate the magnitude of that job.
Today is my last day of paternity leave – two weeks from my employer, one week out of my annual leave entitlement. By many people’s standards in the UK, that’s generous, and as a relatively new employee who really needs the job and is being treated very generously in other ways I don’t feel in a place where I can protest that it’s still not enough.
I have two job titles at work. I’m a project manager, but I’m also a process engineer. I manage projects, and participate in them. It’s something I’ve been successfully doing for a living for over fifteen years. The suggestion that it’s not possible to do both also made me chuckle. I can only pay my mortgage because it is.
The first house my husband and I lived in after we married was decorated by both of us – all major purchases such as furniture or major appliances were made together. The decor of our current home is probably 90% his. In part because when we moved into it many weekends involved me staying with the kid while he drove around from one garage sale to the next hunting for bargains. But even when the three of us went together he did most of the shopping – because he cared about the stuff while I could do without it, or could do with whichever version of it, and the effort of going to yet another place to see what was available there just wasn’t worth it to me.
Andreas Avester says
For me the idea that a single family member decorates the entire home seems weird.
Here’s how we divide chores in my family:
Everybody has their own room, which they decorate themselves and everyone also cleans their own crap. If an apartment is too small for each person to have their own room, then everyone has their own side/corner of the single room, and everyone organizes and cleans their own crap.
Joint spaces and chores are the tricky ones. Those need to be permanently divided somehow. For example, one person always washes kitchen floors, the other always cleans the bathroom. One person takes dog for walks in the morning, the other in the evenings.
Sometimes divisions we have ended up with in my family are somewhat unusual. For example, grocery shopping: I always buy vegetables, fruits and legumes; my family member always buys meat and potatoes. I always cook vegetable and legume dishes, she cooks meat and potatoes (when cooking, we make more than one serving of some food with the expectation that everybody will eat it.)
I certainly saw my marriage in this comic.
A big part of it, though, is different standards. Many times I stand in a room and think “This room looks great! Very tidy!” and my wife stands in the same room and says “This place is a pigsty.” There is a sort of mental threshold when a person is looking at a place — if it passes that threshold, it bugs the person enough to start cleaning. If both members of a couple have the same threshold, all well and good. But if one person’s threshold is considerably lower than the other’s, that person will do much more of the cleaning and feel resentful.
Andreas Avester says
By boyfriend is the one who folds his underwear and arranges socks in pairs before neatly putting them on a shelf. Meanwhile, I just dump everything in a box and consider the result “tidy.” He is the cis dude while I am the one with gender problems.
Meanwhile, my mother is fine with more mess than I am. For example, I always wash lids for cooking pans and pots, because she hardly ever does that.
My experience is that women aren’t always the ones who want cleaner spaces.
Solution: whenever possible, everybody gets their own spaces, which they clean themselves.
Of course if both of you are involved in choices about decorating, with neither of you having particularly strong feelings about it you can end up living in the same house for nearly twenty years, never having decorated beyond the partial stripping of the wallaper in the sitting room one christmas about six years in when both of you and a friend discovered, while somewhat inebriated, that that half of the wallpaper came of soooooo easily – great fun while it lasted. Or ten years in another house having decorated half of one room which had to be done because it was replastered during some knocking through work, the other half of that room is waiting for some more plastering and has been waiting for at least four years.
I’ve always liked that comic but felt that it greatly oversimplifies an issue that varies wildly between households.
Among my parents, it was my father who had the higher cleanliness standard. But instead of causing my father to do most of the cleaning, my mother would still do the cleaning, and my dad would just complain about it all the time. And certainly a major cause was that they had a heteronormative division of labor where he earned a paycheck and she maintained the household. But another cause was that if anyone tried to clean the house, my mother was actively hostile to the effort (being a hoarder). I grew up not really helping around the house partly because I was a lazy kid, but also because of the negative feedback I received whenever I tried to help.
Analyzing the situation today, I think it’s like you say, my mother was much more invested in the household than anyone else, and that meant that she would not accept competing visions of how the household should be run.