There's a Reason Women Clean More: They're Judged for It

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
March 25 2013 11:29 AM

There's a Reason Women Clean More: They're Judged for It

159742377
Dear Jonathan Chait, if your house doesn't look like this, the woman in your life is being judged.

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

In her piece “Cleaning: The Final Feminist Frontier” in the New Republic, Jessica Grose highlights how women still bear a disproportionate burden of household maintenance. While we're closer to balancing the domestic burdens between the sexes when it comes to child rearing and even cooking, Grose argues, cleaning is still one responsibility feminism hasn’t yet equalized.

Luckily, New York's Jonathan Chait has proposed an easy way to rectify the domestic imbalance: Ladies, chill out and stop being such neat freaks. He believes that Grose has overlooked a critical explanation for the great cleaning gap: "Women in general just have higher standards for cleanliness than men do." Thus, rather than making a big stink about cleaning and trying to get men to actually do more housework, Chait advises women to just "do less of it."

Advertisement

To give credit where credit is due, Chait is probably right about women caring more about cleanliness. Chait says feminists like Grose shouldn’t assume “men derive equal enjoyment from a cleaner and neater home.” They just don’t care as much, and women shouldn’t either.

Unfortunately, Chait completely misses the part of Grose’s argument in which she agrees with 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. The messiness becomes a judgment on me, as I’m criticized for my willingness to spend time in such a place. Friends have even suggested it’s my responsibility to withhold romantic contact until he gets his room in shape.

And just think about how messy men are portrayed in popular culture. An unkempt space is a sign of a man’s strong work ethic, as he’s too busy dealing with “real” problems to bother tidying up. It’s endearing when President Obama mentions how his Washington, D.C., apartment as a junior senator was piled with pizza boxes. At worst, messy men have a lovable, “absent-minded professor” quality.

On the other hand, messiness in women usually denotes a life in disarray. In the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary, an opening scene of pajama-ed Renée Zellweger going through a fridge that is mostly empty—save for a few expired items—establishes how pathetic her professional and personal life are. Think of the countless romantic comedies that cut to a shot of a woman’s bedroom strewn with clothes and a half-eaten pint of ice cream to connote depression after a breakup. And if things are bad for messy women, God help the messy mothers. Just Google “messiness guilt” and “mothers” to see how much ink has been spilled on the maternal pressure to clean.

Before Chait begins telling women how easy it is to let go of their uptight tidiness and lower their standards for clean living, he should think hard about who’s going to be judged for all that sloppiness. And then maybe he should pick up the duster.

Emily Shire is a writer living in New York City. You can follow her at emilyshire.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.