So, I somehow got this little idea in my head that whenever I’m making a choice, my decision will affect All the Women. Like, it’s not just about me; it’s about all of us. Maybe I spend too much time in the feminist blogosphere, but it’s hard for me not to want to, you know… not screw everyone else over. And so I think about that when I’m making decisions.
While this notion might not be completely terrible, particularly when it comes to thinking about the big stuff—wedding choices, career choices, changing my last name (or not), and plans for kids (or not)—the fact is, I don’t really have to make most of those big life choices on a daily basis. And so this line of thinking, this, “Am I only doing this because I think it’s the right thing to do as a woman?” gets disproportionately applied to one thing in particular that I do deal with often: household chores.
I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with cleaning or organizing, but I like having a clean and organized space. Though I certainly have a higher filth threshold than many of my friends for some things (my own hair all over the bathroom, for instance), I don’t hold myself to a terribly high standard when it comes to keeping my space a certain way. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I desire to take care of my things, and taking care often means cleaning and organizing either those things or the space they occupy. When I first moved out at eighteen, I hated doing dishes so then I let them pile up, which made me avoid doing them even more, and then my sink got so full of dishes that mold started to grow in the drain. But that was the young, impulsive me! The new adult me? Puts dishes in the dishwasher, cleans pots, and puts clean dishes away right away. And feels great about it!
This new mentality has me in the habit of picking up messes. But sometimes—oftentimes—the messes I encounter are not my own. The stray socks and dirty dishes or random pieces of junk mail are my darling fiancé’s, and they stop me dead in my tracks. Part of me wants to just take care of them. But the other part of me refuses on principle.
So I engage in regular battles with the little chore monsters in our house. First, I stare them down, trying to intimidate them so they will stop haunting me.
“I see you, stack of dirty cereal bowls on the nightstand,” I tell them. “But you’re Eric’s problem, not mine.”
“Take us downstaiiiiirs,” they whine pitifully. “We’re so diiiiirty.”
Oh gosh, the old neglected waifs routine. Be strong, I think. Don’t look at the little spoons!
“It’s not my job to take care of you, and if I do, Eric will never get in the habit of doing it himself,” I say.
“But you’re already going to the kitchen,” they cry. “Take us with you!”
“I just…can’t,” I tell them. “It wouldn’t be right. He needs to learn to do his own chores and do them well!”
They start to sob. “You only expect me to do it because I’m a WOMAN!” I shout in exasperation.
So then they change their approach.
“Fine, we’ll just sit here growing mold and bacteria in your bedroom!” they taunt me. “We are full of GROSS DRIED UP MILK! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT IT! DO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN FILTH JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE A FEMINIST? IS LIVING IN SQUALOR ONE OF YOUR ‘PRINCIPLES’???”
Sometimes this tactic works—I figure that sometimes, doing a chore for someone is just the nice thing to do, gender stereotypes be damned, and I hurry them into the kitchen and drown their cries in dish soap as fast as I can. More commonly though, I just get pissed off—at the dishes, at Eric, at myself—and flee. And then I try to ask Eric as nicely as I can to please put his manipulative little ass-faced dishes in the dishwasher the first chance I get. I don’t tell him that I engaged them in conversation for ten minutes.
These internal debates with the the dishes, the laundry, the clutter, the food that needs to be cooked, and the dirty surfaces in our home were starting to get to me, but I’ve come up with a good solution for quieting the little chore monsters. When I’m wondering if cleaning up after Eric would be a huge blow to the feminist movement or to women everywhere, I simply replace Eric in the situation with my mother. This works quite nicely because Eric and my mom are very similar in their approaches to things like cleaning and time management (they are both similarly…laid-back, we’ll say) and, after living with my mom for a while, I have a pretty good sense of the things that I’m willing to let slide with her, and the things that drive me to throw an all-out shit fit.
Would I remind my mom repeatedly that she has an appointment so she wouldn’t miss it? I totally would, because I don’t worry that my mom wants me to be her secretary.
Do I get pissed off when my mom shows up late for dinner and doesn’t call? Um, WHEN YOU HAVE A WATCH AND A CELL PHONE, THERE IS NO EXCUSE. So yes.
Would I pick up my mom’s clutter or dirty dishes if they were bugging me? Most of the time, no, I wouldn’t. I would remind her to do it and if she didn’t, I’d remind her again at some point. I wouldn’t fear that those reminders made me a nag.
And so I take the same approach with Eric and his chore monsters. I take gender and feminism and stereotypes and fears out of it. It makes it a lot easier to consider whether it’s important to me to fight the chore monsters on behalf of all of us, or whether I’m letting my fears of being a “good” feminist make me act ridiculous. And when I feel like Eric’s expectations of me are gendered and unfair, I replace him with my mom in the situation. Most of the time, it’s easy to see that yeah, she’d tell me to clean up my mess too and I wouldn’t be offended by the suggestion. Before I assume that Eric’s request is sexist, I consider that when my mom has asked me to do the exact same chores, I didn’t start screeching at her that it’s not the 1950s anymore.
When replacing someone with your mom in a situation just won’t do, or when the situation has nothing to do with chore monsters or heterosexual partners, you can always bring in the zombies. As in, would doing or being good at this thing help me survive the zombie apocalypse if I were alone? This is rather helpful when considering the stereotypically feminine activities I happen to like a lot.
Would knowing my way around the kitchen help me survive during the zombie apocalypse? Uh, yeah, knowing how to cook will be seriously helpful when there’s hardly any food. Sweet! Get me my apron!
Is learning to sew a valuable skill when dealing with zombies? Well, not at first, but in the long-term, I should say so. We’ll need to create warm clothes for winter!
Is cleaning going to help when I’m dealing with zombies? If we’re talking about cleaning wounds, yeah, totally. But overall… probably not. Therefore this is something I shouldn’t be responsible for taking on unless I really want to because I just find it satisfying.
At the end of the day, Eric and I want to have the kind of relationship where we can survive monsters or zombies or whatever life throws at us together, or on our own, as the case may be at certain points in our future. So sometimes that means helping each other out around the house when we know we can, and sometimes that means saying, “Go forth and learn to do some basic household chores and survival skills on your own, my love. Get your practice now so we know we can count on each other when the zombies come.”