Unclutterer is a popular blog for people looking to de-clutter their homes, schedules, possession and lives in general. It covers topics ranging from housework to making technology work for you on the job. Imagine my surprise when a recent post gave me fodder for an article.
In Gender stereotypes and uncluttering, Erin talks about:
In the comments to last week’s post “10 more uncluttering things to do every day,” a few readers were upset because they believed the list put a greater burden on women to vacuum more often. If you read the post, you’ll notice that gender isn’t discussed a single time in the text. The post’s author never says that women should vacuum more, just that it might be a good idea to run the vacuum every day (especially if you have kids and pets). The assumption that vacuuming is a woman’s chore is just as ridiculous of a stereotype as thinking that a woman is required, simply based on her gender, to “properly keep house.”
It’s 2010, and I say it’s time we let go of gender-related stereotypes associated with men and women and their duties at home.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Then I clicked over to the original article (linked above within the blockquote) and read it. It lists 10 suggestions, among them “Vacuum everyday.” I think that one’s over the top for many of us, but if it works for you that’s great, and it certainly doesn’t have to be The Woman Of The Home who does it. Then I started reading the comments:
Yet more advice to reduce one’s involvement in the community and other people for the sake of having a “clutter-free” home. Right, because people (especially women) tend to be soooooo over-involved with their communities and spend too much time socializing and having fun (in their time off of work) with adults whose company is enriching, and not enough time being the perfect homemaker. –MsD
She’s not talking about vacuuming. She’s talking about another item on the list which advises you to take stock of all the committees and organizations and socializing you’re part of and consider dumping some or all of them. That’s reasonable enough advice, isn’t it? And Erin points out the author didn’t mean you must dump all these things from your life; just that for some people, that might be the right choice.
Wow, the commenters sure let MsD know that was harsh! Then:
I know it’s not explicitly aimed at only women, but look at the names on this comment thread! Most housework, including uncluttering, is done by women. MsD might have been saying it too harshly but she has a very good point – telling an audience largely comprised of women that they should stop sitting on school boards and start mopping the floorboards should set some warning lights flashing. –MissPrism
Erin replies that actually their audience is mostly male. (So is ours, by the way – it’s been holding steady at 48% female for years now. But you do know all of this relies on self-reporting and educated guesses extrapolated on a bit of a reach from various statistics.) MissPrism responds with:
Thanks for the correction, Erin. Still, I’m hugely uneasy with this advice. Men are very rarely criticised or shamed about their housekeeping, and almost never excluded from public life. So the suggestion that one ought to drop activities outside the house in order to free up time to vacuum is not going to affect men and women equally.
And there you have it. The commenters weren’t just assuming the suggestion to vacuum fell solely on women, as Erin states in her more recent article. They were reacting to an implication that could be drawn from this article whether the author meant it or not. I mean, let’s imagine how this article would play to someone’s “traditional gender roles” mother, domestic partner or low self-esteem female friend:
- Mother: “In my day, we did it all and still had time to cook from scratch 6 times a day. Of course, we didn’t have to have jobs to feel good about ourselves. We were content to be ignored and undervalued. If you’d quit working, you’d have time for all this.”
- Partner: “See, I told you the problem is you’re just trying to do too much and be a Super Woman with all your committees. Now go fetch me my beer before you vacuum and settle in for the night.”
- Low self-esteem friend: “Maybe Asshole wouldn’t have so many affairs if I’d just stop seeing my friends and spend more time keeping his house clean.”
But the thread gets worse. “Bob” calls MissPrism “sexist” for her above-cited comments. She – probably foolishly – tries to explain facts to him. After blaming women for men’s failure to do more housework, he says:
In fairness, you have an unfair attitude towards men. We’re not all slobs and some of us actually do housework. How can you be “hugely uneasy” with the advice to vacuum more, as if the advice somehow unfairly targets women?
This in a thread where someone called “Amess” lamented that his wife doesn’t adhere to the steps listed in the article.
Here at Hathor, we’re often told we’re reading too much into things (by trolls whose comments don’t make it through moderation), and I feel that’s where Erin’s second post goes a bit askance. I clicked over to the first article, fully expecting to read commenters with women’s names complaining that they don’t have time to vacuum, but what I read instead was a slightly overheated but fully legitimate concern that the implication of the items as a group was that women needed to find fulfillment in a pristine home rather than fixing their communities and hanging out with friends.