Does liking housework make me a bad feminist?
An edited version of this article appeared online at KidSpot in March 2016
I’ve always been a tidy person. Clean, too. The two go together – after all, it’s hard to keep a place clean if it’s untidy, and it’s hard to keep a place tidy if it’s unclean. A sparkling kitchen makes me feel happy; a newly vacuumed floor as though I’ve got everything under control. When I dust (my least favourite chore) I feel like Mother Theresa.
And now, primary parenting a toddler who likes to “help” and working part-time from home with a partner who works full-time and is not a carrier of the neat+clean gene, I’ve never done so much housework in my life. But I’ve realised that actually, it’s okay. I like doing housework.
Should I be ashamed of this?
This feels uncool. In fact it feels more than uncool; it feels anti-feminist, anti-equality, anti-progress. And I am a feminist who is pro-equality, and pro-progress. Oh, yes. Is there something wrong with me? Should I be ashamed of this? I tweeted feminist Roxane Gay, author of 2014’s Bad Feminist, and asked what she thought.
“Dear @rgay, does liking housework make me a bad feminist?”
“No,” she shot back, instantly.
“Excellent. I've been feeling concerned. Like I should be trying harder to not do it or something,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant (I was live tweeting! With Roxane Gay!), and hoping she’d engage in actual conversation.
“Nah. You’re good.”
Right then. So why do I feel like I’m betraying the sisterhood by happily doing all of the things – dishes, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, copious amounts of laundry, occasional ironing and yes, even dusting – myself?
Feminism's forgotten issue
Well, probably because I know that I’m willingly doing – and enjoying – what has traditionally been considered “women’s work”. And that the never-ending rounds of housework that have been the bugbear of many a woman’s life since … forever, have been swept under the socio-political carpet. That’s despite the disparity between who does what in the home being raised as a serious issue by feminists in the 1970s, whose call of “Stop being chained to the kitchen sink”, hoped to inspire women to step out of the home and into the workplace.
Which they did, in droves. Today 53 per cent of Australian women with a child or children aged under five is working part-time or full-time, while also identifying as the primary parent, according to the ABS. Yet we still do most of the housework, as this 2014 OECD report shows.
In a 2014 article for The New Statesman, feminist writer Glosswitch termed housework “feminism’s forgotten issue”.
“It reinforces the idea that an imbalance between the sexes is natural, with one living to serve the other. It’s feminism 101. We ought to be furious and yet we’re not,” she writes.
Melinda Gates also recently took a swipe at the issue, noting that unless things change, …“girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility.”
Did I just say I like housework out loud?
It’s telling that when I first contemplated writing about my enjoyment of housework, I rejected the idea as trivial, uncool and embarrassing and even backwards. After all the fighting women have done to be self-determining, who the heck is going to say that out loud? Well, me.
Let’s get a few things straight. I am by no means a neat freak. As I write, the floors could really, really do with mopping. And the blinds, the damned blinds … well, they haven’t been dusted in months. But so far today, with toddler at the helm, I have: made the beds. Made the breakfast. Cleaned up after breakfast. Hung out a load of washing my partner put on last night, then put on another and hung that one out, too. Vacuumed the entire house. Done the dishes, and prepped for dinner.
Embracing the womanly arts
You know what? At this moment in time, in my life and in the grand history of women, I am okay with being the person that does nearly all of the housework. I don’t think that makes me a bad feminist.
Being a good feminist doesn’t mean having to dislike traditionally feminine or womanly things. It might sound contradictory, but being down on “women’s work” simply because it has traditionally been regarded as such reinforces its historical value as lesser than, and is inherently sexist.
Give KonMari a break
This is why I take umbrage with Ann Friedman’s critique of KonMari – the decluttering craze that flips the idea of having a good old clean out on its head by encouraging purgers to decide what to keep, rather than what to discard.
Friedman is pissed that most of KonMari’s followers are female, and takes this as a sign that women are unwittingly buying into a phenomenon that cements their roles as the housekeepers of the world even further.
“Why are 21st century women - who, generally speaking, are righteously angry about continuing disparities in household labor - flocking to a guru who promises to improve their organisational techniques?” she asks, before going on to insult her entire gender’s intelligence by suggesting that “America's women have failed to notice that she's selling them Good Housekeeping 2.0.”
Could it be that women are just more into being neat and clean and organised than men? And isn’t that okay? I love a good clean out. My partner, not so much.
Cleanliness is next to...
There’s something about the act of cleaning that makes me feel ready. Ready for what, exactly? Visitors, mostly – but also for … life. As I clean, I meditate on things: writing projects, shopping lists, emotional concerns. It’s a subconsciously productive time; when I’m done, I’m done.
But that’s just me. Anytime a woman doesn’t enjoy housework yet is expected to do more than her share without feeling as though she is being adequately compensated (wages for housework, anyone?), then that’s an issue. I know that I won’t always be happy being the person that does all of the housework. In the future when I my working hours increase/have another baby/take up fly-fishing, my partner will do more. And we’ll hire a cleaner – and I’ll sure as heck try to make sure the cleaner is a man.