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women clean and men fix things: the problem with gender-divided chores at home

woman cleaning

I am an only child and I hate sharing, particularly bathrooms. As I have the pleasure of being a poor uni student and still live at home, I must tolerate my mother’s house guests using my amenities. My mother and I live alone with no man in sight except for when we occasionally wave to the neighbours – shock horror! At least, I think there’s something in that which shocks her friends. In the last week or so, two couples have stayed over. Much like the unfamiliar hairs now stuck to my soap, they’ve made somewhat of an impression on me.

I cannot stress the differences in my mother’s friends enough. Take couple one, a traditional Italian couple, your 1950s style husband and wife who were married less than five years ago. Then there’s the straight de facto duo with a balanced power between them, at least from what I can see. Yet these two couples still seem to show an overriding sense of pity when they observe us in our home, a place where jobs are not ‘pink’ or ‘blue’ but colour blind.

With couple one this was quite explicit, as our dog was deemed the ‘man of the house’ by the wife. There came self-directed prompts from the husband to do our yard work as we had a couple of plants that needed trimming. I don’t know how you would feel if I barked at you to let me do the garden while you women folk chatted, you know, ‘if you want to make me happy’ (and yes, direct quote). Nor could I anticipate your reaction if after completing the task I went on to ask for you to buy me weedkiller for next time. But, I’ll tell you how I felt when male one did such things: a little bit pissed. Whilst couple two didn’t leave me with quite as screwed up of a face, what with male two helping out in the kitchen, I was still irked by offers to fix a dodgy door lock.

I had simply had enough towards the end of one evening with couple one. As dinner plates were loaded into the dishwasher one of its bits broke. My eyes darted to male one, then to my mother. I raced over; no way was I going to let him bark orders on how to fix it or worse still claim all the glory and pop the component back in place. I observed the parts, I used logic, and as he finally waddled over to perform the miracle that is ‘men’s work’ I had my triumph in fixing the dishwasher. Needless to say, it drew mild mockery dressed in praise in the form of ‘well, look at you’.

There is a certain level of accountability women feel for their homes as conditioned by society and constantly reinforced, particularly with advertising. To quote Harpic, ‘what does your loo say about you?’ Generally speaking, it is considered impolite to make a fuss over the state of a home’s cleanliness lest it reflect poorly on the woman – at least if they’re not your flesh and blood. Yet for some reason when the item perceived out of order is associated with masculinity in the division of labour, and there is no man to rectify the issue, people find it a cue to step in. Not to be reductive, but this standard is rarely enforced for men living without women and ‘pink jobs’. In such a situation there is less expectation for a clean house due to society dictating men will tend to the garbage bins and fix the wonky table’s leg, yet let the dishes pile up in the sink. Arguably, few women would feel the need to address this beyond a concerned mother.

Never mind all the women’s DIY classes available at Bunnings and forget that one may choose to outsource duties socially coloured as ‘blue jobs’. Perhaps I am overreacting to offers to lend a hand here or there. Or perhaps this equates to the never-ending narrative of the damsel in distress in our culture, who has to be saved from the hassle.

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