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Stop being lady macbeths


The female obsession with cleanliness has less to do with men and their unwillingness to help and more to do with our inability to let things slide

I was taught to believe that girls are cleaner than boys. In fact I have spent the last 40 years thinking that one of the pre-requisites of femininity is cleanliness. Women are the subset of the human species that will save the planet from all the dirt and filth perpetrated upon us by men. Men are not expected to be clean because they have better things to do like providing for the family, or going to war, or playing cricket, and that's fine, we women will pick up behind them because we are naturally predisposed to doing this job better than anyone else. 

When I was seven, my dad and his colleagues went on a work trip and they all came back with the exact same gift for their respective offspring. This would have been fine except that all the other kids were boys and I was the only girl and ALL of us got a set of dinky cars. But I wanted a vacuum cleaner. But I got you the best dinky cars - look at this, it's an Aston Martin! 

I didn't care about cars, I wanted to clean. And so I bitched and moaned about it for two months until finally I got my little vacuum cleaner - it was pink and everyday I would rip up a newspaper, strew the pieces around my room and then watch with glee as my vacuum cleaner ate them. While the boys made a mess with their dinky cars I tidied up. 

Then I got older and began to notice that adults had great admiration for women who kept a neat and orderly home. Women like that were 'houseproud' and admiring friends would say things like 'you can eat of her floors'. This was precisely the kind of woman that I decided I wanted to be when I grew up, a real woman, a woman who did not allow dust to settle, a woman whose home would be spotless if it killed her. And now, today, it is literally killing me. Every year I become less and less enthusiastic about what my surroundings look like, and if I had a choice between housework and setting myself on fire I would choose to burn. But now I am like an addict who is fully aware of her addiction but just can't stop. I have spent my whole life having a fit every time I notice something out of place because I am a woman, and my home, like my carefully curated Facebook profile pictures, must reflect nothing but my best side. I hadn't realised how bad things were until I recently noticed that the only time my husband ever asks my permission for anything is when it comes to housework. Rads! Should I wash the salad bowl? Rads! Should I water the plant? Rads! Should I fold the laundry? No my love! Don't fold a thing. Just stand back and watch as the clothes fold themselves. As annoying as all this permission-asking may be what is far worse is that I am the one who created this ridiculous situation. Any time my husband performs a household chore, regardless of how menial, I'm up his arse with a detailed account of what a bad job his mother did raising him, how he should never have gone to an all boys school because he has no idea how to live, that Stevie Wonder and the Three Blind Mice would be able to identify a mess better than he, that he is sloppy and constantly cutting corners, and that he pays no attention to detail. I always make it plain that when it comes to being clean I am better at it than he will ever be. 

And I can't help it. Which is why I almost killed my own father. 

Last year, my dad visited me and I thought I was going to strangle him. The man is a crumb machine and his favorite snack is toast. He eats it every day and he scatters breadcrumbs everywhere, from the breadboard, to the toaster, to his plate and then all over the house from there. He is like an elderly Hansel, creating a trail of crumbs so he can find his way home. And it freaks me out. But it does not freak my husband out, and it does not freak my dad out because right from the time they were toddlers there was some crazy, paranoid woman cleaning up after them. And now this woman is me. 

I once asked a friend what her favorite thing about America was, and she told me: I just love the cleaning products. 

It's not her fault, the female race has been trained to have an aversion to dirt in a way a man cannot relate. For example, we have an 'unclean' time of the month. What this says to me is that the body part that makes us biologically capable of perpetuating the human race is at fault. That's a really big load to carry and I believe it fuels at least some of our obsession with cleanliness. We are over-compensating for being dirty girls. Add this to the fact that in the vast majority of households (including the ones where both the man and woman work full-time ) we ladies are still in-charge of the general upkeep of the nest and you end up with a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 

It took me a while to understand that this had less to do with men and their unwillingness to help and more to do with our inability to let things slide. We balk at the sight of dirty dishes, turn our noses up if we spy one errant pube in a friends bath tub, and judge people by how often they bathe their children - all stuff our male counterparts could not possibly care less about. I never thought I would say this but maybe we can learn a thing or two about housekeeping from men! I for one am properly convinced that household chores are a time suck that can quickly diminish not just our will to live but also our capacity to be involved in anything more meaningful. I'm not advocating a filth-hole for a home but I am suggesting we bring it down a notch. For once I would like to feel the sharp stab of a toast crumb on the underside of my bunion and not give a shit. Because I know that until we learn to let go of the little things, we are unlikely to progress as a species. 

Vaz is a New York-based comedian and the writer and performer of the one-woman show 'Unladylike: The Pitfalls of Propriety'. 

Reader's opinion (4)

Latha IyerMay 29th, 2013 at 14:56 PM

get a life!

S RFeb 27th, 2013 at 14:03 PM

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Gopa ChokrobortyFeb 27th, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Good article!

Gopa ChokrobortyFeb 27th, 2013 at 10:16 AM

How true.......I am like that a cleanliness freak ,,,

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