Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The man I share my life with is not a feminist, but damn can he clean. J has many admirable qualities that allow us to functionally share our lives without sharing feminism that I will expound upon at greater length in later posts, but this is one quality that has been essential to the growth of our relationship since we moved in together a year ago.
But J has been out of town on business since Monday, and he left the house neat and clean, with just a few dishes in the sink. I hoped to have him return to the house in the same condition, but despite spending less than a dozen waking hours in our living space since he left, it's a damn mess. Dishes are everywhere. There's a random loaf of bread on his computer table. Clothes and wet towels blanket the couch. A brush has been on the floor and not in my hair since he left.
I? Am not so good at cleaning. In fact, I suck at cleaning. I always have. [ick warning] Something literally died in my dorm room junior year, and I didn't notice until I moved out. Mess (and yes, grossness) does not bother me.
Outside of the complications being messy brings to my cohabiting relationship, not being neat is also a weird space to negotiate as a woman, a feminist, a person with OCD, and a live-in girlfriend.
But as a feminist, I feel like I need to take care of myself. Organization and being able to quickly and easily find things allows me to get things done quicker. How can I be productive if my desk is covered with the debris of lunches and project past? How is upkeep entropy conducive to feminist activism?
As a woman, I am constantly expected to pick up after mine and others' shit. Being messy is sometimes empowering - it's subverting and cutting off the expectations of others, and releases me from another pressure of society. It's a way to excommunicate myself from the feminine mystique.
I think not being clean kept me from recognizing that I had OCD for a long time, particularly as a teen. OCD is portrayed as the hand-washing disease - it's the kind where you're terrified of germs. I am totally not terrified of germs, so how can I have OCD? The media portrayal of OCD as a one-dimensional, comical fear of germs shuts off the many, many facets of the disease, and led me to an alternative and fairly wrong diagnosis of ADD.
J's mom keeps a very neat house. While J is skilled in the art of "picking up the damn towels off the floor" and "not throwing shit everywhere" in a way I am not, when we first moved in together he was not used to having things taken care of for him. The laundry piled up, and up, and up. So did the dishes. He didn't think he'd have to do them, but I sure as shit wasn't going to just do them.
I figured that he would understand that he had to pick up a lot of the slack, having, you know, dated me for two years prior to this and having spent many nights in my various dorm rooms. But he didn't, and there were clashes, fights, arguments, passive-aggressiveness about cleaning. He understood that I wasn't going to be a happy housewife intellectually, but it was a bit of a shock actually living in it, after being accustomed to having women pick up after him.
But you know what? He shaped up, and dealt with it. We don't have an exact system, but there are things that I generally take care of (litterboxes, cooking, folding laundry) and things that he generally takes care of (the yard, the dishes, loading the laundry). When we are having people over, we clean together. My (very clean and neat) mom (and other immediate family) came to visit a couple weeks ago, and she even commented as to its cleanliness, which was kind of a triumph for me.
While neither of us are perfect, J and I pick up the slack for each other to create a functional, helpful, clean space that's about as free of mess as it is of drama (not entirely, but mostly!). Sharing household duties is essential to having a functional relationship - not just as a feminist, for me, but as a way of being. J's activity in household duties lifts up my own nascent instinct to not live in filth, and spurs me towards actually vacuuming once in a while.