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My Super-Clean House Isn't Brushing Feminism Under The Carpet

What is it about me cleaning my house that makes you feel like it's a competition?

05/05/2017 9:24 AM AEST | Updated 05/05/2017 9:24 AM AEST
Robert Daly
I've been told (by women who don't like cleaning) that keeping my house clean perpetuates the myth that women should be doing more housework than men.

"What an uptight, stuck-up chick she is," a friend lamented to me as we left lunch at a mutual friend's house.

I was taken aback; we'd just had a beautiful meal with excellent company. We'd laughed, we'd talked and we'd eaten. A lot. Uptight and stuck-up never occurred to me.

"Huh? Who?" I asked, thinking she might be talking about a random woman trying to get out of a tight parking spot nearby.

According to my friend, our host was uptight and arrogant because her home was immaculate. Not huge or showy or over the top. Just very shiny and clean. The fact that she didn't act superior and didn't demonstrate a single arrogant moment during the hours we'd spent with her that day (or any other time I can recall) didn't matter.

I talked about this with a few people and a common thread emerged; people who maintain clean homes are not just neurotic, they are trying to make other people feel bad by putting all that time into cleaning.

This cut deep because I am a neat freak. Freak used in the context of "a very unusual and unexpected event", rather than someone with an unusual physical abnormality, although some may disagree.

I like having a clean home. I'm that person who cannot sleep if there are dirty dishes in the sink. I can't relax if there are clothes on the floor and my eyes will not stay in the closed position if there is a cupboard door or drawer open.

As a consequence, my house is always clean. And tidy -- very tidy. It could be genetic, or it may be a curse placed on me when my parents called me Lana, because backwards or forwards I am anal about cleanliness. And by anal I mean my personality is "marked by excessive orderliness, extreme meticulousness and often suspicion and reserve". I have no fixation or indeed interest in the anus.

While it is satisfying to me that my house is clean and tidy, I'm aware it contributes in some way to a gender argument that takes aim at women like me. Recent census results show that the typical Australian woman spends between five and 14 hours a week doing unpaid domestic housework, while the typical Australian man does fewer than five hours. I fit into that stereotype with ease. In fact, I slide into it on a shiny, stain-free floor coated in polish.

It's not an issue for me and takes away nothing from the fact that I identify as a feminist, but I've been told (by women who don't like cleaning) that keeping my house clean perpetuates the myth that women should be doing more housework than men.

But my husband doesn't get a chance; I tidy before he's even realised there's a mess. It's my thing, not his, and it's not because of our genders. (I should mention that when it comes to the inside of our cars we take on opposite roles. I have soft drink bottles in my car that would not stand a chance on my kitchen bench. Same thing with hairbrushes and mysteriously multiplying lipsticks. You could perform surgery in the interior of my husband's car.)

And to top that all, I'm being blamed for making other people feel bad about their own homes.

When I visit someone else's home, I don't inspect for dust. I don't twitch when I see stuff all over the place and I don't refuse to share a meal served from a food-encrusted bench top. As long as you don't ask me to sleep over, I can't say it affects me enough to really think about. I don't judge people on the cleanliness of their homes any more than I would judge them on the number of bottles and lipsticks rattling around the backseat of their cars.

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So why is it that people can no longer tolerate the idea of someone who cleans their home fastidiously? It's almost like it has become an aberration to keep a clean house.

Political journalist and commentator Annabel Crabb writes in defence of the fact that women still do twice as much housework as men: "If as a mother, there's one little tip you can pass on to your daughter that might help her enjoy a productive, happy and neurosis-free life, I reckon it's this: don't tidy your room."

Constance Hall, known for her large following of 'queens' writes: "To the woman with piles of dishes and washing who walks straight out the door for a coffee at her friends, I salute you. Being a good mum or wife or human does NOT mean spending eternity cleaning your house."

They are not alone. Hundreds of articles, blog posts and newspaper columns are dedicated to the idea that we should come to terms with mess, we should let the dishes pile up, laundry can wait, dirt doesn't kill. And it's all true; none of these things are earth shattering. But nor is the desire to have a clean and tidy home.

I'm not going to implore you to join me in vacuuming on a regular basis, but I will ask what it is about my clean house that makes you feel like it's a competition? Why not clean (or not) your house to the level you are comfortable with and leave me at home to polish my light switches?


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