A few weeks ago, I was being interviewed by a group of students about my transformation from a clutterbug into an unclutterer. During the interview, one of the students asked me if I thought there were greater pressures on women to be clean and organized than there are for men.
"If a guy is a slob, people seem to shrug it off," a female commented. "Messiness falls into that ‘boys will be boys’ category. But if a woman isn’t clean, people perceive it as a lack of femininity. She is thought to be a bad woman who can’t keep house and will ultimately let down herself and a family."
I agreed with her that the stereotype exists, but that I don’t approve of it and I’m not sure what can be done about it. I know that when I was a clutterbug, I heard a number of negative comments about how I’d "never get a husband with a dirty house" or that I "better marry a guy with a lot of money so that I can have maids" do the work I wasn’t skilled at doing. I always found these comments to be offensive. They implied that I needed a man to save me from my clutter problems (ugh) and also that I wouldn’t ever be desirable because of my inability to keep house (double ugh).
Anecdotally, I also have found that when I walk into someone’s house, women often apologize for the state of things. "I’m so sorry for the mess," they’ll say, even when things are in perfect order. I’ve never heard a guy comment on the appearance of his home. So, not only does society put pressure on women to keep a tidy house, but women internalize it and feel that they’re being judged about the state of their homes.
As I previously mentioned, I don’t know what can be done about these stereotypical expectations. I’m of the belief that living an uncluttered life has many benefits, but that it’s an individual’s choice (regardless of gender) if that is how he or she wants to live. As long as there aren’t other people in the home, health, safety, or control issues, it’s not really anyone’s business how messy or tidy one’s house is. If many people live in one location, then it’s the whole group’s/family’s decision about the state of affairs.
What do you think? Are American standards of tidiness more judgmental of women? Should the bar be raised for men, reduced for women, or neither? Tell us your thoughts on this issue in the comments.