A Response to Stephen Marche, “The Case for Filth,” New York Times Sunday Review Opinion
Published: December 7, 2013
Many of my esteemed friends and associates have shared this article recently, but I must be totally missing the point, because to me this article reads like one long justification by the author for NOT increasing his responsibility for the chores around his own home and therefore inviting his readers to do the same. As if just because other men don’t do housework means he doesn’t have to. As if learning to brine a turkey is enough to compensate for generations women who have done housework, not because it is a source of “pride and joy,” which he seems to imply is a necessary aspect of any activity worth male attention and energy, but because that was the unpaid job that society let them aspire to.
He recognizes that modern women are drawn to domestic activities like making candles, knitting, and raising chickens. But what he misses is that these are *hobbies*, not chores. This isn’t evidence of some persistent, cultural, and gendered gravity that pulls women down into the grind of housework in spite of several generations of feminist resistance to a sentence of a lifetime of housework.
He then uses an example from the show Mad Men, infamous for romanticizing male chauvinism, to illustrate a connection between carrying out our shared domestic responsibilities and the web of sexual intimacy. After describing a sexy scene in which Don is “rewarded” by his wife Megan for fixing a sink, the article’s author concludes that, “there is no solution to the economic injustice of housework any more than there is a solution to human desire.” No, in this scene, Megan is aroused by her desire to be accepted by her husband who is aloof and unfaithful to her. The plumbing chore seems to be a symbol of his willingness to return home, and she has such a low self-image that she is willing to accept whatever leftovers or crumbs he offers her.
No. The solution of “no solution” is what we say as exasperated and exhausted wives and partners who have consistently picked up the broom and scrubbed the toilets. It is not an argument from reason. This is pathos in its raw and pitiable form. Yet, this is supposed to be the “good” news: that women are doing less because they simply can’t do it all: full-time work outside the home, parenting, and household chores.
That women are doing less housework is also evidence that the feminist movement has been successful in giving more women more choices for how they lives their lives. But the fact that men haven’t changed their tendencies shows the limits of a movement that has focused on the rights and responsibilities of only one gender.
His conclusion, “the only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it,” is the only thing he CAN say given his unwillingness to change his standards or take on more responsibilities. Of course, he is modern enough to never prescribe anything to women.
In its most fundamental form, marriage, monogamy, and co-habitation are about living out the most generous hospitality, one in which we welcome another into our very lives. It’s about preparing a space to share with the other in mind, body, and soul. He must be a terrible roommate.