Division of Labor

Division of Labor

When it comes to roommates, I would rather live with men than women. It’s nothing against women. I’m not the type of woman who claims that “I have no girl friends” or that “I just get along better with men” or even that “I’m one of the guys.” I love my female friends, and I have a lot of them. But in general, in my experience, I have had much easier, much lower-conflict roommate situations when living with men.

Whenever I tell people this, I always get the same response, “But boys are so messy!” (This, too, is a sexist comment, making a lot of assumptions about the men), but I usually agree. “Yes, they are. But I’m kind of a clean freak no matter what, so I don’t mind picking up after them.”

In general, this is true. I’m a very clean person, and I often find myself cleaning up after my roommates. Usually I just assume (rightfully so, this assumption is based on experience, after all) that they probably won’t clean to my standards, so I’ll probably end up cleaning even after they have cleaned.

I never thought about this as a sexist issue, until I was telling a girl friend about a recent experience.

I came home two nights ago, opened up the fridge to get some water, and realized that the bottom of the fridge was covered in coke. There was a 2-liter laying on its side on the bottom shelf, and the cap hadn’t been screwed on all the way. Normally, I would have immediately pulled out the crisper drawers and started cleaning. But… it’s finals. I’m stressed, and I’m moving out in a few weeks. I just didn’t have the energy. So, I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself that it’s OK for things to be dirty for a few hours, and waited until my roommate G came home.

When he walked in the door, I immediately became nervous. Remember, that since I always clean up after the roommates, I am not very well skilled in asking them to do chores. But I knew it had to happen. So I allowed him some time to settle in, then I asked, “Hey G, is that your coke in the fridge?” “Umm… yeah.” “Ok cool. It seems to have spilled all over the bottom of the fridge. Do you mind taking care of that?”

I DID IT! I asked him to clean up after himself! I am strong! I can handle confrontation.

And he did. He seemed to do so begrudgingly (I heard some huffs and puffs), but he did it.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I walked into the kitchen that I realized that in cleaning out the fridge, he got sticky soda all over the kitchen floor. I paused. I thought, “can I wait until tonight to have this cleaned up?” Ultimately, I could not. I did not. I just brought out the mop and dealt with it myself.

So… I was relaying this story to my friend. And she immediately said, “You should write about this in your blog!” And she’s right, but I hadn’t really thought about it before. What does it say about me that I would rather clean up after my (male) roommate rather than just have a conversation. Am I cleaning up after them because they’re men? Do they expect me to clean up after them because they’re men? Is this sexism or is this just me being a clean-freak?

Ultimately, I think it’s somewhere in between: I probably clean more because I’m borderline obsessive AND because I’m a woman who has been socialized to take care of others. But it’s definitely something to keep in mind for the future, especially as I move into an apartment with my partner. What is expected of me? What is expected of him? And how can we ensure that there’s a fair division of labor in our home?



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