That special housecleaning tingle

Starting at the headline, I knew this was gonna be rich:

Women’s Liberation Through Housework

The daring thesis?

Keeping a tidy house needn’t be an exercise in pointless, mind-numbing tedium, regardless of what girls of my generation were taught. Many of us for a few decades there refused to admit it, but deep down, we have a perfectly respectable desire to create an attractive, peaceful haven for our families and ourselves.

Those feminists were totally wrong when they said that a life of unpaid housework isn’t fulfilling! Rena Corey is soooo fulfilled by cleaning up her toddler’s drool and straightening her bathroom towels, she can’t understand why any woman would abandon her genetic housecleaning tendencies to work outside the home for a paycheck.
Let it be said that there’s some middle ground here. I’m someone who has been known to hang curtains and keep my apartment pretty clean but, uh, I don’t exactly feel a special tingle whenever my hand touches the Swiffer pole. I think Rena is missing the point here in treating housework as a sort of higher calling. This part just seems sad to me:

Oh, I don’t enjoy the minute-to-minute minutiae of the job, any more than someone in the corporate world enjoys time-wasting meetings or bureaucratic directives. But I like the results — a refuge for everyone to come home to, with a nice meal on the table and clean linens (well, most of the time) on the beds. My home is my little kingdom where, on a good day, with a lot of organization and a little bit of elbow grease, things run as smoothly and peacefully as I wish the big outside world did.

I admit, that sounds to me like a sad justification. Keeping a “little kingdom” clean might be enough for Rena, but most people don’t find that ultimately fulfilling. Which is why Betty Friedan struck a chord in 1963. I don’t doubt that there are a few women in this world who feel spasms of ecstasy every time they pick up a Windex bottle. I think my own mother, who quit her job when she got pregnant with me and remains (even though her kids are all grown and moved out) a full-time homemaker, would say that she’s very happy with her choice.
But to say that the “second shift” is because of women’s genetic predisposition to housework is just absurd. And it lets men off the hook. Rena might be satisfied to spend her adult life as the happy homemaker, but the vast majority of us are not. See, those of us who manage to part with our Swiffers long enough to venture outside for a paycheck know that, as Rena notes, there are indeed minute-to-minute unpleasant tasks in the work world. But they add up to a lot more than a sparkling toilet. They allow women to have influence in the public sphere — the world beyond the “little kingdom,” where important decisions are made about the direction of society, and where money and power change hands.
No matter how many times women like Rena tell themselves they are “renegades” for liking housework, the fact remains that they’re taking the path of least resistance with domestic gender roles. That’s all well and good if it makes them happy, but Friedan called this a “mystique” for a reason. Most women aren’t as happy in this role as they tell themselves they are. As Moe puts it, “There’s nothing zen about chapped hands and Brillo pads.”

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