Noah Brand dispels the myth that being a slob is a gendered trait.
Q: What happens when a man puts a fresh roll of toilet paper onto the holder?
A: Nobody knows; it’s never happened.
Or, if you don’t like that joke, there are about a fucking billion exactly like it. Turn on your TV to check if you want: three seconds should do it. It’s taken as cultural gospel that men are, by nature, sloppy, unhygienic, and generally filthy. Women, by contrast, are neat and clean and constantly exasperated by the unending tide of filth that is the male gender. Indeed, a standard way of calling a man’s masculinity into question is to show that he is neat and well-groomed (i.e. thousands of throwaway gay jokes, or every episode of Frasier).
This is part of a larger cultural narrative, one that I’ll call the “civilizing” narrative, wherein men are grunting, violent, ill-smelling brutes, and women must overcome these disgusting attributes and train the men to ape the manners of civilization. (Usually via their role as sexual gatekeeper, dontcha know.) The men often experience this as emasculation, but come to enjoy being “domesticated” because it lets them have the suburban nuclear-family existence we’re all supposed to want. This is a pretty popular model; you see film theorists analyze Westerns through that lens, conservative pundits like to write columns about why this “fact” means that traditional marriage is necessary, and of course it’s the go-to model for sitcom writers too hung over to do any work that day.
Thing is, I’m pretty sure it’s just made up.
Certainly on the slob thing, its predictive value is crap. To call back to the original joke, I always feel compelled to put toilet paper onto the holder properly, and a good thing too, because none of the women whose bathrooms I use ever do it. I’ve seen both men and women with bedrooms whose floors weren’t visible, except for a narrow path between the bed and the door. I’ve seen both men and women carefully cleaning the glass on the front of the microwave. I’ve seen both men and women be wildly inconsistent in their neatness, keeping the inside of their car pristine and the inside of their house looking like a grenade went off in a hobo jungle. I’ve seen both men and women put yesterday’s clothes on because fuck it. Just because there’s a million of this meme doesn’t mean there aren’t a million more of this one.
Nobody’s saying that there are no cases where women straighten up after slobby dudes. I’m sure there are many such cases. I’m also sure I spent years following one girlfriend around, putting the lids back on things she opened, because otherwise nothing in the house would have had a lid. I’m saying that from what I’ve seen, human experience fails to match up very consistently to the cultural narrative.
Shorter version: If you’re correctly calling a flipped coin 50% of the time, don’t expect me to be impressed with your predictive abilities, or to laugh at jokes about how you always call the flip correctly, amirite?
So here we are, awash in a cultural narrative that is, unequivocally, insulting to men. There’s no hidden up side to being referred to as smelly and disgusting; the oh-but-I-love-him-anyway excuse in commercials is usually “He doesn’t know how to do laundry, but he can fix the car!” or some such shit. Is there a way to combat this that doesn’t just trigger reflexive sneering about “metrosexuals” or whatever equivalent gender-policing term is being used this year?
Originally published on NoSeriouslyWhatAboutTehMenz? on Aug. 24, 2011
Photo: pizzagirl / flickr