The XX Factor

Stephen Marche Floats a New Reason for Why Men Shouldn’t Do Housework: Women Are Crazy

My husband told me not to bother, but he also asked where all his clean underwear went.

In the amount of time Stephen Marche must have spent writing his elaborate, 2,000-plus-word excuse for why men can’t do housework for an op-ed in the New York Times, he could have just cleaned his house. Twice.

In “The Case for Filth,” Marche, previously famous for complaining women don’t worship men like they used to, ponders housework’s persistent gender inequality with unbearably pretentious twaddle like, “Even the most basic housework proves ethereal on inspection,” and, “Like everything in marriage, the division of domestic duties ultimately boils down to sex, the fundamental struggle to achieve regulated passion.” Please keep that in mind next time you want your husband to wipe down the counters. Marche’s thesis essentially boils down to this: Yeah, women do more around the house, but that’s because women are crazy.

The specter of female insanity comes up repeatedly in Marche’s mental wanderings through what he imagines the world of housework to be. His wife’s preference for not unloading the cutlery from the dishwasher is characterized as mysterious in origin, one of many “minor insanities” that shan’t be cleared up by anything as tawdry as asking why. Women are portrayed throughout as unable to know themselves and their own desires.

In what seems like one of the most widely reported sociological studies in history, a team of researchers in 2012 discovered that men who do more housework have less sex than men who don’t — but that men who do more traditional male housework, like yard work, have more sex. That old chestnut of sex advice columns, that tidying up the kitchen will get your wife in the mood, is sadly inaccurate.

Women don’t even know what they want! (Yes they do: They want you to tidy up the kitchen. It has nothing to do with sex.) But back to the question at hand:

So why won’t men pick up a broom? Why won’t they organize a closet? Why can’t housework be converted — as the former burdens of food preparation and child rearing seem to have been for some men — into a source of manly pride and joy? Why would housework be the particular place to stall?

At least one thing is becoming clear: The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it.

Wait, what? Instead of trying to figure out why men won’t do housework or to inch closer to a universe where the housework load is more equitably shared, Marche’s answer is: Now that men are expected to clean, it’s “clear” that we should all clean less. Tricky!

Fifty years ago, it was perfectly normal to iron sheets and to vacuum drapes. They were “necessary” tasks. The solution to the inequality of dusting wasn’t dividing the dusting; it was not doing the dusting at all.

The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.

Spoken like someone who believes the bathtub cleans itself. Of course, overlooking what women actually do is built into the DNA of this piece. Marche mentions Jonathan Chait’s essay that also argued that women create their own problems by overdoing it on the housework. He fails to mention, however, that Chait was responding to our own Jessica Grose’s examination of the issue in the New Republic. Perhaps Marche ignores Grose’s piece because she focuses on solutions that might result in men doing more work with less prompting, a dystopian hellscape that was too terrible for Marche to even contemplate.