"Mature people do all the shitwork!" is what the middle-aged man in a two-year-old's body shouts to a group of children in Jules Feiffer's "Tantrum."
I've just finished cleaning the refrigerator. I contemplate the psychology of shitwork.
The refrigerator took a long time to clean and was very unpleasant because two other adults live in this house and neither of them cleans the refrigerator. It would not occur to them because they have always lived in a household in which a wife or mother cleaned it before it became a biohazard. If I asked them to clean the refrigerator, they would make excuses, stall, and finally do a poor job of it. Yet we are family (blood and meshpocha) and we love each other.
I know all about teaching people how to treat you. I've never had a problem being vocal about not wanting to do all the cleaning and I tried to teach the children when they were growing up to be communitarian and responsible. It is hard! It is hard because shitwork sucks and there is something in people that will do almost anything to get out of it. We used to own slaves, and we still designate classes of people to do the shitwork.
But in the family...it is corrosive.
Over the years, I have reasoned with my family, and I have had emotional outbursts. Nothing has ever made them pull their weight in maintaining our home. Of course, any dog, if beaten enough, will stay off the couch, but this is where I falter. I do not want to be head Dog Beater with the people I love (I am speaking of adults and kids old enough). Where is their responsibility? They love me, but shitwork sucks and society has until recently been structured so that the wife/mother does it. I've met all kinds of resistance, from blank-eyed stonewalling to various excuses. One that stands out in my memory is, "The kitchen is clean by male standards!" delivered with a sidelong grin, translated, "I gave it a half-assed swipe and you'll have to finish it and when you complain I'll make Martha Stewart jokes and use it as an excuse not to make any more attempts." Second prize: "I can't remember when it's Wednesday (garbage) night." Honorable mention: "I just don't see the mess." Those are not adult attitudes.
My loved ones don't mean to hurt me. Unconsciously, they simply don't believe they should have to do shitwork. They would hate a dirty home: I've never heard anyone say, "I love the smell of catbox in the morning!" I have had to make a unilateral effort to make them understand that their failure to clean up after themselves is unfair to me, and I haven't done well. Dog-beating isn't my thing.
Daughter once said I had "an out-moded, feminist perspective." Could be. But her boyfriend cleans. He cleans up after himself, and he cleans their apartment, bathroom and all, without being asked, and properly. So she has more Time, which is what life is made of. And she isn't living with chronic resentment. Maybe it's a legacy of those outmoded feminists. Maybe it's maturity. Either way, I'm happy for her!
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