Men silently benefit when they live in a house that’s kept clean by someone who is socialized, shamed and pressured into doing it alone.
In a recent Washington Post interview, Marie Kondo, Japanese organizing consultant and television presenter, remarked that she’d “given up” decluttering and being perfectly organized after giving birth to her third child. Cue the laughter, eye rolling and probably future mention on VH1’s I Love the 20s.
Regarding Kondo’s advice as a temporary, money-making fad is easy—but that’s not why her original guidance was difficult for some people to fully stick with over a long period of time. Similar to Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” the Tidying Up franchise tried to rebrand domestic work itself as a fun puzzle to be solved jointly with one-time shortcuts, rather than address the root problem: Domestic work has historically been and continues to be seen as a woman’s primary responsibility in a two-parent household—including in Kondo’s home country of Japan. Adding children to the environment, as Kondo recently did, only exacerbates the uneven division of labor.
Finding a more efficient way to fold clothes is irrelevant when only one half of the household is silently conscripted into doing all the laundry. Designating places for items is a great idea—but where should we store our simmering resentment while the other half of the household gets more leisure time? What’s the point of organizing paper and clutter when one person gets to unilaterally decide which chores are worth doing in the first place?
Domestic work in America has been a long-time battleground between the sexes. Further complicating the issue is that women and women of color make up a majority of domestic workers: 90.2 percent are women and 51.3 percent are Black, Hispanic, or Asian American and Pacific Islander. There is no honest and accurate way to talk about housework and childcare without also discussing the negative effects on women. Men silently benefit when they live in a house that’s kept clean by someone who is socialized, shamed and pressured into doing it alone.
The ‘Tidying Up’ franchise tried to rebrand domestic work itself as a fun puzzle to be solved jointly with one-time shortcuts, rather than address the root problem: Domestic work has historically been and continues to be seen as a woman’s primary responsibility.
Kondo’s Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, gave an unintended snapshot of how men on the show feel about housework. The initial sentiment was that on paper it’s a dual responsibility, but in reality, these men speak as though they want Kondo to help their wives get better at housework and household organization. Despite these and other sexist dynamics in the first episode, Kondo politely addresses the couple jointly and equally.
The best example of this attitude is with Rachel and Kevin. On the show, they had two children and Rachel was breastfeeding one of them at the time. Although they shared a home, Rachel immediately felt embarrassed and apologetic over the state of their messy house.
Instead of sharing the blame, Kevin agreed that his wife’s efforts were unsatisfactory. After Rachel explained she hired someone to do laundry because there was so much of it, Kevin complained that paid help “really, really pisses” him off. (Kevin could very easily do the laundry himself, but I guess that solution would anger him too.) When the couple faced backlash online, Rachel explained that Kevin’s comments were taken out of context, which made me wonder what type of context would make his sexist rant reasonable. Four years have passed since that episode aired, and I would genuinely like to know if Kondo’s organizing advice changed Kevin’s mind about the unequal distribution of household labor—or did the family clean out their house only to fill it with Kondo’s organizing products?
Kondo said, “People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.”
One day, perhaps the Kevins of this world will act as though domestic work is a collective responsibility and effort that requires no self-help books, a product line or a Netflix series.
Such a drastic development would spark permanent joy for everyone.
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