Tuesday 2 October 2007

A woman's lot

A rather brave journalist called Jemima Lewis* has dared to say that if most women feel stressed and miserable, it's entirely their fault and nothing to do with men.

Instead of giving themselves impossible workloads and trying to do everything perfectly, they should follow men's example and lower their standards, do less and relax more.

She believes the reason women push themselves so hard is not to impress men but to compete with other women and satisfy their own vanity.

Men don't waste time wondering if the wallpaper is passé, if their thighs are too big or if their Christmas presents are thoughtful and personal enough. "They have more pressing matters to attend to, such as having a good time".

Well, I have to admit, at the risk of giving Medbh apoplexy, that I tend to agree with her.

I've known a lot of restless women who thought nothing in their life was quite good enough and were in a constant frenzy of upgrading and modernising. Home, job, friends, men, personal appearance - everything was ruthlessly evaluated and found wanting.

They always claimed that all they wanted to do was sprawl on the settee with a glass of champagne and a good book, but in practice they couldn't sit down for two minutes without wondering if the carpet needed hoovering or the spice jars needed refilling.

None of these details bothered me, but they were preoccupied with them. Of course like everyone else, I want to make my life more comfortable and more satisfying, but I'm not going to bust a gut in the process. I'll take it at a leisurely pace, thanks, and I'll take time to admire the scenery on the way. Including the slightly dated wallpaper.

* writing in the London Independent, 29.09.07


  1. I think perhaps women care more about things in general which is why they busy themselves with so much. And thank god they do :-) Men can be such lazy apathetic sods.

  2. But do they care too much and run themselves ragged to be the perfect mother, the perfect PA, the perfect hostess etc? And yes it's also true that men can be idle bastards incapable of the simplest courtesy like cleaning the toilet properly after they've used it.

  3. You're worth as a man is not evaluated on how clean your house is or what the wallpaper looks like, Nick.
    Advertising, education (home ec courses for girls and women), and religion tells women that they are slatterns and bad women if you can't eat off the floor and see your face in the countertops.
    When Mr. M and I moved in together he said that he figured that everything would just automatically get cleaned. You know, cause a live-in lover is a live-in maid. That was many years ago and he knows better now.
    So many women can't sit down with a glass of wine because plenty of women and men will judge them for it.

  4. Yes I take your point about women being judged by the state of the house, Medbh. I guess we men just don't understand the pressures women are subject to here. The old sexist stereotypes about the perfect housewife are still alive and kicking. My God, did you see the scum on that basin - does she ever lift a finger?

  5. I guess I've always taken a different attitude, Nick, thanks to a stand taken by my mother (one of the very few she took against my tyrannical father). He demanded that she train me so that I help her clean the kitchen floor and she said that I could only clean the kitchen floor after my four brothers cleaned the others. It was a stand-off for a day but she won. She never wanted a life for me like she had for herself.

    I have a huge sign on my wall that says:

    "A clean house is a sign of a wasted life".

    and let anyone challenge my (lack of!) housekeeping. And who cares anyway. They can stay away if they don't like it.......

  6. The journalist was right about women holding each other to rigid standards but she misses the source of it in the patriarchy, which demands the unpaid and unrelenting labor from women in the home. Women can police each other on feminine standards but they have not set them. In the patriarchy, a "good woman" participates in keeping other women down or showing them that they have to do more or are not good enough. Like Martha Stewar in the U.S. for example.

  7. Oh, and thanks for the linky, Nick.

  8. www - indeed, an over-clean house makes me feel uncomfortable, it just doesn't look cosy and lived-in. And good for your mother standing up to your father like that. My own father was a stickler about housework, which of course he never did himself (though he did do all the painting).

    Medbh - Ah, I thought you'd say that, that women are only conforming to the standards laid down by men. But if their men really are that fussy, why don't they just tell them to (a) do it themselves or (b) chill out a bit? Just as they're getting men to do more of the baby care.

  9. The standards are high Nick only to keep us occupied doing mindless work instead of more interesting and creative stuff. Endless toil for women is considered a badge of honor or is aspirational.
    One of the best reasons I can give to men to embrace feminism is that he'll know that the woman he's with is an equal who loves him as opposed to a servant who secretly hates his guts.

  10. Yes I never thought of that, Medbh, you're dead right - all that mindless work stops the little lady doing anything creative i.e. threatening. God, if she starts thinking instead of hoovering, she might find all the holes in hubby's half-baked opinions. And yes indeed, an intelligent equal rather than a seething servant - to anyone sane isn't that preferable?

  11. There's more to this than meets the eye, Medbh. There's an element of extremism as well. Just as dieting doesn't have to turn into anorexia and bulimia, so house-cleaning doesn't have to turn into obsessive, robotic scouring. You can't really blame men for that, any more than you can blame women for steroid-fuelled bodybuilding mania.

  12. Well the other part of the factor for obsessive standards in Ireland was historically located in the marriage ban which prevented women from working. Staying at home all day is fairly boring and can be depressing, so women stayed busy-busy to cope and not be gossiped about. The recent study that showed women spent 60 hours a week on housework will have to decline in proportion to their work outside the home.

  13. That's an interesting point as well, that women stay super-busy to avoid gossip. God forbid an unexpected caller should find a dozey housewife in a grubby nightie gulping sherry. But it's okay for a bloke to drink beer and watch the football, that's normal.

  14. It is an amazing pace, a race for lack of a better term. Competition is fierce, everyone worries about something losing job, loved one, perky boobs, missing out on something other people have / do, worring about not being as good as if not better than others. How fast do the days go by?
    There was that poem circulating around, about stopping, smelling a rose, dancing a little dance. I really liked it. I try not to race my life away.

  15. You're right, Gaye, we're frantically competing with other people all the time over all sorts of things, but we're so used to it we hardly realise we're being competitive, we think we're just acting normally.

    The poem sounds great, I never got to see it. Do you have the whole thing?

  16. I will try and find it, it was sent to me yonks ago and I changed my email address since then.

  17. Nick, I just remembered. We were discussing punishment - crime - etc under one of my old posts (what would you do to someone who...). Grandad was saying an eye for an eye. And you asked what'd happen if you were wrongly accused of stealing and had your hands chopped off. And I mentioned "voice recognition", as a joke. What I meant was, the solution to not having hands but still being able to type a blog is the feature of word processing programs called voice recognition, after a brief training session the program recognizes the words you utter to it and types it away. You can backspace the wrong words with your nose. (I was just being funny, or trying to be :)

  18. Nick I found the poem. I was trying to remember parts to google, remembered "time is short music won't last". I will paste it here if that's ok heh.

    Slow Dance
    by David L Weatherford

    Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
    or listened to rain slapping the ground?

    Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
    or gazed at the sun fading into the night?

    You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
    time is short, the music won’t last.

    Do you run through each day on the fly,
    when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?

    When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
    with the next hundred chores running through your head?

    You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
    time is short, the music won’t last.

    Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow,
    and in your haste, not see his sorrow?

    Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
    ’cause you never had time to call and say hi?

    You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
    time is short, the music won’t last.

    When you run so fast to get somewhere,
    you miss half the fun of getting there.

    When you worry and hurry through your day,
    it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.

    Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
    hear the music before your song is over.

    This was forwarded by a lot of people and treated as spam by most because it always ended with the "forward this to at least 8 people in the next 5 minutes and something magical will happen to you tomorrow. Delete it and you will die!" style encouraging messages to keep the chain going. I actually think it's a beautiful little poem. Hope you like it.

  19. Ah, now I see what you mean, ha ha, you wicked thing you. Actually my sister Heather, who has motor neurone disease, uses voice recognition to send messages, it's a real godsend for her.

    Hmmm, I like the sentiments in the poem but I still think the Desiderata says it better. It flows better as well - some of the scansion in SD is pretty clumsy. I like the bit about the unopened gift thrown away.

  20. Desiderata is classic. This one is like the lyrics to a song, nevertheless message is crystal clear :)

  21. Nick,

    Now that I'm aging (gracefully, I hope!)I try not to worry about "perfection". Never was much of a housekeeper anyway - more of a reader and a dreamer.

    My kids turned out wonderfully, my husband and I are still married after 34 years, and I know just where to stash things when I have unexpected company.

    Once he retires next year, my husband says he'll take over cleaning duties while I continue for another year of teaching. My standards are certainly flexible enough to accommodate whatever level of spit and polish he achieves!

  22. "I know just where to stash things when I have unexpected company" - ah yes, a very useful skill. Good to know the cleaning duties will be taken care of while you're busy at the chalkface.