816 North Opinion

David Knopf - We’re not all cut out for housework

It took a columnist in The New York Times five pages — 1,000 words give or take a well-placed participle or two — to reach a conclusion on how to fairly divide housework.

Both spouses do less, he advised.

I’d reached the same solution by the seat of my pants, probably one reason I don’t write for the Gray Lady.

Its writers automatically back up each syllable with references to a university study or a learned journal, to the classics, to the New Republic or National Review, to New York magazine, to Noam Chomsky or Gloria Steinem, or all of the above.

As if that makes it true!

Exhibit A is “The Case for Filth,” in which author Stephen Marche comes to a generously referenced conclusion after intellectualizing in a manner Times readers, writers and editors demand.

“The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother,” wrote Marche, a novelist, contributing editor and author of a soon-to-be-published book on gender wars. “Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.

“Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor,” he concludes.

(If you’re curious about the subtle dance that led to this dénouement, Marche’s article was published Dec. 7.)

Marche is a guy, but in New York you just can’t come out and say that.

It’s simpler here in the Midwest. We know when women are programmed on Venus they’re equipped with gender-specific traits that not only make them more responsible, but imbue them with a compunction to keep the nest clean and well-organized.

It’s kind of a genetic GPS that explains the popularity of TV series about couples searching for ideal living spaces — always “spaces,” never “places” — where the wife leads the way while the husband tries not to look too much like a lap dog.

Men, on the other hand, are outfitted on Mars with an understanding that cleaning is less important than the manly quest of seeking glory while reserving genuine effort for vital things like fantasy football or getting up at three to put on camouflage, climb a tree and pounce on Bambi.

Strife ensues when the products of Venus and Mars learn their instincts are incompatible and require common ground that only is achieved through the good-faith compromise and sincere give-and-take that have doomed marriage since Adam and Eve.

Personally, I don’t recall my father ever doing much housework, other than when my mother wrapped him in an apron to dry dishes. I think she eventually realized it was easier to do it herself than show him where, in fact, the kitchen was located and how spoons went with spoons, forks with forks, etc.

For the longest time, I tried to altruistically share the housework, but my heart wasn’t in it, nor did my standards rise to my wife’s expectations.

For example, even if I’d just showered or put on a clean shirt we’d disagree on the appropriateness of drying a saucer with a t-shirt or scraping off a little caked-on food with a thumbnail and putting the item away.

Then guilt and self-doubt would set in, neither of which is conducive to glory-seeking, Bambi-stalking or, frankly, napping.

So I’ve been relegated to weekend kitchen duties — and doing my own laundry. Washing my clothes was something my wife did until I left pens in my cargo pants on a regular basis and ruined some of her clothes.

Now I’m now on my own laundry-wise, and I don’t need Gloria Steinem or George Will to tell me whites go with whites, darks with darks or pens with pens.