The marvel of the Magic Eraser: Thoughts on girlfriends and domesticity

Our entire house has been covered in layers and layers of dust for the past month.  We discovered our basement shower leaked back in December, and then we found that the same was true of our master bath.  So, we've gutted both of the bathrooms, ripped out all of the tile, re-installed shower pans, re-tiled, re-drywalled, and re-grouted.  And by we, I mean our contractors.

Keeping a clean home is a losing battle.  I vacuum, and we realize that we need more drywall repair, and more sanding happens, which means more dust.  We haven't done laundry in ages because our bathroom renovation affected our washer and dryer, and other bits of our house's framing have disappeared because we needed to replace some of our pipes too. 

Finally there is light at the end of the tunnel, and our contractor's parting gift to us was a cleaning service.  Several kind women came in yesterday and scrubbed our upstairs from top to bottom.  To my delight and relief, I can see the floor again.  I think Dan is happy too, but not so much because the house is clean but because I am sane again.  Which got me to thinking, yet again: What is it with women and cleanliness?

The stereotype is a sweeping generalization and not entirely fair, but far more of my girlfriends are hung up on combating every trace of dirt and grime from their homes than any of my male friends.  What interests me most about this phenomenon right now, though, is not whether it is socialization or culture or nature that leads women to hold these opinions but how these instincts act as bonding opportunities.  Lamenting over a dirty home is something that instantly unites my female co-workers.  We have stood in the hallway in front of our offices before and marveled over the wonder of a Magic Eraser, remarking that we really are not so different from the women who squealed with glee over the magic of the microwave some 60 years ago.  As much as our penchant for cleanliness may stem from misogynistic ideas about purity and an unhealthy cultural suspicion of messiness, little compares to the shared understanding that underlies these sorts of conversations about new cleaning technologies and dirty house brain fog.  We all hold the same secret; we get each other on a fundamental level.  An intimacy emerges from talking about house and home that does never does in chatter about office supplies or CNN, the same sort of intimacy that propels us through discussions about Spanx and PMS and sex. 

Times like these, I would not trade being a woman for the world.  Maybe the demands made of us are too high--that we achieve the ever elusive "balance," that we look beautiful and perfect while doing so, that our homes and our families and other charges, who are all natural extensions of us, appear perfect as well--but perhaps precisely because of that fact, we can let down our guard with one another, take those unfair expectations and flip them on their head, so that they are not stifling but enlivening, not a source of grief but humor, a means not of isolating us in shame but bringing us together in triumphant jest.

Emily Rowell Brown