Marie Kondo is officially a global superstar. The popular Netflix show featuring the charming expert not only provided us with a great method to “tidy” but also an insight on an underlying problem on society’s gender roles. I know that’s a great leap, but I make my case. Actually, it was Vice writer Nicole Clark who first pointed this out in her article “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Is Inadvertently About Women’s Invisible Labor.”
Okay, so, the Netflix show’s premise is pretty simple. By applying her KonMarie method, Marie helps out families reclaim the joy in their homes by getting rid of—or organizing (I know some of y’all are sensitive to this) the clutter. While it features diverse households, most of the episodes focus on a heteronormative couple. For the latter, if you pull out your feminist lens, you can’t help but be critical of the archaic gender roles noticeable in these households. For one, we see in the show that “piles of disorganized possessions provoke disproportionate dismay and shame in the women of the house, while men seem irritated but not personally ashamed,” as Nicole notes. Digging deeper into this, the writer delves on the why.
As someone who had professionally helped other people declutter, just like Marie, Nicole claims that albeit brief, her experience corroborates that seen in the show: The problem goes deeper than saying people can’t manage their lives. “It’s not as much that we have not been taught how to own things as much as women in particular have been burdened with the expectation of managing the things we own,” Nicole wrote. She even shared that during her short-lived career of helping people tidy up their homes, “I never once saw a spouse at home.”
This sheds a light on exactly what is expected from the lady of the house. While men are off to do their jobs, women are traditionally seen as the ones in charge of the home. I know what some of you are thinking—that this seems like a fair share of the obligations. Some may even say that men bear the greater brunt of responsibility. If you’re one of the latter, we seriously urge you to do a double take. While I don’t discount the role of husbands and fathers, to say that women have the lesser responsibility is, I believe, unfair and greatly demeaning.
Now, I come from a traditional household. Meaning, my mom is a housewife, while my dad is our sole breadwinner. My mom used to be an accountant but she gave that up because she and my dad agreed that that arrangement would be best for our family. I have five brothers, and I’m sorry, but if you think that’s easy then you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. But despite this big challenge, my mom rose to the occasion, and honestly, she’s the best. I am in awe of how she was able to do everything while keeping all of us in line. She is a smart, hardworking woman, and I have no problem believing she would have made management level had she decided to pursue her career. Now I know that she makes a great mom precisely because she would’ve made a great manager, and vice versa.
This is a point astutely explained in a comic published by The Guardian. The artist, Emma, illuminates readers on just how difficult the task of keeping a household in order really is. It starts with an overworked mom preparing dinner for family and guests. When the pot boils over and spills onto the floor, her husband gets mad and tells her “you should’ve asked! I would’ve helped!” Through this simple anecdote, Emma explains that “when a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the MANAGER of household chores. So it’s up to her what needs to be done and when.” Okay, sensible. But what many fail to realize is that “planning and organising is already a full-time job.” Nicole put it this way: “Think of it as a project management task in the household.” That job, which is an act entirely different from doing the chores themselves, is known as the “mental load.” Emma writes, “The mental load is almost completely borne by women. It’s permanent and exhausting work. And it’s invisible.” Pointing out further that “What our partners are really saying, when they ask us to tell them what needs to be done, is that they refuse to take on their share of the mental load.”
Now do you see why it’s sexist? Just like not all of us are suitable to certain jobs, we shouldn’t expect all women to be experts at “household management.”
“Of course, there’s nothing generic or innate about this behavior. We’re not born with an all-consuming passion for clearing tables, just like boys aren’t born with an utter disinterest for things lying around,” Emma wrote. “But we’re born in a society in which we see our mothers in charge of household management, while our fathers only execute the instructions. And in which culture and media essentially portray women as mothers and wives, while men are heroes who go on fascinating adventures away from home.”
Furthermore, while this traditional household setting no longer holds, and women are becoming more active in the workforce, they’re still expected to be in charge of the house management. Additionally, as mothers, keeping the children in check is seen by most as a responsibility of women too. “And once we’re back at work, things will get so hellish that it will feel less exhausting to keep doing everything rather than to battle our partner so that he does his share,” Emma observed. “Of course, there’s nothing forcing us to do all this. The problem is that when we stop, the whole family suffers. So most of us feel resigned to the fact that we are alone in bearing the mental load, nibbling away at our work or leisure time just so we can manage everything.”
In the third episode of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, the husband admits by the end that “I didn’t realize the pressure of having to do everything until I actually did it. So now I do want to help with that a lot more.” Nicole notes, “In these moments, the KonMari method began to feel extremely, seductively useful. It was abundantly clear these men were not participating in homemaking tasks or taking responsibility for their children, because they never really had been expected to. In a single ‘tidy,’ men and children were gaining insight into the emotional labor of housekeeping.”
Though I’m not yet married, nor have children, I can empathize with these women. I admit, while I do have my moments, I can’t exactly consider “tidying” as one of my strengths. I’m not the best at project management, either. I’m not saying I would never be involved in these things. But if I ever get married, my husband better share that burden with me, lest he wants to see our household crash and burn.
Art by Marian Hukom
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