The Vagenda

A Woman’s Place is in the Home

As I write this, the house is in chaos. People have been moving in, moving out, and moving rooms, so there’s stuff everywhere. As we wade slowly through it, I’ve noticed myself becoming more and more obsessed with homeware and interior decoration. I’ve become addicted to blogs like apartment therapy and fuck your noguchi coffee table, and I devote an unprecedented amount of time to thinking about where stuff should go and things that I can buy to make the house nicer. But why? Why am I spending hours on the Zara Home website, and why do I care about cushions? What reason could there possibly be? 
It’s because I am a woman.
Now, before you all jump on me like Radfems with pitchforks, let me explain. I don’t think that I’m biologically pre-conditioned to be interested in sofas. That would be bullshit. You know all that caveman stuff is pure speculation, right? No one knows what pre-historic people got up to. It’s all a con. FUCK EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY. (P.S Read this)
I don’t even think it’s because of all this Pinterest Instagram tedium that seems to be going on – I have no interest in showing random internet strangers what my bathroom looks like, especially when I barely have the willpower to invite the people I love round for dinner. Nor do I give a shit about keeping up with the latest designer trends, seeing as I grew up in a house that had the same horse hair spiders’ nest secondhand skip sofa for nigh on twenty years. No, it’s much more insidious than that: it’s because I (like many over women) have been taught, whether explicitly or implicitly, that my place is in the home. 
If you’re squealing ‘OMG RETRO!’ at the screen right now, you’d be right. We all thought this preconception died a death once women had liberated themselves from the shackles of housewifery, but actually it’s alive and well, whispering evilly at you from the pages of interior design magazines and telling you your curtains are crap because they’re not made of woven far-Eastern man-smegma, or some such nonsense. Basically, the ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ school of thought has become cloaked in competitive lifestyle bollocks that tries to hypnotise women into festooning their houses with consumer goods using the salaries that they fought so hard to have access to.
So if it’s all bollocks, how come I’m still buying into it? It’s partly because I’m a freelancer, and therefore my place actually IS in the home, and I don’t want to spend 99% of my time living in a shitpit, but it’s mostly because society has taught me that making the house nice is My Problem. Think about it: from a very, very young age, lots of little girls spend a not insignificant amount of their time arranging furniture, whether its with a doll’s house or Sylvanian families. We play house, draw pictures of houses, and read books such as the Famous Five in which Anne always stays home to tidy the cave while the others (and George doesn’t count because she is more like a boy) go out to catch the smugglers. I remember being six and lusting after the pristine white bedroom in the film version of the Water Babies (as a result I had a slightly off-brown stained carpet for my entire adolescence). By the time I became a teenager, my room was papered with posters and photographs, while my male contemporaries lived in monastic, characterless minimalist cells which smelled faintly of sweat and urine. 
But it’s not until you live with a boy that you realise how few of them give a shit about house stuff. I vividly remember my friend Laura’s shock at the discovery that her boyfriend didn’t own a towel. ‘HE JUST DRIP-DRIES!’ she shrieked, in her Mexican accent, while buying up the whole bathroom section of Primark. At university, you avoided going into boys houses if you could help it. Once, at a friend’s house, I queried the presence of a brown banana skin in the shower. ‘I was hungry’, he shrugged, before sweeping five ancient  festering pizza boxes to one side in order to roll a spliff. 
All this isn’t to say that men are irredeemable slobs and women are incapable of being slatterns. I know some incredibly filthy women (we’re talking overflowing ashtrays and last month’s dirty knickers on the floor) and yet, no matter how rank the mess in their bedroom is, their curtains will usually match. It’s bizarre.
You don’t really realise how much more you care about this stuff until you move in with a boy. Every question regarding furniture etc. is constantly met with a baffled shrug. Two days ago, my boyfriend found my list. I don’t mean the list I made while I was at university of all the men I slept with rated out of ten (that list went missing months ago and I had been worrying about his discovering it on a regular basis up until yesterday, when I found it and burnt it), but the list I had made of things we needed for the house. It featured items such as ’6 x cushions’ and ‘towels’ and ‘butter dish.’ That’s normal, right?
Apparently not. Two days ago my boyfriend found my house list and did not stop laughing and pointing at me for a full half an hour. He was basically crying with mirth. He particularly finds the butter dish hilarious. Yesterday he texted me: ‘What are you up to today? Looking at more butter dishes?’
‘I already know which butter dish I want, thank you,’ I replied, coldly. 
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a nice house, I felt massively embarrassed for caring about something that isn’t even on his radar. Then I felt massively embarrassed for buying into the whole ‘woman in the home’ stereotype, which is why I am writing this tediously long article as a kind of penance. Why is it that I care about this and a lot of men don’t? Is this just more bullshit that women have to worry about? Is it because their mums buy their pants and towels for longer? Should I buy my hypothetical son a doll’s house or encourage him to do up his own room? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
Thankfully, for me, worrying about interior decoration has never actually translated into becoming house proud. When I was little, I painted my dolls house in vivid colours and filled it with a strange array of eccentric furniture and characters. Thus a winged pig lived happily alongside ‘Fairy Potato’ (a potato with a face and cocktail sticks as arms and legs- we didn’t have much money), while Boglins took baths with Disney princesses. In other words, the small-scale equivalent of my house now. But perhaps it’s only a matter of time before those home-improvement whispers wear me down, and I start to devote my weekends to antiquing. The only solution, it seems, is to leave the house as much as possible. Perhaps it’s time to decamp, with laptop, to the nearest coffee shop. 

13 thoughts on “A Woman’s Place is in the Home

  1. I think it’s a good point about gendered toys. My bf’s mum was telling me how they got him a toy kitchen when he was little rather than a workshop because they figured he was more likely to see his dad cooking than wielding a saw (given he was an accountant). It became his favourite toy.

    Conversely, my favourite toy when I was three was a giant Thomas the Tank Engine big enough for me to ride on. Way to f*ck the patriarchy one kids’ toy at a time.

  2. As a full-time student without you know money/energy to venture out I also appreciate not living in a ‘shitpit’, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. As long as you don’t think it’s your problem because you are a women. I am personally relying on my partner’s laziness, as it will hopefully allow me to have my own way in all style choices, not because he doesn’t have preferences, but because he won’t get around to implementing them.

    I just ordered some cute egg cups online and a tea set. Some of this nesting is investing in a oddly comforting old-fashioned environment, something we have doubtless been told should be our preoccupation. I noticed that my brother didn’t have a ‘glory box’ built up for him from 14 onwards. That said, I still use that cutlery now, it’s quite good.

    The thing is that this oddly comforting old-fashioned environment is FOR ME, BY ME. I am not playing house, I am living in my home, with shit I like, and that is about to include egg cups. I have lived too long without soft-boiled eggs (and toast soldiers) because it seemed such a silly thing to buy, no one buys egg cups. Maybe I will even drink some milky tea when I eat them, I’ll make it with my new teapot.

    Don’t feel embarrassed about caring, it’s where you live and work, why the fuck would you deny yourself a butter dish (unless you are that strapped for cash).

    This all being said I believe a woman’s place is in the home, as is a man’s and a child’s etc. We all work too hard and spend far too much on where we live for it to be just a place to sleep. It’s your fucking castle.

  3. So true! I always thought myself messy. Based on my mums terms, I am. She has raised me with phrases like ‘you are a girl, how can you have a room this messy!!’, ‘you are a girl, how can you live like this?!’. She thought she was doing me a favor but as a result I feel trapped. My other half couldnt care less about tidiness whereas I feel bad whenever our place is messy/dirty/etc. Somehow I cannot get rid of feeling it reflects badly on me as a person (woman?). I wish I could stop caring but I cant. This is a constant battle and it causes me so much distress. Thanks, mum ;-/

  4. I don’t know if you can put that down as a woman-thing. It’s a bit like cooking, if you ask me. There are men who love to cook, and there are women who detest cooking. I happen to be someone who would rather not have anything to do with the kitchen (save doing the dishes) but will happily do up the house, to the extent of buying stuff for the kitchen even though I won’t get much use of out it. I am currently hankering after a wooden ampersand sign to hang on a wall (a project delayed owing to the fact that I live in a house-share and my room is teeming with things already). I have postcards that need to be pinned up, pictures that need to be framed and put up, gazillion tea-light holders that have yet to be used and yet I never really quit buying more. You could tell me I’m nuts (and my friends do sometimes) but I still keep picking up stuff for a future home. It’s about creating my own space, that’s all.

    And for all that, I have friends (men and women) who love cooking, they practically live in the kitchen, living out their happy, sad, crazy moments there but don’t have a clue as to what to do with their homes. Maybe you don’t tend to come across as many men who are interested in home decor but maybe that’s a function of what they do with their time. I daresay a man who works in fashion or design may have more of an opinion on what he wants the house to look like. But on the whole, I don’t think it appears to be a gender-specific thing.

    On the point of being compelled to spend my hard-earned money on doing up the house: I think us women get sold way more fashion magazines than interior design magazines and the like. Far too much “You must buy this £3,000 skirt and that £5,000 bag, never mind things like food and rent, or you’re a total WOMAN-FAIL!”. Interior design mags and the product they tote though are still something of a choice. At least, last I checked DFS ads were still “Well if you want a sofa we have some very nice ones and quite reasonably priced too!” compared to the constant bombarding of make-up, clothes, shoes, bags and other shit that I must possess if I am to be the socially-accepted norm of a women. Also, buying stuff for the house is still largely a couple-y thing, very much a ‘she chooses but he pays’ sort of mindset. Which may explain why there isn’t that much aggressive targeted marketing of this stuff to women only.

    And lastly, I think your physical space is more ‘you’ than your clothes are. You may have the exact same coffee-table as a friend does but your place will look vastly different to theirs.

    Do excuse my essay-length comment. All I wanted to say was, I don’t think gender has any bearing on this stuff.

  5. Yeah, I know what you mean. I was messy and filthy as a child, teenager and student, and then I moved in with, and subsequently married, the dirtiest slob I’d ever met. But something happened a couple of years into marriage – I really started to give a crap about how the place looked. I couldn’t relax if it was a shit-tip, and felt the full glare of any blame if it was dirty when anyone came round (I’m sure they didn’t care. I never care how messy anyone else’s place is, do you?). Then we had kids and it all got filthy again, but now that they’re not babies anymore, I’ve raised my game at home and can somehow find the time and energy to make it habitable and presentable. But he still doesn’t really do anything without heavy hints and demands from me, and I find myself thinking “YOU’RE 32! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE YOU HAPPY TO LIVE IN A CRAPHOLE?? CAN’T YOU *SEE* YOUR SHOES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR??”

    Looking into our personal histories, I do think there’s something in the fact that his mother did clear up after him all the time, whereas mine worked full-time, had three kids, one of whom was severly disabled, and so insisted that we pull our weight around the house, or there was hell to pay. Gender not an issue there (unless you count the fact that it was his mum who cleaned up, not his dad), just different childhoods. I do feel though that my desire for a nice home was just what happened when I finally felt like an adult. But he’s older than me, has he not grown up yet or what?

    Anyway, we’ve got two sons and there ain’t no way I’m clearing up after them the whole damn time. The big one is only three but he has to put his own toys and pyjamas away, and the little one has started to join in too. They have a toy kitchen, obvs, and like to wipe things. Long may it continue.

  6. Yes, this has happened to me too. The other day, I showed the bloke a nice draught excluder I’d found online (in order to maintain some semblance of feminist credentials, I am blaming this on the fact that I get colder feet than he does, so it is totally practical to want a draught excluder). He looked distinctly blank, then said ‘Yes, it’s a draught excluder’. OK, top marks for household accessory identification dear, but did you not notice the cute beach huts printed on it? What is your opinion on this? Basically, what I’m saying is, shall I buy it? Shall we spend £7.99 on this decorative and warming tube-thing? On this, I got no answer…

    He is very tidy and actually better at cleaning than me (I grew up with a dog, it makes you more relaxed about things like mud, pawprints etc), but he has no interest in beach hut themed draught excluders – sad times indeed. (Obviously, I’m going to buy it next time I’m in that shop. With my money mind you.)

  7. I lived alone for years and it never even occurred to me until I read this piece that I didn’t once buy any butter in all that time. I love butter but I have never used it unless somebody else provided it.

    Mind you, had I kept a pet potato, I think having butter around the place would have been in very poor taste.

  8. I was horrendously messy as a child (mostly because I loved ‘making stuff’, so there were always scissors, pins, glue, scraps of fabric, bits of wool &c everywhere). So my mum once called me a ‘slut’. Not because of my sex life; because ‘slut’ also means (or used to mean) untidy woman! This ‘women who aren’t houseproud aren’t proper women’ thing goes deep. Like my trauma. From being called a slut by my mum.

    That being said, I’m tidy now. But I don’t think it’s that that makes me a woman. That’s probably more of a plumbing thing.

  9. I love thinking about decorating and picking out things for my home. But I seriously doubt that’s because I’ve been brainwashed by Elle Decoration. I just like designing my own living space, thinking about spaces, dynamics, organisation, aesthetics. So does my boyfriend, by the way. We don’t even live together yet, but we have frequent discussions about interior decoration, style and architecture. The way I see it, that’s got nothing to do with gender, but all the more with aesthetic vision. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s just as legitimate a way of expressing yourself. My boyfriend is super neat, by the way, and spontaneously does my dishes or cleans my oven when he comes over. We both care about the space we live in, and I know plenty of similar couples. I guess Belgium is giving gender stereotypes a run for their money.

  10. Heh our boyfriends should meet! We’ll be chilling on the couch on a Saturday and he’ll just get up and start cleaning something, or mowing the lawn. We also love looking through his mother’s “House & Garden” magazines when we go visit. We also don’t live together, we just enjoy it… (It’s also good to know we have sort of the same taste for if we ever do) :P