The Danish use the word hygge to describe the feeling of cosiness, warmth, and comfort that a well-kept house is supposed to provide. Yet creating this pleasant environment requires work and, unfortunately, the bulk of that work is done by women.
While attitudes towards gender roles have become less traditional, there are still gendered expectations about cleanliness of the home and children.
Any dirt, mess or failure to provide clean, immaculately dressed and polite children to the world is most often a judgement against women – a sure sign of bad mothering. Inherent in this assumption is the idea that men don’t see mess, or are oblivious to the cleaning and mental work associated with ensuring that the household runs properly.
What’s more, the types of domestic work that are outsourced is usually the work often done by men, such as gardening or household maintenance. So the benefit of domestic outsourcing is usually marginal for women.
Because of men’s lack of desire to twirl a brush around the toilet bowl, or their general lack of concern about having a clean house, we tend to think of them as being “dirt-blind”. But really it’s because men aren’t penalised for messiness in the same way that women are.
For women, cleanliness in the family home is a further extension of prevailing social norms dictating that women must be clean, hairless, perfumed and pretty. In this regard, doing housework is a way for women to “perform” their gender.
Men not doing housework also fits with long-held ideas about men and dirt that begin with boys and the outdoors. Thus, keeping house is as much about gendered expectations as it is about actual dirt. Men do see dirt, but they aren’t told from a young age that leaving a mess makes them bad men.