There is a special shame American women are taught to feel, a fear that if we were left alone in the middle of the wilderness, with only our wits and native flora to guide us — Could We Darn a Sock? Bake a pie? Sew two sheets together from muslin?
I do not think this particular expectation is foisted off on men. There’s no Martha Stewart Living for men, teaching you to feel self-conscious because you no longer melt down your own lead to create bullets. If Bob can hunt game for the winter, so much the better, but it’s not a test of his worthiness in society. When Bob’s newborn son is born, he does not feel a pang of regret because he has to go buy a rocking chair, rather than carving it out of wood. Yes, a good paycheck and IKEA are good enough for the average man.
But throughout the world, societies always place their anxiety about changing cultural values onto the women. That is why men who are atheists want devout, traditional wives, and Indian men in three-piece suits want their wives to wear saris.
Here in America, women have also born the brunt of our cultural anxiety about the modern age. So we’re supposed to be modern, work full time, get a paycheck – and then kick off our shoes and spend lots of time and effort doing the kinds of old-fashioned chores for which the phrase “labor-saving device” was originally invented.
Yes, we women are somehow supposed to become proficient in newfangled modern life, but also stencil and bake and crochet and set up jars of preserves for the winter. Come home with your shield, or on it.
Preferably knitting a tea cozy.
This is all to explain how I, one recent morning, found myself setting about the Project of Cleaning my Filthy Venetian Blinds. It was fueled by disgust, of course – many, many tenants before me had ignored this issue, and by now it was truly frightening. But somehow, all those years of housewifely propaganda factored into it too. According to magazines, I had been missing out on some hitherto undiscovered height of ecstasy, easily found again if only I would enter into a gloriously tedious, anachronistic cleaning routine. So I set about to clean these things in a style to make Martha Stewart proud, assured in the promise that my fabulous orgasm would be in the mail.
But first, let me explain my usual approach to housekeeping: Obliviousness.
This approach works not merely for housekeeping, but for life!** Try it! You too can miss your subway stop on multiple occasions because you’re trying to remember the lyrics to Backstabbers or the bass line to Use Me.***
But anyways, back to housekeeping. Not the highest thing on my radar. For example, once or twice I’ve had people over to my place, and they’ve said, “Sofia! You have all this stuff all over your kitchen floor!” To which I reply, “I have a kitchen floor?”
Up until that point, I had been operating under the illusion that I was standing on some sort of interstellar vortex which automatically sucked away all pieces of onion, garlic, etc. that happened to fall on it.
Well, anyways. I’m terrible at maintenance cleaning, but I do like a good project, with its promise of an actual sense of accomplishment (as opposed to regular housework, which has been correctly described as ‘Sisyphean’). And this morning, I noticed my venetian blinds.
So, I thought about cleaning them “the old-fashioned” way.You know, the way Our Foremothers did. I quickly went out and enslaved someone of darker complexion than myself, and forced this hapless individual to clean for me.
I quickly went down on my hands and knees, and scrubbed the venetian blinds in the ancient ways of my people. Then, for dramatic effect, I died of consumption.
No; still no good.
Ok, I took a rag, and overcome with nostalgia for a time that never was, a time after plastic venetian blinds but before women’s suffrage, I dampened it with an artisanal mixture of water, white vinegar, and a tiny bit of soap. I felt good; I felt honest; I felt that judgmental busybodies who have servants clean for them so that they can oversee media empires extolling the virtues of cleaning your own house…I felt that these people would not snub me. I suppose true Martha Stewart overkill fashion would have required rags imported from France for the sole purpose of cleaning plastic venetian blinds, but my rags did just fine. (I just mistyped “my rage.” Hrmmm. Freudian typing.)
Then, I lovingly wiped down each plastic, filthy blade of the venetian blind. Top and bottom. “Who sweeps a room as for thy God makes that and the action fine,” that sort of thing. I listened to This American Life. A nice Sunday morning.
By almost the end of TAL, I had finished one half of one set of blinds. I have 4 windows with blinds. At this rate, it would take me 8 hours to finish — not including the actual windows themselves.
At this point, I had a thought which tied me even closer to women through the ages. I thought, “Who the FUCK invented Venetian Blinds? Obviously a man, or someone who never ever expected to clean them. Why can’t everyone just have curtains? Then you could just throw them in the wash and be done with it.”
The ancient imprecation having been observed according to prescribed ritual, I then thought, “There has got to be a better way.” I took another set of blinds outside, laid them awkwardly over a folding chair, and hosed them down. They are dry now, and slightly warped in places, but I think they’ll smooth out. However, I can’t seem to get them back on the little window venetian blind hook thingies. (More ancient imprecations followed as according to custom.)
I do have to admit, though, that the left half of my lovingly caressed blinds are lookin’ mighty fine. So once I become independently wealthy, then I can do the rest. In the meantime, Martha Stewart’s fictional nostalgic housewifery factory is just going to have to wait.
** I’m not proud of this, but I got into a fender-bender last year because I spaced out trying to remember the lyrics to the theme song from “Maude.” So I would have to put a big caveat in there, which is that spaciness does Not Work when operating heavy machinery. Don’t Space and Drive.
*** 70’s funk will always have a special place in my heart.