Men and Clutter: On the Perils of Assuming Feminism | Vol. 2 / No. 13.2

They're just cluttering up the place. Photo: Flickr user Marc Ellison, CC BY 2.0
They’re just cluttering up the place. Photo: Flickr user Marc Ellison, CC BY 2.0

In today’s #FeministFriday post, I’m back at it again. This time I’m talking about how Feminism is (or should be) used to stop blanket assumptions about men, as well as women. You’ll see what I mean (I hope).


Yesterday on my local public radio station, there was an interview with writer Sandra Tsing Loh concerning her new piece in The New Yorker, entitled “Does Living Alone Drive You Mad?” And part of what struck me was the unchallenged sexism. Here’s a little part of the transcript:

“We were having like, late afternoon martinis, and we were touring the home of a woman who was just two years divorced, and she’d remade her home into the perfect bachelorette cottage of all our fantasies, that’s like all white, little dots of colour, no clutter anywhere, and it was amazing how visceral — almost all of the women were long time married and even happily married and coupled — but it brought out that everybody was like “oh my god, my home is so cluttered, not just the children, but the men in middle age” — and now women are no picnic either, believe me, but men seem to collect stuff like guitars, baseball cards — and especially like guitars, men who are not musicians will have many guitars around, why is that? — and the women really wanted that uncluttered room of one’s own…” [emphasis mine].

The point of the article is the benefits of living alone. And sure, fine, if that’s what you’re into that’s great. Nobody should feel pressured into living with or without someone and whatever makes you comfortable is great. But the sexism.
Part of it was that I had gone into the piece thinking that a woman writing on a woman’s right to have a place of her own must be a feminist.

And before I rant, here are some caveats: I consider myself a feminist, but that doesn’t mean I’m always right about feminism; I’m a fan of giving everyone their personal space, and I realize that in a world where men and women traditionally have treated each other the way they have, that a place of one’s own is more important, historically, for women.

But I can’t help but think there’s nothing right, and nothing feminist, about statements like “men in middle age… seem to collect stuff… and the women really wanted that uncluttered room of one’s own.”

That is to say: “Heh, men? Middle aged men? Hoarders, amirite? And the guitars, like they’re trying to cling to some fantasy like they’re still young or something. Middle aged women just want a clean, uncluttered space.”

And me, being judgemental: blanket statements about either sex are unfeminist.

It reminded me of a piece the BBC ran last year called “What if women ruled the world?”

The TL;DR was that if women were running the show, there’d be less war, less conflict, more getting along. The US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano said “I think it’s fair to say that women are a little more collaborative in their approach overall, and a little less driven to conflict as opposed to driven to working out problems.” Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, said “We need to take decisions now that will make for a safer world for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, and I think women are more likely to do that when they come into positions of leadership.”

And I was left thinking: this is what women go through on a regular basis. This is the sexism that we’re trying to fight.

Women are less driven to conflict? Women are more likely to think of the safety of their descendants? Maybe. But only because they’ve been marginalized for so long by men. If women ruled the world, they’d do so by “virtue” of the same drive to power that got men there, and if they did that, well, they’d be acting just like the men do. It’s not a characteristic of maleness that makes men more conflict-driven any more than it’s a characteristic of femaleness that makes women “more collaborative in their approach.” These are characteristics of power-derived gender norms that come from the patriarchy itself, and from the history of oppression and marginalization it created.

Whenever someone tells me someone is or isn’t acting “like a man” I can only stop and think: you could use some feminism. The same bias that hurts women? It hurts men too. It doesn’t hurt us as much — god knows being accused of being a source of “clutter” isn’t like having planned parenthood defunded, having access to birth control curtailed by religious extremists, or being slutshamed because your prom dress shows too much shoulder. It’s not being the first lady of the United States and making news because you did or did not cover your hair in Saudi Arabia.

But it is sexism, and when it goes uncontested it gives people like the hashtag meninists something to use to discredit feminism as a whole. Because look: there’s a women being sexist, and nobody’s calling her out on it.

Well I’m a feminist, and I’m calling someone out for it. You should too. On both sides.