What about the bath? `I've never cleaned it per se'

Slovenliness is a feminist issue, it seems. If we're all so sick of housework, why do we bother doing it? Emma Cook talks to women who've laid down the duster
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The Independent Culture
Jennifer Grimshaw stares at her carpet and frowns for a moment, deep in concentration. Or maybe it's a grimace. It's hard to tell in this light: rivulets of brown dirt cover all the windows. Dust, hair and other detritus clings to the nylon pile. She wipes her finger across a small coffee table, leaving a dark brown trail. "A Hoover, you say. Mmm. When did I last use one? Now that's a difficult one. Five years at least, I'd say. I can't think why I should start using one now." The grimace turns to a smile of satisfaction.

Jennifer, a businesswoman in her forties, is cheerfully self-righteous about her attitude to housework. Her flat is a temple to dirt, untouched by duster, Hoover, brush, cloth and scourer. Jennifer's reasons for not cleaning are numerous and often original. There is thought behind her squalor.

"For a start, dusting just creates static. Also I can't justify the energy wastage by the community who create all these labour-saving things. There are better things to do. Anyway dust doesn't kill you," she says, handing me an ancient sludge-coloured mug of something that resembles Oxo soup but is described as Earl Grey tea. "There is logic too. It's all down to saving my efforts. Everything is at hand - why put things away?"

She takes a dim view of women who waste their hours on household tasks. "I suspect it's the only way they can control their environment. There's an element of self-help, a need of internal control when externally they feel they have very little."

One can only assume Jennifer feels she has immense control over her external environment. It would explain why the interior of her small ninth-floor flat in a tower block just off London's Baker Street would make Miss Havisham's look like Mr Sheen's place in comparison.

Credit-card bills are piled up next to the sink. An obstacle course of plastic bags litters the floor ("Why bother with bins hidden in units when you can put the rubbish straight in like this?" she says, aiming a teabag at an already overflowing bag).

To look at the floor, though, you really need a strong stomach. The edges of the worn, orangey lino are slaked in what looks like black treacle topped with grey fluff. It gets worse. Every surface of Jennifer's bathroom is yellow. What about the bath? "I've never cleaned it per se. I'll rinse it out after I use it. I use elbow grease, not Jif." And the loo? "Oh, that gets done whenever the gunk builds up," she says cheerfully.

Still, even if some of Jennifer's habits, or lack of them, were enough to put me off my tea, her sentiments are admirable. "I don't like the assumption that I should be ashamed about my attitude to cleaning. I'm not a sociable person out to impress so why should I bother?" Instead, she spends her time reading, meeting friends and going to the theatre. "A woman's role used to be to fight against infection but we live in a far cleaner world now," she reflects. "This level of dirt you see here is what a clean lady at the beginning of the century could only dream of."

Vicky Keane, 21, is as resistant to housework as Jennifer and advocates a seductive philosophy: feminism through slovenliness. "It is political for me. I live with seven other girls here and every surface is covered in wine bottles, ashtrays, dirty clothes and old washing up. So what? I just think if it was blokes, no one would look twice." A student of history, literature and philosophy, Vicky has no time in her life for domestic duties. "Iron?" she spits. "I'll never use one of those. No way, ever in my life. I've never touched a Hoover either."

Vicky is, she insists, extremely hygienic and claims to be the only girl in the household to clean the lavatory. "Hygiene is a different issue. That's really important. But I really like the fact that I'm messy. I revel in it."

So does a friend of mine who has, impressively, entered motherhood and still not ironed a thing. Recently, her young son saw a toy ironing board at play school and started setting out knives and forks on it. It was the first time he'd laid eyes on one and he assumed it was a kitchen table.

If only there were more female domestic slobs around. Then we wouldn't have to put up with the inevitable and depressing news from so many household surveys. The Office for National Statistics, for instance, carried out its first-ever study into housework last year. Surprise, surprise, it discovered women do acres more housework than men - every day women spend 68 minutes cooking, 25 minutes washing, 46 minutes shopping and 70 minutes cleaning.

The question is, why do they carry on doing it? Inadequate childcare, economic inequality and lazy men are all factors, of course. But there are other reasons too; fear, shame, maybe, and ingrained habit.

Vicky's approach is perhaps the most helpful. Laziness, ironically, is the most effective form of direct action. And it works. Personally, I've only cleaned the kitchen and sitting room twice in the last six months. The bath, even less. Which means my boyfriend has to do it. He moans, but in the face of my intractable languor, he has no choice. When it comes to housework, liberation through inertia is the only way forward.

Video Nation's `Coming Clean: The Truth About Housework' starts on 2 February, BBC2

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