If you know me personally, even a little bit, it’s no surprise that my “guilty pleasure” is following stay-at-home moms and homemakers and other women who are forging new relationships with things considered “traditionally feminine.” I’m Jewish, and so lots of those women are Jewish, many of whom see following the Jewish laws around family purity, or niddah, as important to the way they structure their lives. The laws of niddah center around behavior determined by whether one is in a state of ritual purity or impurity. TL;DR, misogyny has transformed these states of being that determine how one acts into moral designations that have made folks who have periods (and historically, specifically women who have periods), feel as if they are lesser because they bleed.
What the Instagram ladies are really into debunking right now (and what I’m going to connect to housekeeping and domesticity, I promise), is this idea that a state of being is or should be a moral designation. This was a powerful moment of unraveling for me as someone who often finds that I determine my worth by how clean and tidy my home is, as if a mess is an indication that I am somehow a bad person. What my hobbyist’s interest in the laws of niddah has opened up for me is the danger in morally assigning value to a physical state.
It is so easy for me, especially as a cat owner and roommate (after living alone for five years), to feel like my mess is an indication that I’m a shitty person who doesn’t care about my housemate having a positive living experience. When someone tells me that they can smell my cat’s litter the first thing my brain goes to is thinking that I’m a terrible person. This not only isn’t true, it often stops me from being able to find a solution; instead, feeling overwhelmed by shame.
And, of course, we know the reason behind this is misogyny! Alongside misogyny comes the binarisation of work, and when you’re not good at domestic life and you’re a woman (or someone who was raised to see themselves that way, or you have a complicated relationship with being a not-a-woman-but-of-women’s-experience), then you become a bad woman, a bad person. The state of our work, of the things we do, has become attached to our worth in a way that I don’t think it has for cis men. Let’s make housekeeping one of the places we begin to intentionally unstitch these things from one another.
As we queer homemakers deconstruct our relationship with domesticity, part of it is a reminder that it is not a way to morally designate ourselves as better than anyone we know, it’s a way to make our homes our own. It’s worldmaking. It’s creating little utopias for us to practice in while we continue the work of building a better world. So we shouldn’t see the state of our homes — whether they’re pristine or filthy — as indications of who we are as people. Some of the best people I know have roaches (I’m not eating over their house but that doesn’t make them bad people).
I wish this had more practical tips in it, more ways for you to clean hard things that sometimes lead to you feeling like a shitty person, but that’s the thing. You’re not shitty. Even if your roommate passively-aggressively vacuums at 9:43 pm in front of your door. Mess happens. Disorder happens. And it requires us to behave differently — not having folks over if/when you just need to wallow in piles of dirty clothes — but it doesn’t mean we are bad people.
And the thing about it is that we never stay in one state of being forever — just think about the dishes. As soon as they’re all clean, you use one, and then suddenly your sink is full. I want you to be the best housekeeper you can be. And if and when you can’t, I want you to know more than anything, that you’re still a good person.
Notes for a Queer Homemaker is a regular column that publishes on the fourth Friday of every month!