Primping, preening and cleaning the slate

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
July 6, 2010 /

Click here to view original /

Of all the ways that the PM-looks-like-a-lady story has been poked and prodded, one that still piques my interest is the angle of a woman being brought in to clean up Rudd’s mess.

Evidently men mess up, women clean up, and that that’s the caveat to our feminist victory.

Should we be worried? Nah, this isn’t news.

Like Lou Reed, I “love to watch things on TV”. Unlike Lou, I haven’t had any electroshock therapy. A relevant detail because ECT is my secret fantasy during ad breaks. Pro Hart. I could further sully his cream-cakey name by mentioning his support for Pauline Hanson. But I won’t. I’ll just mention the ads. Oh God, the ads. The horror! And now it’s his grandson filthy-ing the floor. And again there’s a woman waiting to clean it up. Of course. Because why wouldn’t a bloke make a mess if a woman will clean it?

From the dreadful McDonald’s ads urging affable dads to give ma a break, to the MasterChef Mum bribing her sons to take out the trash. The ire of feminists is stirred because it’s inconceivable to imagine the genders reversed. No woman will be depicted chocolate saucing the carpet; no man will stand by her with a mop and bucket. No, because we haven’t come that far, baby.

During the opening credits on Neighbours, that cheeky rogue Lou steals something off the top of Lynnie’s cake. And the oh-so-forbearing Lynnie gives him that Oh-Mista-Hart-whadda-mess look that women have been giving scallywags for eons. My favourite sexual harassment story has me standing at a crossing and a man in a car asks if I will perform fellatio on him. (I paraphrase, of course). I death-stared him and he duly responded: “Why can’t you smile?” That women should smile, or even just grimace through men’s bad behaviour is abhorrent. Yet we do it. Oh God do we do it. And every time our new PM smiles and jokes through a question about her hair colour or unweddedness she’s doing it too. And when Hilary held Bill’s hand after he accidentally deliberately penetrated an intern she did it also. Because women excel at conveying all is well, all is well.

Strangely, while we’re grinning and bearing our way through sexualised and objectified and horribly domestic media portrayals, men are watching themselves equally stereotyped. Show an idiot moron using panty liners as armour and men don’t bitch or moan or phone the impotent self-regulators. No, they’ll watch themselves mocked and ridiculed and lobotomised and won’t say a word. Best keep quiet. Best keep expectations low. That way women will still clean up after them. All the while pretending we’re doing a job men can’t do themselves.

My most hated ad – the one when even Lou’s ECT wouldn’t be enough – is the Perfect cheese ad. The one with the weird-accented blond guy who weeps and paints and tenderly strokes baby tomatoes. I can’t even complain on a feminist level. It’s the heterosexual in me who watches and recalls every time I’ve been sucked in by a version of him. There’s always attraction if the bloke looks tortured. And there’s out right swooning if he’s crying against my bosom. Against my best judgment of course. Because I know better than to take on their messes. But I do it. Because women do it. Because we’re so so so good at it. We’re so very good at it in fact, that in staggering numbers we enter professions where we’re paid wretchedly for it.

By 9.30am on Ascension Thursday I’d already answered the first version of the “cleaning up the mess” question. Female journalists spotted the symbolism instantly. Of course. Because we recognise it from our personal lives. Men have perfected learned complacency and women excel at learned competency. If he does a half-hearted job at making the bed, a woman will do it over. Men know this. Women know this. We’ve honed forced smiles to thank effort while believing it’s just easier to do it ourselves. We talk about gender equality and simultaneously play these stupid games.

Sure, evaluating her leadership will take longer and I’m going to have to cry quietly that we won’t get gay marriage out of her, but she’s already excelled in the first tasks of the first female PM. She’s swept Kevin to the side. She’s appeased those bully boy miners. She’s doing what women are good at. Smiling, cleaning the slate and conveying all is well.

© Lauren Rosewarne