I was driving to work the other day, and I saw a sign on my way out of my neighborhood advertising someone to clean houses. It caught my eye, because I have been considering getting someone out here on perhaps a quarterly basis to do the crap I’m just never going to do, like scrub the tile shower floor in the master bathroom, and washing all the windows, and taking a pumice scrubber to the hard water rings in the toilets.
So I slowed down to read the sign, but when I saw it said, “Ask for Eddie,” I dismissed it out of hand and drove on. However, I have to pass that sign every time I enter or leave the neighborhood, and each time I did, I scoffed, until the third day, it occurred to me that the only reason I ruled the person out was because his name is “Eddie”; that is, because he’s a man.
I tend to think of myself as a pretty open-minded, egalitarian person largely free of the worst -isms. However, that realization made it clear to me that I’d just run smack into some unexpected and unexamined prejudices and stereotypical gender expectations that I would’ve never believed I held. Such as:
-A “real man” would not be a house cleaner. That’s woman’s work.
-A man doing housecleaning is probably casing the joint, and the housecleaning bit is probably a front for criminal activity.
-Women are more trustworthy, and less likely to steal from me.
-No man is ever going to be able to clean the house as well as a woman would.
-Men have low standards for cleanliness in general.
Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. And frankly, I’m more than a little disappointed in myself. You spend the better part of your life throwing off the nonsensical limitations of the Matrix you were born and raised in, only to find out that there was redundant programming buried deep in the code.
My very own husband is a decent housekeeper, and a better cook than I will ever be, and it never occurred to me to question his masculinity. Logically, I have no reason to believe Eddie is any less manly, trustworthy, or competent a housecleaner than some unknown Edna would be.
But this isn’t necessarily about Eddie. This is about being born female on planet Earth, where we are taught from birth that men are dangerous in multiple ways. No one ever tells their children cautionary tales of the bogeywoman. “Strangers” are always men, aren’t they? Ask yourself what gender you generally thought of when you taught your own children about stranger danger. Who did you imagine was driving that van, looking for children to steal? Women are taught to protect themselves against men who “only want one thing” by being careful of what they say, what they wear, and where they walk alone. In doctors’ offices, do female doctors make sure there’s a male nurse available through the entirety of the appointment for the safety and comfort of their male patients? How many male babysitters have you ever had? I had one, and he was the elder brother of my best friend who only babysat us when his elder sister was unavailable.
The tricky part to this is that while it is unfair to say that all men are dangerous until proven otherwise, it has been proven unwise time and time again to say they are not. When a woman disappears with a boy she shouldn’t be with, she ends up pregnant and disgraced. When a man disappears with a girl he shouldn’t be with, as often as not, she ends up dead. How many stories have you heard of nuns molesting the children in their charge? How many female-on-male rapes occur in comparison to male-on-female? Because of this, gender profiling becomes a way of life, to the detriment of all of us.
I don’t know how we change that. How can we afford to give up reasonable considerations of safety and security on principle when doing so stands to lose us so much? I suspect that good men everywhere will have to tire of the bad men ruining their reputation, and start regulating among their own. But is that even possible? How do you change eons of learned and societally sanctioned behavior that might makes right? How do you raise the consciousness of the disinterested?
I don’t really know. But until then, methinks poor Eddie isn’t going to get a lot of work.