Thursday, July 13, 2006

Neatness, happiness, and class

I've been thinking about Flash's comment on my last post, suggesting that I hadn't taken class into account when examining the state of my house and/or my friend's house as it represented my and their inner state. I definitely think there's some connection between neatness and class that I've likely internalized and not examined critically. In fact, a quick search of the internets reveals that, indeed, neatness and moral virtue were often equated and moral virtue was a marker of a certain class. Further, there is often a connection between cleanliness and happiness. Here's a selection from a paper about small rural towns in New England. Neatness is of utmost importance.
In 1823, its second year of existence, the New England Farmer began its promotion of domestic tidiness with a clear equation between neatness and happiness on the one hand, and dirt and misery on the other,
There is something so pleasing in the appearance of neatness and cleanliness about a dwelling house, that even a stranger. . . cannot help being prepossessed with a favorable opinion of those within. He passes along with the idea fixed in his mind of prosperity and happiness presiding within those walls. How different the sensation felt on viewing a contrary scene, — a house dismal and dirty, the doors and walls surrounded and bespattered with filth of all denominations, and fragments of broken dishes and dirty dairy. utensils scattered in all directions impress on his mind the idea of misery and mismanagement.

In our own time, we can think of Martha Stewart and the strive for perfection her brand of domesticity represents. Her concept of perfect domesticity is not new, however. And it's absolutely gendered. That whole "angel in the house" concept of a woman at home maintaining a perfect household for the family to thrive in. I've unfortunately been to a wedding where nearly these exact words were uttered, that the wife's responsibility was to keep a neat home so the family felt happy being there.

I wrote the post below primarily for myself, of course. For me personally, there are two circumstances under which the house falls apart. One is when both Mr. Geeky and I are frantically busy, with work to do after hours or conference travel or the like. The other is when I don't have the mental energy to tend to it, including prodding Mr. Geeky and the kids to help out. And it is this latter circumstance that I'd been in of late and when I saw, for example, how the weeds were taking over the driveway, I felt like my own inner turmoil was represented there. That may not be true for everyone. Flash says she (he?) becomes neater when troubled. I've had times when I've done that, where scrubbing the kitchen distracts me from the argument I just had.

I think it's interesting to think about how outer appearances--clothing, houses, cars, yards--might or might not represent our inner selves or our values. And I definitely think there are socioeconomic values that we project onto such things. We can almost always take a stereotypical "x" and dress them and house them. What does a stereotypical male professor wear? Female? Of a certain age? How about someone who's main political issue is the environment? What kind of car do they drive or house do they live in? And why is that we can play this game? And is it a fair game to play?