By Diane Goldberg

Through a smeared window, I look out at withering roses and parched herbs. I've failed at gardening and I hate housework. An odd smell suggestive of cat urine clings to the carpet and objects of unknown origin lurk beneath my unmade bed.

I choose my friends carefully. It isn't just anyone that can be admitted to my inner sanctum of dirt and decay. Nasty isn't in this decade. Nasty is especially repulsive to my female friends. Most women just don't get the glory of grung.

Recently I visited a woman who lives in a very clean house. Everything in her house matches. I am not altogether certain that she doesn't color coordinate her food to her place mats. She does not "work outside the home." I don't know if I am jealous or what but it seems there is something smug and harem-like in her polished wood floors and the striped wallpaper.

Her husband works two jobs while she sprawls on the sofa reading and waiting for him to get home. How in the hell does buying matching towels equate with working the two jobs to pay for them? I suspect she has a really good scam going. Yet, she acts as if she is a slave. I seriously doubt that her husband flogged her while screaming, "Mauve molding, bitch!! I must have mauve molding!" I am amazed that she has somehow gotten him to believe that her nesting is an equal contribution to their relationship.

Of course, two decades ago I'd have seen her as a victim.

Viewed from the perspective of a '70s feminist, I suppose my filth and squalor could be portrayed as revolutionary blows against the archetypal patriarchy. Alas, those days are gone; my unscrubbed toilet and sticky counter tops are neither poetry nor protest. They are just dirty. And dirt is not in fashion.

In the most recent edition of The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan claims that American men are now "doing 40% of the housework and child care." On my afternoon stroll, I pass a large daycare center. The blue-collar men with their names on their pockets are not child molesters. Daddies pick up their kids with alarming frequency as we rush toward the millennium. I know a lot of men who can cook, really cook beyond the basic spaghetti or omelets, and I know an equal number of women who can't.

Male bashing that focuses on a peculiar inability of persons with penises to shop for food, run a load of clothes or operate a vacuum cleaner seems quaint, archaic. In short, it is your mother's male bashing. Men seem to have developed the ability to forage for food, obtain clean garments, and on occasion preserve the life of philodendra. Many men live alone. And they are not buried under piles of filth.

So in the microwave era, in this brave new world of men who can separate the darks from the whites, what do we women do with our free time?

We shop. We clean. We exfoliate. We piddle. We slump around the house/condo/apartment with a facial mask on while we sort our socks, vacuum our rugs, or scrub our baseboards. We organize our closets, condition our hair, and put down shelf-paper.

Why do we never hear men complain about not "having time for myself." Why is it that men seem to go mountain biking, kayaking, put up shelves, and finish degrees while still having time for themselves? I've seen a zillion jokes about the woman feeding the dog, organizing laundry, paying bills, and saving the world for democracy while her spouse slumps in the recliner. But, the truth is that men take out garbage, get the oil checked, change the filters, and pay bills. Life makes chores regardless of gender.

What is it we women do with time? Is it lunar, linked to our menses? Do we destroy it in some peculiar reproductive alchemy? What is it that we do with time that leaves even women like me. women who do no housework, saying, "I don't have time for myself"?

Whatever it is, we do it. I suppose it is up to us to undo it. We can't really be spending our entire lives putting on eye shadow, or can we?

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