For the past few weeks, the comic Sally Forth has been running a series on “What would have happened if (lead couple) Sally and Ted hadn’t met?” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the comic, Sally and Ted are a contemporary Middle America couple who met in college at the Laundromat when Ted was trying to figure out how to not ruin his Max Headroom t-shirt. They strike up a conversation around Ted’s laundry incompetence and Sally’s skills, marry, establish professional lives, have a child, buy a nice house, deal with the day to day of typical Middle Class American family drama, work life, neighborhood relations and child rearing.
Now, I’m a huge Sally Forth fan. I’ve been reading the strip for years and personally think it is a truly hilarious, ironic, realistic and (importantly) optimistic commentary on the modern American Middle Class family. It’s funny because it is true.
The premise of the current series is that, having not met, Sally would have wound up much the same (same job, same boss, same wardrobe, same messed up adult relationship with her sister) and Ted would have been a hopeless man-child, working part time at a discount toy store and focusing on his band and video games instead of being a successful professional.
The current series basically feeds on the widespread cultural belief that Men, especially Men raised in mainstream Middle Class backgrounds, are incapable adults stuck in childhood, oozing through life leaving a slime trail and that it is the role of Women to fall in love with their filth and make a life of sweeping up behind them. Literally and Metaphorically. (And, of course, supposedly because these guys can’t do anything for themselves, they need to have high paying management jobs where they do nothing and earn enough to pay for everything instead of doing anything for themselves in their adult lives.) Further, that women not only like, but enjoy and seek out this role as filth sweeper and life fixer. Right.
To cut to the chase, if you can make it through college, you can wield a toilet brush, make a photocopy, fill out an order form, bake a potato, change a diaper, do laundry without wrecking stuff. Really.
How many times have I heard the “Coming of Age” story about Mom doing everything around the house—cooking, cleaning, laundry, making lunches, pouring cereal in the morning, loading the dishwasher in the evening—punctuated with, “Of course I never helped. Mom likes doing all that stuff!” I’ve also never met a Mom who actually liked doing all that stuff herself. She just preferred it to willful incompetence (i.e. passive aggression) destroying the house and its contents.
What amazes me more than anything is the extent to which women—mothers—perpetuate this paradoxical stereotype. That Their Boy’s destiny with greatness precludes ever washing a dish, and, in fact, warrants incompetence at many day to day activities. Of course, as Modern Women, they place this expectation on their husband (or complain loudly to anyone who is in earshot about the failure of the husband to meet the expectation—vocalizations the husband and sons seem to easily ignore while they continue to swear up and down that Mom likes doing everything herself), but their son—the Heir Apparent to the title Emperor of the Known Universe—cannot be expected to devote time to such mundane and base tasks. His time is reserved for Great Deeds!
Ironically, the person who is closest to Heir Apparent to the title Emperor of the Known Universe (with all apologies to his Father and Grandmother) actually has wielded a toilet brush. He also gives off the vibe of guy who will change a diaper or two when the time comes.
It’s really no wonder that people are delaying marriage these days. Can you imagine what it is like for a guy to head out for a Saturday night, parties, happy hours, hanging at bars and clubs, to look for the One. The One who will—clean his toilet for the rest of his life. Wow. Romantic. That would turn me off to marriage and commitment.
This is one of those times when I am really stumped by my own culture. I appreciate that (with all due respect to people in the field) that custodial work is less desirable and respected than many other professions. That’s different from being capable and willing to maintain one’s own living space. Why in the World has Middle America been training children for decades (as far back as I can remember) that it is beneath them to clean anything? It’s been leaking into the feminine side in recent times. Not that I’m trying to take a housekeeper’s job away, I’m tired of stories about roommates who didn’t know how to clean a sink. (How is that possible?)
This is a lot of drift from what if Sally and Ted had never mourned his lost Max Headroom t-shirt together. But I guess it is not, either. I’m as romantic as the next person, and I like the idea that Ted and Sally would have kept looking for each other, not settled, and met up somehow, some other way years later. But I’d also like to think Ted would have figured out adult life anyway. I realize that isn’t the Myth and the author is following the Myth. Just call it my New American Dream, where we raise all our children with the skills to take care of themselves. 🙂