Normally I'm inclined to defend my relative slovenliness--cautiously, in very limited contexts. For example, order for the sake of obsessive orderliness is certainly unhealthy to individual minds and interpersonal relationships. Plus I think that science will prove, if it hasn't already, that exposure to pathogens is healthy for the immune system and thus longterm health. Why else would kids eat a peck of dirt? In short, I argue, cautiously and in limited contexts, cleanliness is not always next to godliness.
I am, thus, abashed to consider the issue of gendered relations to hygiene in the face of environmental issues that are essentially issues of housekeeping, such as recycling, pollution, conservation of resources, which is to say, those issues that individuals typically can control. This occasion to think about gendered environmentalism came from my students. I asked a class this summer to do little research projects focused on environmental behavior. Among many interesting projects and results, several student projects found clear correlations to gender.
- One student counted the number of people at a grocery store using canvas or other re-usable shopping bags. She discovered to her surprise that the overwhelming majority of them were women. She even interviewed a male friend who insisted that carrying recyclable bags cramped his style, which involved hitting on women in grocery stores.
- Another student found that his fraternity not only recycled nothing, but a survey of his housemates revealed they had zero interest in changing their behavior. Apparently, they had enough trouble getting all the trash into the dumpster every once in a while.
- Another studied the amount of water usage. He hypothesized that women used more than men--they're cleaner after all, longer showers, more washing dishes and floors, etc. The subjects of his survey, evenly split between male and female, agreed with his hypothesis, as did the entire class when he asked them--mostly women--at the beginning of his oral presentation. In fact he discovered that, despite the universal belief that women used more water, actual usage, as measured by water bills, showed that men used more water; indeed, the lowest man's bill was higher than any of the women's. (One women in the class suggested that this unexpected result might point to the fact that women more often sleep at their boyfriends' place than the reverse.)
These days, the maternal superego originates with Mother Nature.