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The Pig Picture
I just posted a new Advice Goddess column. Very interesting question, which I answered based on research on the brain (no, men and women aren't the same). Here it is:

Are all guys who aren’t gay gross slobs? So often, when a guy’s invited me over after the second or third date, I’ve discovered such a disgusting disaster area that I wish I’d worn hip-high wading boots. The specifics: dirty, wadded-up towels on the floor, a week’s worth of dirty dishes in the sink, decades of crud on the fixtures, and a bathroom so vile that I put off using it until my bladder’s ready to burst. Do guys simply not see this stuff? Do they see it and just not care? And does it not occur to them that a woman might be turned off by such slovenliness and filth?

--Totally Repulsed

My answer starts here:

It isn’t that guys don’t notice the filth, it just takes them a little longer -- like until the crud impedes access to the bathroom or the fuzz on the dishes evolves to the point where it hisses at the dog.

Now, not every straight guy is a slob, and not every gay guy is fastidious, but there’s a reason the TV hit was “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” and not “Straight Eye For The Queer Guy” -- the home makeover show to help all the gay men whose living spaces have been featured in “Architectural Digest.” And, sure, there are squalor-dwelling chicks out there, but when a woman apologizes for her “disaster area” it’s likely she’s telling you she’s run out of color-coordinated Kleenex and forgotten to pick up fresh flowers.

Because many women can’t imagine that a man would think differently than they do (thanks, in part, to the toxic mold that is radical feminism) they often take it personally when a man invites them into what looks to be a one-bedroom/one-bath Petri dish decorated in a landfill motif. The perceived insult may be magnified if he’s a guy who typically looks shaved and bathed, and like he picked his clothes out at a department store, not out of a dumpster. I mean, jeez, in honor of your presence, couldn’t he have at least hosed the place down?

The truth is, as you suspected, straight guys just don’t have the filth and disarray vision that women and gay men do. Studies show gay men’s attention to environmental detail is similar to that of straight women...

The rest of my answer is here.

Note: comments on my columns will no longer require approval. I'm not quite sure why they ever did!

Posted by aalkon at April 4, 2007 10:22 AM


You may well be right about the "filth and disarray vision" Amy, but sorting out nature as distinct from nurture-enabled gender slobbishness is a doozy.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 4, 2007 5:54 AM

A friend was relating a scene from a COPS reality show, where two patrolman went to a seedy place to roust a guy. The first patrolman knocks, opens the door, and says, "hey partner, come look at this. This is what you are going to look like when you retire." The camera proceeds to pan through a house where cans and garbage are piled about 2 feet high on the floor, relieved by a few walkways.

Posted by: doombuggy at April 4, 2007 7:28 AM

Jody, I've explained this before. "Nurture" (culture) comes out of our biology, and if you look at twins raised in different environments, you might understand. See the work of Nancy Segal.

Genes behave different ways in response to an environment, and they are "designed" to behave that way. In terms of this question, a guy can be raised to be neat, but it won't change his vision or a single-goal-directed brain.

I know you won't understand this, as you never have before -- please try to read up on it instead of speculating endlessly without information.

P.S. Read "The Blank Slate," by Stephen Pinker.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 4, 2007 7:33 AM

Perhaps what Amy is trying to say is that the brain has certain default settings (like a software program), but since it is very maliable, it can be trained to behave differently. These would really only be overrides. The default would still be there, but the brain has been conditioned with a set of responses that counter this.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 4, 2007 8:26 AM

With superhuman restraint, the urge to badger Tressider into a flame war is resisted.

Posted by: CRid at April 4, 2007 9:14 AM

The oft mentioned sloppiness of the dating-aged male in my opinion is the result of the end of universal military training. Whatever good cleaning habits I have today are a result of my service in the Army. I know the same can be said for the other services. This new sloppiness is nothing eight or ten years in military service wouldn't fix. Well six months anyway.

Posted by: Fred Beloit at April 4, 2007 9:16 AM

Other men have told me that as well.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 4, 2007 9:22 AM


Posted by: Crid at April 4, 2007 9:25 AM

I dunno...I sense the restraint is diminishing!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 4, 2007 9:31 AM

Must... hang... on.....

Posted by: Crid at April 4, 2007 9:58 AM

I have a single-goal-oriented mind, but then I'm a visual artist, which I think does make a difference in how one's brain is wired. (See comment on column, yada yada, I am Art's bitch.)

Posted by: Melissa G at April 4, 2007 10:59 AM

I met my husband following a half dozen years of military service. He must have immediately reverted to the default setting as his kitchen was coated in grease, the bathroom sink wouldn't drain, and I threw his sheets into the alley dumpster. We are raising two sons together and I do the bulk of the cleaning. I could nag. Indeed, I have, but over time I've come to realize that life is so much sweeter without pestering people who don't see it my way. I use the bathroom that I clean. So I concur with Amy. If the guy is fabulous, don't make issues out of dirt and grime. The fabulous guy will help you change those sheets when it's time!

Posted by: Em at April 4, 2007 11:18 AM

Or, just hire a maid once a week and split the cost. Tell him it makes you happy to live in a clean house, but you're too tired to do all the cleaning.

I'm definitely doing that if I ever live with a guy again. Even if I don't, and I have to visit his pig-pen on a regular basis, I would ask him to get a maid in once a week, preferably the day I'm going over.

I like a clean apt or house, but I don't want to resent him for making me do all the cleaning. I would also like to focus on my reason for the visit and get right to it!

Posted by: Chrissy at April 4, 2007 11:31 AM

Two words for Amy 'n' Crid:

mowing lawns.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 4, 2007 11:40 AM

Unless you enjoy cleaning/have absolutely no cleaning issues, if you can hire housekeeping help, do so. Doing housework won't get you to heaven any faster (yes, yes, I know everyone's an atheist here, but you get my point). You'll still be responsible for making sure that the house is *tidy*, but there's a big difference (for women, anyway!) between a house that's merely untidy and one that's untidy and dirty.

I'm not the tidiest person. I have known, and dated, several guys who were tidier than I was. But, without fail, *all* of their *bathrooms* were always dirty in a way I would not tolerate. Things might be put up, but there are always hairs (large and, ick, small) over everything, scum on tile, mildew on shower get the idea. No idea what part's nurture and what part's nature, but there is some difference there, methinks.

Posted by: marion at April 4, 2007 12:03 PM

I wonder if more guys tweaked to the fact that having a pigsty of a house might prevent them from getting The Booty, they'd clean up more often. Or at least before dates.

Posted by: amh18057 at April 4, 2007 12:07 PM

Also, Amy, this "froward and unstable worm" would love a clarification of this phrase of yours:

""Nurture" (culture) comes out of our biology."

Have you, at one stroke, thus removed the debate about Nature versus Nurture?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 4, 2007 12:29 PM

"I wonder if more guys tweaked to the fact that having a pigsty of a house might prevent them from getting The Booty, they'd clean up more often."

One solution is to have them come over to your place for sex (which will be clean), and then ask them to leave afterwards, when they'll just be either snoring, or sitting on your couch watching sports. They can do both of those things in their own pig-pen.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 4, 2007 1:28 PM

> removed the debate about
> Nature versus Nurture?

What debate? And what about lawns?

I like Em. I like Chrissy.

Posted by: Crid at April 4, 2007 5:25 PM

As usual, Crid, I started hearing the Flintstone's theme music - i.e. the cue for Ev Psych 101 - when Amy started tackling why guys today don't notice filth.

(As Amy suggests in her column proper: "a guy’s tendency to let his home become a pizza crust wilderness refuge probably traces back to our hunter-gatherer past..")

We are back to stone age templates for gender differences, with the usual side dish of "it's in our genes, stupid Jody!".

In fact my first comment was not especially argumentative ("You may well be right about the "filth and disarray vision" Amy...").

And, by the way, Crid the expression "Nature versus Nurture" (meaning a debate) is pretty well understood, so I don't really get your arch "What debate?" question. Actually, I'm a Matt Ridley groupie myself - though with reservations.

My hackles generally bristle when simplistic Ev. Psych models are used to explain cultural behavior and gender differences.

Sometimes these models can be gorgeously illuminating in very general terms - especially when dealing with averages. As I said 'Amy "may well be right"'! But cultural expectations and reinforcements (nurture) surely apply in spades to Amy's male slobs in 2007.

Though I'm quite sure Ev. Psych has a terrifically flexible stone age explanation for my anecdotal observation about middle-aged men being often anally wedded to their lawn mowers.

Ev. Psych - you see - explains everything!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 5, 2007 6:54 AM

> (meaning a debate) is pretty
> well understood

So why can't you describe it a sentence? What are the contentions, and who are their partisans? I been to college and done the booklearnin': Nature and nurture interact to deliver outcomes. Does anyone doubt this? They're hard to distinguish, but it's not impossible, and people who pretend it is seek often to comfort and flatter themselves.

The lawn mowers thing didn't even whistle on the way by. Our townhouse has a lawn of approximately 18 square feet. We pay gardener anyway, because fuckit.

What's the deal with this blog and Flintstones?

Posted by: Crid at April 5, 2007 7:17 AM

"What's the deal with this blog and Flintstones?"

Clever, that.

Make me explain my brilliantly encapsulating swipes about the cartoonish qualities of Ev. Psych assumptions so that I kill the joke, and come off like a gallumphing, po-faced harpie.

"Nature and nurture interact to deliver outcomes. Does anyone doubt this? They're hard to distinguish, but it's not impossible..."

Didn't say different.

I just don't accept starting the investigation by peering at Nature through stone age spectacles.

"Our townhouse has a lawn of approximately 18 square feet. We pay gardener anyway, because fuckit."

Well, I live in semi-bucolic bliss here, Crid.
Hence my mistake at whistling through the gloaming dark at you.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 5, 2007 7:58 AM

So what you're saying is...


Posted by: Crid at April 5, 2007 8:25 AM

I live with my boyfriend and we are both pretty neat. He is because he grow up in a spotless house with a weekly cleaning list he had to complete. I am because I grew up in a cluttered and dusty house. I was never told to clean my room or make my bed, I just did because I liked it better that way. Because he had cleaning routines drilled into him, he can be picky about how things get done. I just really like having organization and surface cleaniness.

Lately I have been wondering how to respond to people apologizing for their "messy" homes when I go visit. I feel that saying "It's not that bad" or "Don't worry about it" Implies that it is messy.

Posted by: Esther at April 5, 2007 6:54 PM

I've been cleaner than most of my past girlfriends. The source of my neatness comes from attending a military school. Ages 14 to 18. If your dorm room didn't pass inspection from the barracks leader. No breakfast.

Personally, I believe the widespread of public sloppiness stems from the tyranny of constantly being casual. In style and manner.

Posted by: Joe at April 5, 2007 9:01 PM

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