Women have carried the ‘nag tag’ for centuries, but is modern moaning more likely to come from men?
Words: Tracy Ramsden
Pants under the sofa? Baked beans in the wash basket? Water bill found, unopened, wedged between the takeaway menus in the fruit bowl? Does any of this sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the domestic chaos that sets us apart from the more organised members of the animal kingdom (ie most of them).
The trouble, of course, arrives when one member of a household notices it’s a recurring pattern – this opening of a new ketchup bottle before the old one is used up – and gets angry. Call it what you will – persistent fault-finding, continuous urging, condiment-based irritation, but really, there’s only one term for this age-old low-level domestic discord; it’s nagging.
Hear the word nag and you think harridan, pestering their browbeaten, put-upon partner. You also think woman. Look at every female fairytale villain; every Coronation Street housewife; everyone from Monica Geller to Marnie from Girls. At your peril, look at Urban Dictionary, which defines the word nag as: “A form of ‘moaning’. Primarily used by women to complain about nearly anything and everything. Verb: what your mother does.” Lovely.
However, sweeping male stereotypes are also part of this assumption. That old sock discovered behind the TV? A man will be responsible. Neglected to buy holiday insurance until customs? A man is to blame. Men are the disorganised, lazy ones who need to be told 10 times before anything gets done.
Of course, neither of these conventional roles stand up in real life. On the contrary, there seems to be a rise in the number of men who can’t help but point out the wet towel on the bed, the life insurance you promised to take out, and the rancid lettuce in the fridge.
Sarah, 32, a recruitment lawyer knows the truth of living with a nag. “If I ever arrive home from work before my husband, I can tell from the tone of his voice that he’s not impressed that last night’s washing up is still in the sink and there’s nothing in the fridge to eat,” she explains. Her husband, it seems, is part of growing gang of moaning men.
Our lifestyles seem to be to blame. We’re working more hours than ever (according to the Office of National Statistics, the UK works 42.7 hours a week compared to 41.6 elsewhere in the EU) and with gym sessions, holidays and debilitating commutes, there are a lot of plates to juggle. It’s no wonder women are smashing the odd bit of crockery on the way. Which is not to say we’re expecting men to be Cinderella. After all, we’re still responsible for much of the work at home; two-thirds of all housework in the UK is done by women who work over 30 hours a week according to the European Social Survey. But the reality is we are too busy to vacuum the stairs or cash that cheque. And men have started to notice.
In this modern age, the running of a home, finances and a social life is a joint venture, and a battleground ripe for daily clashes – and that’s when the nagging (droning and constant) begins. So in order to discover why some men find modern women to be organisational failures, we asked real-life couple, Jon and Clare Axworthy, to see where they fail to agree.
Apparently, I'm a fridge Nazi
Jon Axworthy, 41, a freelance journalist has been married to Clare for seven years
Hello, my name’s Jon and I am a male nag. And here’s why. Work, three young children and an equally busy missus means I’m forever playing catch up with life. I am not in control of anything. Except how the dishwasher is stacked. Where the knives go in the sharpening block. And what goes in the recycling.
This is how I fool myself that I have some shred of control over my life, by exerting it over inanimate objects that don’t slam bedroom doors behind them, run at my private parts with a Power Ranger and generally disobey me at every turn.
I’m not even talking about the children at this point. I’m talking about my wife, Clare, who is perhaps even more slovenly than our kids and takes even less kindly to attempts to get her to clean up. That’s why I nag her to clear away the detritus from her lunch, to put her clothes away at the end of the day and for the love of CIF, to once in a while clean her hair out of the plug hole.
I would say I’m ashamed of what I’ve become but, in truth, I enjoy it because it makes me seem more competent than I really am. And I am not alone. In fact, the domestic chaos that surrounds us is now among the top five beer banter topics when I get together with mates. It’s hard-wired into us. It began with ensuring every sticker in my footy album was geometrically perfect and now manifests itself in making sure my wife’s morning fashion explosion is cleaned up by lunchtime.
There are two “hotspots” in our house where things usually boil over and they are both in the kitchen – the room where, I’m unreliably informed by the internet, most domestic murders take place.
The first is the dishwasher that Clare stacks in a manner akin to a builder throwing used bricks into a skip. When she does it I have to do the whole thing again as I’m not particularly fond of eating Monday’s dinner off a plate that still contains a significant amount of Sunday’s roast.
The other is the fridge. I have been accused of being a “Fridge Nazi”, but without my regular attendance, it would be home to bacteria so deadly we could probably sell them to al-Qaeda.
Foolishly, I expect her to understand and to want to exert some control over the minutiae of life too. After all, she is riding the same rollercoaster.
However, she tells me she doesn’t have time. Instead, I’m assured, she’s a big picture kind of gal. She cooks ambitious and varied dinners, books holidays and ensures the kids meet their play quota. You know, the ‘fun’ stuff. Well, I’m a details man.
And that’s why I nag. I’m like the flight attendant in our lives to her playgirl pilot and all I want is to just make sure the tray tables are stowed and in an upright position before take-off.
who cares about the dishwasher?
Clare Axworthy, 33, is a freelance journalist
Life is too short. And I don’t mean in a hippie, ‘forget-about-pickingup- the-dry-cleaning-I’m-going-toa- kibbutz’ kind of way. I mean literally. My. Life. Is. Too. Short. There aren’t enough hours in my days. So when faced with the choice of playing with the kids for 10 minutes or stacking the Smeg with military precision, pass me the Lego Star Wars.
I have three children, work full-time, cook all the family meals and have an allotment to maintain. Loading the dishwasher so that no morsels of a meal are evident afterwards is as low on my priority list as pressure-washing the kids’ car seats, rearranging my wardrobe and bleaching the bathtub every night. Except that this makes me public enemy number one to him indoors. Yep, I married a nag.
After a late Saturday supper and plenty of wine, coos of, “Oh, let’s clean up tomorrow and go to bed,” are often met with a promise of, “I’ll be right up.” Funny then how often I fall asleep to the dulcet tones of him rearranging the knife block – “The bread knife doesn’t go here!” – and emptying said dishwasher.
I’m not alone either. My girlfriends and I have begun inhabiting an alternative universe, meeting at bars to moan about our men over cocktails; claiming how hard done by we are as we regale one another with stories of stern tickings off and various ridiculous rules and regulations. Fallen comrades text to tell us they, “can’t come out as they have to start packing for a holiday three weeks away.” It seems my male moaner is part of a growing trend.
Hell, I don’t even have time to go to the supermarket and have to pay a ridiculous £5 delivery fee to get my shopping every week. Does he honestly think I have the time to go through the fridge organising each shelf by its sell-by date before the delivery arrives?
I used to hate his nagging. It used to be an incendiary point at the start of our relationship. Now when I look at his face getting redder, telling me he’s been asking me for 11 years to take my hair from the plug hole or check trouser pockets before putting them in the washing machine, I just nod and ignore.
When the kids have moved out and we’ve retired, I promise I’ll load the dishwasher right. I’ll track down every last rogue strand left in the shower. Hell, I’ll even put the bin lid through the dishwasher once a week. But until then, while there are Power Rangers to be played with I refuse to sweat the small stuff. My life is too short. And the Devil is most certainly in the details.