On Boys and Toilet Paper

What is it about boys – and men, eventually – that makes them unable to change rolls of toilet paper? This is a question I often find myself contemplating as I am yet again confronted by a naked toilet paper roll, its replacements still smugly stacked on the shelf, their ranks undiminished. Occasionally a few tattered ribbons of paper have been left, an offering that fails to fulfill its role.
When we moved here to our new house, I embarked on redecorating the bathroom with great enthusiasm. I even chose a toilet paper holder which is simply an arm held up, over which a roll may be neatly and quickly slipped. Perhaps, I thought, the complicated nature of the average American toilet paper holder, the kind where one has to squeeze both ends together simultaneously and slot the roll-holder, clad in a new jacket of toilet paper,  into the little grooves, had confounded male minds. I had even hoped that the supplicatory pose of the holder arm would prompt boys (and a grown up boy, too) to remember to keep it filled. But alas – the toilet paper still does not get refilled.
How is it that male minds can learn to use a computer from across the room but cannot learn to change toilet paper or remember which shelf the cups go on? How is it that one of my sons – or one of their male friends – can hear me muttering over some computer glitch and come over saying “here” and with a few deft clicks of the mouse solve my problem? And yet those same males cannot find laundry baskets, will stack dirty dishes atop clean or be utterly baffled by the intricacies of vacuuming a couch?
I am not sexist. I do not value men and boys more – or less – than women and girls. But as someone who comes from a heavy duty feminist background (I did go to Sarah Lawrence College, after all), has also spent time trying to understand traditional images of gender differences and, most importantly, has spent 20 plus years working with real boys and girls – not examples in textbooks – I can still catagorically state that (drum roll, please) girls and boys are really different from one another. No kidding! And it ain’t just down to socialization, cultural expectations or parenting choices (all of which can of course play a role). How is it that daughters of feminists will pine for pink Barbies and sons of pacifists will gnaw their bread into gun shapes in lieu of a toy gun?
What is the mysterious source of these deep, deep gender differences, differences that transcend race, religion, ethnicity and economic background? Herein lies material for several dissertations – suffice to say that, through working with anthroposophy, I feel better able to understand brief glimmers of these differences. I work hard to try and understand where, out of the intertwined physical-spiritual sheathes that make up the human being, arise these amazing gender differences. And it is certainly not a question of pre-determination, of “this is what makes up a male, this is what makes up a female”. Rather, it is a graceful interplay between the male and female in both women and men and it is more a case of tendancies toward, rather than a set-in-stone picture of, what is male and what is female.
I try to remember this as I stare at those empty toilet paper holders or contemplate the mess in the living room (“what mess, Mom?”). I love the men in my life and seek to honor and value the differences that male and female bring to the human experience.
Which doesn’t mean that my men folk get away with not changing the toilet paper rolls!!

Posted on October 23, 2005 in Family Life and Parenting

  • Dayle says:

    You have made my day! Through your wit & humor you have sent a sunbeam through the clouds for me today. I have often thought about this concept of TP & my son’s & husband’s willingness to change the roll. I assume my husband changed it when he was single, so why not now? As I have weened my family from being dependant on me for all the messes and fixing everything (plus making the extra TP supply obvious and reachable), I have seen my family begin to do things on their own – this includes replacing the toilet paper roll. As a result I am a liberated woman as well! Keep up the good work Donna!

  • Karen Petz says:

    Donna! I am embarrassed to say that my husband could have written your post. I often don’t put the toilet paper on the roll, especially in the middle of the night! But I do wonder why my daughter doesn’t put it on? I mean it’s the kids bathroom, now why don’t they put the toilet paper on the roll? Maybe becasue Mom sometimes forgets?
    But from my husband’s point of view, he wonders why we use so much toilet paper around here. Well, life with two women…….guys have a hard time understanding.
    I think I will be remembering to put the toilet paper on the roll from now on! Thanks for your humor and your wit. It does make a ray of sunshine in my day!

  • Karen says:

    Tooooooooo funny! I have a husband and a teenage son as well as three daugters.By the time my girls turned twelve, they could basically run an average household by themselves. My now 18 yr. old son is about half way there. However, it took the first 20 years of our marriage for me to teach my husband to place his dirty clothers in the hamper. This happened in small steps. First, he learned to stop leaving them on the bathroom floor, and left them on the bedroom floor instead. This was closer to the hamper, so I considered it progress. Then, a few years later, he mastered the art of dropping his dirty clothes on the floor right NEXT to the hamper. At that time, I knew we were on the home stretch! Several years later, the clothes were making it to the TOP of the hamper (on the closed lid). Now today, I am happy to report that he actually places his clothes INTO the hamper, AND he ocaisionally does the laundry as well!! So, ladies, don’t give up!

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