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It doesn't matter if a male character is a globe-trotting super-spy, a hyperintelligent genius, or a Millionaire Playboy -- according to this trope, any male who's responsible for maintaining a home, apartment, or regeneration pod will inevitably fail in the most spectacular way possible.

When the domicile is actually shown, expect to see unwashed laundry stuck to the ceiling, mold-covered unspeakables in the refrigerator, pornographic magazines under the mattress (or out in the open), and empty beer cans and pizza boxes everywhere. If and when an impressionable person (usually his mother, boss, or love interest) comes by, there will be a sudden flurry of activity as the hopeless male shoves everything into a closet in an attempt to instantly clean the place. A variation of this trope appears if the male character is living at home with his parents; in this case, expect his room to be an island of grunge while the rest of the house is immaculately well-kept. Trash of the Titans may be invoked if the mess is of epic proportions.

A supertrope to A Day in Her Apron, but while that trope contrasts the skills of a couple, this one focuses solely on the inability of men (married or single) to keep house. Might be subverted with a case of Just Fine Without You.

Contrary to popular belief, this trope was around well before modern feminism. In fact, Betty Friedan pointed out the Unfortunate Implications for women as well as men in The Feminine Mystique in 1963: not only is it rather insulting toward men, but if men simply can't be expected to keep house decently, it follows that housekeeping must be the woman's responsibility, even if she'd rather pursue a career and split the domestic duties. Today this is almost, but not quite, a Dead Horse Trope, especially in Comedies. In many works, excessive cleanliness and thoughtful decoration in a man's home is sometimes seen as a sign of homosexuality (feeding an equally-pervasive stereotype that all gay men are awesome housekeepers); a slovenly bachelor is therefore a shorthand for heterosexuality.

Contrast House Husband and Real Men Wear Pink; compare and contrast with Feminine Women Can Cook. Also see Guys Are Slobs, Lazy Husband and The Pig Pen.

Examples of Men Can't Keep House include:


Advertising

  • Pretty common in advertisements for cleaning products: pretty much all the time it's the woman who is doing the cleaning, and it's also pretty common for the husband to be the one who made the mess in the first place.


Anime & Manga

  • Subverted by Minamoto from Zettai Karen Children, who's basically a gender-flipped Action Mom. Skilled shooter, genius scientist, tactical mastermind, all-round badass -- and on top of that, he keeps the house spic-and-span, cooks, does the laundry, and make sure the kids get their baths. It's such an in-grown part of his character that even when he's kidnapped by a hostile esper, he instantly takes over the housekeeping, does her laundry, and reminds her to eat her vegetables!
  • Sailor Moon:
    • Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask) averts it, his apartment is spotless and it's implied that he's a bit of neat freak.
    • The first anime has Mamoru's friend Motoki play this straight, however. Makoto and Usagi are clearly horrified when they see his messy flat.
  • Revy from Black Lagoon, a girl manlier than most men, gets occasional shots of her messy, badly kept room.
  • Discussed in Junai no Seinen as the reason why Kaoru and Daigo always meet at the hotel rather than their apartments.
  • While most of Shigure's house is fairly neat in Fruits Basket, Tohru describes the kitchen as 'The Sea of Corruption' when she first sees it.
  • Averted by Syaoran in the manga version Cardcaptor Sakura: he lives alone, but his apartment is absolutely immaculate. Even when a chapter becomes a Sick Episode for him. (In the anime, he has The Jeeves to take care of him and his apartment, though Syaoran is shown to be good at domestic work such as cooking and sewing.)
    • Goes double for Sakura's dad Fujitaka, a widower who nevertheless takes excellent care of his house and children while working as a university professor.
  • Satou of Welcome to The NHK. Justified, as he is a Hikikomori and a Straw Loser.
  • In Happy Yarou Wedding, when Yuuhi first starts working as a housekeeper for Akira he describes the state of his home as "the tragedy of a single man". Subverted by Yuuhi himself, however.
  • Tiger and Bunny's Kotetsu has evidently never heard of a trash can, given the state of his house. Barnaby seems to have gone to the other extreme; not only does he have absolutely no litter in his apartment -- he barely even has any furniture.
  • Inverted in Toradora!; there it's Ryuuji who ends up doing all the housework for Taiga, who is incapable of cooking and too lazy to clean up after herself.
  • Ranma ½: Averted with Ranma Saotome's manga incarnation. Ranma's a great martial artist, capable of exploiting small weaknesses and a quick learner of anything martial arts. He's also a good cook and can sew. And when he sneaks into Hinako's home, he's appalled by how messy it is and starts cleaning it up without even thinking about it.
  • In Kamen no Maid Guy, it's the two siblings (a girl named Naeka and a boy named Kousuke) who cannot keep house - the house is literally overflowing with garbage, they can't use their own beds, and they have an infestation of rats, crows and snakes.
  • In Clannad, Mei visits Sunohara's dorm room to find it's like this. Nagisa notes that it's 'a very boyish room'.
  • The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird:
    • The Amano house is decently mantained but that's only because Dr. Amano's granddaughter Haruka takes care of it. When left alone to his own devices, Dr. Amano's surroundings get quite messy.
    • When Katori attempts to help Kenta's mother Akiko with housework, it's clear that he barely has any idea of how to do chores and ends up almost blowing up her home. While it's more understandable than other cases since he's an alien in an android body, one would think he'd pick up some more housework skills from hanging around with Haruka and being on Earth for what's implied to have been several months already...
    • Inspector Satsuda's apartment is briefly seen in an episode, and while it's not a gigantic mess it still has some trash and... "reading materials" on the floor. On the other hand, Momoko's bedroom is also featured in the same sequence and it's near spotless.
  • Averted in Nodame Cantabile, where Nodame is so hopeless at housekeeping that her apartment is downright filthy save for her piano, and her boyfriend Chiaki is the one who cleans it up.

Comic Books

  • In Watchmen, it's mentioned in passing that the decline of an old "superhero" group involved their losing the women in the group and, subsequently, their meeting place falling into physical disarray.

Fan Fiction


Film

  • In Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey, the titular duo's apartment starts off as a mild example of this trope. It gets worse once their evil robot doubles further trash the place.
  • Sid Phillips in Toy Story demonstrates the kid-at-home variation of this trope, with his junk-strewn dimly-lit bedroom.
  • In Toy Story 2, Al's lovely penthouse apartment is marred by his slovenly lifestyle, which includes junk food all over the floor.
  • In Real Genius, Chris Knight's half of the dorm (that he shares with Mitch) is an unabashedly sloven disaster area, even moreso than the rest of the dorm itself.
  • Sam Witwicky's room in Transformers, complete with Porn Stash references.
  • The major theme of the Michael Keaton movie Mr. Mom.
  • Averted in Mystery Team, with Jason keeping his room completely clean and tidy.
  • Joe's Apartment. The roaches specifically dig Joe because he's a slob.
  • In Blade Runner, Deckard's apartment has stuff littering every surface. When Rachael visits, he has to clear stuff out of a chair so that he can sit down. She remains standing. Deckard offers Rachael a drink, and has to clean a glass from the sink because there are no clean glasses available.
  • In "Designing Woman" a fashion designer (Lauren Bacall) marries a sportswriter (Gregory Peck) and describes his apartment as looking like the cigar box full of junk her brother had.


Literature

  • This has been implied as the norm in the Discworld City Watch, even after the introduction of female recruits. Mrs. Palm was noticably Squicked by the canteen in Feet of Clay, and Sam Vimes was clearly distressed in Thud! when his wife Sybil actually washed the tea urn.
  • Dave Barry mentions sharing an apartment with a fellow young male. It lacked furniture, but this allowed them to play Indoor Ricochet Death Frisbee. Another one is when a reader tells him he has boxed up a ton of old junk and arranged the boxes into ugly brown furniture. His girlfriend fails to see the simple genius of this arrangement, obvious to any male.
  • Keisha refers to this in Owlsight, when she thinks back to when the village women cleaned up Justyn's old cottage. She concedes that he kept the treatment areas clean, but the living areas .... Later, when she first sees Darian's home in the new Vale, she can't believe at first that a single male lives there because it's so clean. (Darian does not score any aversion points, since the hertasi clean the place for him.)


Live Action TV

  • Played very straight with Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple. Felix, on the other hand, keeps house just fine.
  • The I Love Lucy episode "Job Switching" had Ricky and Fred invoke this trope along with A Day in Her Apron.
  • Implied quite heavily in some parts of Coupling.
  • The Japanese dramedy TV series At Home Dad uses this as its premise. The main character is a high-flying advertising exec until his cavalier attitude towards clients' demands lands him on the unemployment rolls, while his wife picks up her career where she left it off to become a full-time mother. It's now up to Daddy to cook, clean, make, mend, and keep up with the high-pressure neighborhood mom clique. However, the guy next door has been doing the househusband thing since day one of his marriage -- and he's got the whole thing down to a science.
  • Averted in Glee, in which single parent Burt Hummel and his son Kurt both do a decent job of housekeeping following Kurt's mother's death when he was eight - occasional mishaps with undercooked chickens aside - and Kurt can even take over his father's medical care following a serious heart attack without any disasters occurring.
    • Likewise Will's apartment is very neat and tidy, and we know that it wasn't because of his wife.
  • Averted on The Secret Life of the American Teenager with George. Not only is he good at housework and cooking, he enjoys it. Ricky is also quite capable, thanks to years of helping out around his foster home.
  • Played to the max in Father Ted: When the housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, has a night out, Ted and Dougal run around in a panic, unable to manage a simple cup of tea.
  • Played with in The Andy Griffith Show. Andy and Opie are at first able to clean up the house really well while Aunt Bee is gone, but then they fear she will feel they won't need them. They decide they have to mess the house up all over again.
  • In an episode of "My Three Sons," Rob's wife Katie, the first female character to join the previously all-male cast, must go away for a while. Although before Katie came along, the men had been able to do fine for themselves, now they flounder. Apparently they have forgotten what to do. Before Katie returns, the men hire three cleaning women to restore order. When Katie sees the clean house, it upsets her. She takes it as evidence that she is not needed.
  • Chief O'Brien was this while his wife was on Bajor studying plants for a full season. Sadly, Colm Meaney pointed out the Double Standard to the producers who decided to go through with it anyways, with him under protest.

  Colm Meaney: "It was expedient to have some sort of what's considered humor in the script, but I object to saying this man is incapable of keeping his apartment tidy when his wife's away. That's a cliché."


Newspaper Comics


Oral Tradition

  • There is a fable about a husband and wife who always complain about their respective duties: farming and housekeeping. So they swap for one day. The wife does a great job farming, but comes home to find the cow hanging off the roof and the meal spoiled utterly.


Stand Up Comedy

  • Roseanne Barr put it best: Men are basically bears with furniture.


Video Games

  • Understated but still played straight with Adam Jensen's untidy apartment in Deus Ex Human Revolution. Although he could easily be given a pass for this, having recently gone through a lot of serious trauma.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots, a Running Gag is that Sunny always burns eggs she tries to fry in a pan, which Snake and Otacon are then reluctant to eat. When Snake quips that Otacon should teach Sunny to cook, Otacon protests that he knows nothing about cooking.


Webcomics

  • In Erfworld, the apartment Parson Gotti lived in prior to his summoning was, by his own description, a complete mess.

 "This place is a hole. A condemned hole. For squatter hobbits."

Web Original

  • In the Hazbin Hotel pilot, when the Radio Demon gets going on the hotel, the summoned help known as "Nifty" pops up and starts chattering about how it looks like everyone already here (actually two for three) is a woman and the place needs a woman's touch which is weird since they're all women...


Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons episode "Little Big Mom", Marge is recovering in the hospital, so the family maintains the house. The lazy males Bart and Homer turn the place into a filthy sack in minutes, much to the dismay of Lisa who is the only one trying to introduce some order and cleanlinnes, but with no success. She later tricks them into thinking they got leprosy from living in very dirty conditions so they would clean the house, again with no good results.
    • Another great example comes in "Bart After Dark" - while Marge and Lisa are away at an oil spill cleanup, Bart and Homer are making "garbage angels" in their mess on the house floors. A visitor at the door, dumbfounded: "...are you wearing a grocery bag?" Homer, self-righteously indignant: "I have misplaced my pants." And the bag still had groceries inside.
    • The Simpsons loves this trope - when Marge is neglecting everything but a gambling addition, Homer's final attempt to make breakfast is a mixture of "cloves, Tom Collins mix, frozen pie crust..."
      • Also, Homer's attempt to make a costume of Florida Lisa needed for a contest where the kids were supposed to dress up as a state resulted in Principal Skinner declaring her one of the two kids who "obviously" made their costumes without help from parents. The other kid was Ralph Wiggum with a piece of paper taped on his clothes with the word "Idaho" on it.
      • Homer obtained a similar result for Bart in another episode while attempting to build a model of Westminster Abbey.
  • Family Guy showed this in an episode where Lois went to jail. After being arrested the house pretty much goes to hell, with garbage all over the place, Stewie not getting a diaper change in god-knows-how long, and wild animals coming into the house.
  • Taz-Mania: "Boys Just Want Wanna Have Fun" is about what happens when Jean and Molly go away, leaving Hugh and the boys in charge of the house. The results are predictible.
  • Downplayed, if not averted in Voltron: Legendary Defender: the boys' rooms in the Castle of Lions are relatively tidy (i.e, Keith's room is spotless), the one who tries keeping order the most is a guy (the male Team Mom Coran), Hunk turns out to be a Supreme Chef... and the messiest one is Pidge, a girl (one who looks like a boy, but still)
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