P.J. O’Rourke once wrote, “Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.” What does that mean, exactly?
I take several meanings from this quote. It highlights the human tendency to focus on solving “important,” big-picture problems while neglecting the small, repetitive, day-to-day tasks that still need to get done in the meantime. (See also: Katrine Marçal’s book, Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, about how Smith indulged in economic navel-gazing while letting his mommy cook his meals and ignoring the vital role of unpaid female labor in propping up men’s fortunes.)
It also acknowledges the human desire for recognition. Someone who saves the world would be a big hero, rewarded with fame and admiration. Household chores are drudge work deemed worthy of little more than minimum wage or even nothing at all, despite how essential they are to our daily lives.
Finally, I’ve already hinted at this, but let’s make it explicit: it’s impossible to ignore the gendered connotations of this line. Women have been and continue to be primarily responsible for housecleaning duties. This is true both professionally — have you ever seen a male housekeeper at a hotel? — and, as a 2020 Gallup poll shows, in our personal lives. Abandoning Mom, Aunt, and Granny to clean up after us is a time-honored tradition.
Don’t get me wrong: saving the Earth is important! But statistically speaking, zero percent of the people reading this article will ever have the means or the opportunity to do so. By contrast, almost all of us have the ability to help a loved one around the house. It’s a much less sexy but more realistic way for those of us without superpowers to make the world a better place.
So where does that leave the fictional people who do have superpowers? Should they get a free pass from pulling their weight? I say thee nay! If you make a mess, you should help clean it up, whether that means picking up debris from a battle against alien cyborgs or scrubbing a sauce-encrusted pot.
I’m sticking with male characters here, again highlighting the gender disparities when it comes to housework. (Though, for the record, Wonder Woman would consider it an honor to help around the house, just as she referred to slinging hash at a fast-food joint as “a just and dignified occupation.”) Let’s find out how generous our heroes really are…
You know Ma Kent didn’t raise no slacker. Clark’s instinctive reaction to an empty plate is to pick it up and go wash it. I bet he busses his own tables at restaurants, too.
Rating: Five out of five sparkling clean dishes
Thor was intrigued by this dishwashing ritual when he first came to Midgard. (I assume Asgardian princes don’t do housework, which explains why they’re Like That.) But after a few times, he got bored and went back to letting Jarvis take care of it.
Rating: Zero out of five mead-stained mugs
Some of my fellow Book Riot writers believe that Batman has never done dishes, ever, in his entire life. A reasonable conclusion, but I respectfully disagree.
On a regular basis, Bats does stay well away from the kitchen. But an episode of The Animated Series shows us that he knows even his garbage collector by name, and comics like Batman Annual #3 show that he will venture into the kitchen on special occasions. He can be surprisingly down-to-earth, in other words. So, I think that he would do the dishes once in a blue moon, assuming that moon did not have a Bat-signal projected onto it.
Now, whether he’d do the dishes well or whether Alfred would have to sneakily do them all again once Bruce left for a board meeting is a whole other kettle of laughing fish.
Rating: Two out of five slightly dented silver trays
Now here is a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist who thinks Cascade is a nice place to go mountain climbing. And no, building a better dishwasher doesn’t count, Tony. I don’t care if it does play Black Sabbath during the rinse cycle.
(This is referring to Modern Age Tony. I am willing to have my mind changed on Bronze Age Tony, who cooked a gourmet meal from scratch on at least one occasion, though I can’t remember if he did the dishes afterward. There’s a big difference between doing housework as a treat and doing it on a regular basis, anyway.)
Rating: Zero out of five grotty sponges that Tony used to clean the grease out of his armor before putting them back by the sink
No Green Lantern has ever done a dish. I know this thanks to Flash #135, where Kyle Rayner exposed the whole dastardly plot.
Instead of actually doing dishes, Kyle just makes his own with the power from his ring. He’s even willing to put up with the annoying taste of vinegar that clings to these dishes rather than have to clean up after himself.
No way Hal or Guy is more conscientious than Kyle. As for John, he thinks his time is better spent fighting crime and appreciates the efficiency of fakey dishes.
Rating: Zero out of five vinegar-tasting, hard-light construct coffee cups
I bet Peter Parker helped out a lot as a kid after Uncle Ben died. He couldn’t leave his poor, fragile Aunt May to do everything alone. She’d probably keel over trying to scrub melted cheese off a fork.
Once he gets his own place, however, he’s too busy getting beat up and yelled at to do housework. Nine times out of ten, whenever Aunt May visits, he comes home to find her doing his dishes, and that gives him something extra to feel guilty about.
Rating: On average, two-point-five pairs of rubber gloves Peter keeps buying to encourage himself to do the dishes only to keep shoving them to the back of the closet and forgetting about them
We saw above that Connor Hawke knows how to do dishes. He’s a good dude. But what about his father, Oliver Queen?
Initially, I pegged Ollie as one of those loud-mouth “feminists” who brags about how woke he is in online chat rooms while leaving the actual housework to others because schooling internet trolls is clearly more important than putting his theories into practice or whatever. But Jess Plummer showed me the error of my ways: Ollie would do the dishes as flamboyantly as possible to show off what a great guy he is while loudly excoriating less enlightened men (yes, I mean you, HAL).
Surprisingly, this is not a ploy to get out of doing the dishes by reason of obnoxiousness, even if that is sometimes the result.
Rating: For Ollie, three out of five tacky T-shirts that say, “My girlfriend has the best boyfriend ever.” For Connor, five out of five less-tacky T-shirts that say, “cinnamon roll” (he does not understand the reference, but they were a gift from Kyle, whatcha gonna do).
Do you agree with these assessments, or do you have a different view? Want to dish some dish-related opinions about heroes I didn’t mention here? Talk to me on BlueSky!