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Getting down with dirty

Ha ha ha. Men and women are different. Men are messy and women are neat. It’s such a tired joke, yet it keeps filling theatre seats. From Punch and Judy to Defending the Caveman, to a new Cape Town production, Train Your Man.

Surely there are other things to find funny? It’s 2005, for God’s sake. Perhaps there are more important gender issues than who does the washing up and whether he puts the toilet seat down.

Of course there are. Until, sleepily stumbling to the toilet in the middle of the night, you stand in a mysterious wet puddle in the dark. At that moment, your outrage at the plight of oppressed women in Nigeria pales by comparison to your fury at the man who probably put it there. You want to rub his nose in it. You want to call up his mother and scream down the telephone ”Take him back! If I wanted a puppy I’d have gone to the SPCA, not to a bar!”

I guess that’s when you know the relationship is getting serious — when you would happily murder the other person for a small offense, rather than face the prospect of living with a repeat offender for the rest of your life.

Perhaps he’s a multiple repeat offender. Some of the better publicised lesser crimes against womanhood might include these: leaving wet towels on the bed; not washing bath after scraping dead skin from body; not washing basin after shaving; not cleaning toilet properly after use; scattering dirty plates all over the house; eating crumbly food in bed; not picking up used condoms; and failing to buy flowers. One woman’s hilarious sexist joke is another’s petty torture.

So on and on in a never-ending cycle of predictable humour we go. And because no amount of cabaret has solved the mystery, the toilet-seat debate still rages. Why don’t men put it down? Why are they so callous and cruel?

Just when I thought the age-old question would never be answered, my favourite, sensitive, new-age colleague (whose frequent reward for his many virtues is our merciless derision) finally put it to rest. ”We touch the toilet seat all the time. To lift it up.” According to him, men don’t comprehend how unusually icky it is to put it down. ”What’s the big deal?” They think. ”Just put it down if you want it down.” They don’t witness us improvising a glove of toilet paper before gingerly handling it, then washing our hands.

Apparently, someone designed a talking seat. To which the obvious rejoinder is: If it talks, will men listen? Boom boom ching! Group groan time. See? In a few minutes, I went from being a feminist to cracking outright sexist knee-jerk jokes.

This is doubly silly because the truth is, it’s not men or women who have bad habits: ”Here’s your penis, sir. And complimentary list of ways to use it to piss women off, literally or otherwise.” The truth, which is even less funny, is that we’re all a bit of a mess — we just don’t realise it because we don’t mind our own dirt.

Sometimes we even believe our slovenly habits to be charming. I’ve frequently imagined my lover gazing in wonder at my discarded panties, growing dewy eyed at the mere site of my dust bunnies gathering under the bed, sentimentally marveling at the strands of hair I left behind in the plughole, and smiling warmly to see my toiletries intermingled with his.

This fantasy ended the other day when he said, while tidying up in the bathroom: ”… it’s just the hair. Everywhere. You know?”

In a fever of freshly inspired paranoia, I conducted exhaustive qualitative research (I mostly made it up) into the freshly fascinating gender issue: Are women human too? My findings pinpointed several flaws in our behaviour. Topping the list: leaving tampon wrappings on the bathroom floor.

Strands of hair were unpopular in the plughole, in dusty balls under the bed, in the bath … everywhere except your head. Unplugging stereo equipment to use the hairdryer and not plugging it back in makes men mad. Varnishing nails in the lounge — because of the smell — got one mention.

Then, of course, there’s the toilet seat again. We always forget to lift it after we use the loo.

Yes girls, it’s official — being revolting isn’t ”a guy thing”. It’s human to be irritating and inconsiderate, and sometimes even smelly. So why do these Mars and Venus plays still pull the crowds?

Perhaps because it a lot easier go sit in a theatre with your partner and laugh, while desperately hoping they’re taking notes, than it is to turn round after a year of biting your tongue and say: ”Baby, if you do that one more time …”

Train Your Man runs at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town until June 18

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