How Men's 'Weaponized Incompetence' Is Screwing Over Women
No, he really doesn't need help doing the dishes
In the earliest kind of human societies - the hunter-gatherer societies - men hunted, and women gathered. And then women waited at home for men to bring the meat. At least, that's what we were taught at school.
This 'Man the Hunter' theory was developed by early 20th-century anthropologists armed with their imaginations and a handful of fossils. They also claimed that hunting - done by men - was the prime driver of human evolution, giving rise to the nuclear family.
Well, it turns out that's just a myth. Born of many bold assumptions, not careful empirical research.
Modern anthropological studies show that most hunter-gatherer societies were egalitarian. And latest archaeological evidence reveals that many ancient big-game hunters were, in fact, women.
So, no - women were not bound by biology to gather, nor men to hunt. Both men and women contributed equally to the food. There were no strictly defined gender roles. And the division of labor had little to do with the myth of 'Man the Hunter' and more with a variety of ecological factors.
Fast forward many millennia and centuries of patriarchal oppression later, and we still have many people willing to die on the hill of traditional gender roles. Because that's what 'God and nature intended.' Right.
Even if these gender roles were driven by our biology - which most likely isn't the case - times have changed a lot since women had virtually no rights and no other choice than to stay home, didn't they? In most heterosexual couples, both men and women work, often full-time. Yet, it's still women who carry the bulk of childcare and domestic work because they're 'just better at it.'
Are they, though? Or is that yet another myth used to further women's oppression?
'It's just easier to do it myself'
Household duties that follow a paid workday, typically completed by women, are what sociologists refer to as the 'second shift.' Sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined this term in her book of the same name published in 1989.
Even though Hochschild's book was written decades ago, the 'second shift' is still very much a problem for many working women and mothers today.
The burden of providing childcare, cleaning, cooking, and making sure everyone is happy and healthy falls primarily on women's shoulders. On average, women are doing almost 40% more than men when it comes to domestic work. And although our partners or husbands might try to 'help,' many of us have probably experienced the frustration of delegating a task only to end up watching them do it wrong, half-assed, or forget about it entirely.
It then becomes 'just easier to do it myself.'
But in the long term, that's hardly the best solution. We risk getting overwhelmed and exhausted by the amount of domestic responsibility that falls on us. We become increasingly frustrated we're not getting enough help. And ultimately, that exhaustion and frustration might take a toll on our relationship.
That's why we shouldn't fall for what gender experts refer to as the 'weaponized incompetence' trap. It's a tactic used by men in heterosexual relationships - sometimes consciously, sometimes not - to avoid equitable division of family work. Essentially, when they don't want to do something, they'll do it shitty, so no one asks them to do it again. And women will have no other choice than to do it themselves instead.
'Weaponised incompetence' can look like a man ruining the laundry, leaving grease on the dishes, or ignoring the children. It can sound like a man who says, 'I'm just not very good at cooking,' or 'I was never taught how to fold clothes.'
But it is not a matter of actual incompetence - just lack of know-how.
No one is born knowing how to scrub a pot effectively
This might come as a surprise to some, but women aren't born knowing how to scrub a pot in the most effective way possible. Or how to make a perfect sandwich. Or remove a stubborn stain out of a shirt. We don't go to special Sunday schools that teach us how to excel at domestic chores.
The first time I did laundry after moving out of my parent's house was a total disaster. I mixed whites with colored clothes and ended up having all my white t-shirts turn bright pink. The first time I tried cooking chicken, I used so so many spices it was inedible. And don't even get me started on the first time I tried cleaning an oven and almost poisoned myself.
At the beginning of my young adult journey, I sucked at nearly all domestic tasks. I had to Google everything.
Yet, our society still views women as 'naturally' gifted at domestic labor and care work. We are not. And we are certainly not suited for the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion of taking on all of it.
Men might have fewer skills in that area simply because they're not widely accustomed to doing them, just like my younger, clueless self that became independent for the first time.
But no matter how hellbent some conservatives are on defending traditional gender roles and claiming that domestic work is 'women's area of expertise,' there is little to no truth in this.
As Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist, wrote in his book 'How the Mind Works':
Even evolutionary explanations of the traditional division of labor by sex do not imply that it is unchangeable, 'natural' in the sense of good, or something that should be forced on individual women or men who don't want it.
And I, for one, I'm a firm believer that men are capable creatures. In fact, I think they're so skilled that a challenging task like unloading a dishwasher or scrubbing a toilet should be easy peasy lemon squeezy for them.
Equality takes work
Me and my partner both work full-time from home, so we try to share our household duties as equally as possible. If I cook, he cleans the kitchen afterward. If I order groceries, he does the laundry. And so on.
Of course, each of us has preferences when it comes to various tasks. I learned a lot about cooking since my overspiced chicken incident, and now I'm not only much better at it, I genuinely enjoy it. My partner, on the other hand, likes doing laundry. Yes, I also find that a bit weird. But to each their own.
We frequently talk about things that need to be done around the house and divide the tasks based on our preferences and availability. If one of us feels we're doing the lion's share of domestic work, we talk about it openly. It's not rocket science. It's just honest communication.
But it wasn't always like this.
At the beginning of our relationship - as well as in my previous relationships - I felt I needed to do more. And not ask my partner for help, even when I was getting overwhelmed. I was essentially 'gatekeeping' household responsibilities.
And that's because women are socialized - from the time we're little girls - to be domesticated, helpful, and always cater to other people's needs first. To be caretakers. To be emotional support systems. To be endlessly accommodating. Even at our own expense. And men are still socialized to look at women as second-class citizens who are supposed to stay at home.
Just like in the good, old hunter-gatherer days, right? Oh wait, even back then, that wasn't the case.
I admit, sometimes it's tough to see clearly through all the patriarchal social conditioning bullshit. But it's not impossible. And the gender gap at home isn't only women's problem to fix. It's men's too. But for work to be shared at home, men need to believe equality matters. And women need to recognize they deserve it.
Otherwise, nothing can ever change. Equality takes work. And the willingness to change.
We need a cultural shift around gender roles
However, for the gender gap at home to be truly closed, we also need a cultural shift around gender roles.
We need to get rid of the assumption that cooking, cleaning, childcare, and other domestic duties are intrinsically 'feminine' or that men who carry them out are 'emasculated.' That's just a pile of patriarchal crap. These are basic life skills that everyone can develop and master.
We need to stop saying that men 'help' around the house or 'babysit' their kids. It's their house. And their kids. Unless one partner brings home enough income for the whole household and the other agrees to stay home - both of them are equally responsible for taking care of what belongs to them.
We need to stop telling women that they need to 'lower their standards' or 'stop doing unnecessary things.' This attitude is not only infuriating but potentially dangerous. There are several areas of domestic work where lowering standards is non-negotiable - for instance, childcare.
If this cultural shift doesn't happen, women will continue being screwed over by men who fake incompetence at household duties or blame their poor performance on women's unreasonable standards. And that places the disproportionate burden of family work on their shoulders. The so-called 'second shift.'
And let's not forget there's still the matter of the emotional labor women carry - from keeping track of the next dentist's appointment to noting when the family needs to restock on toilet paper. That essential but invisible work is going to be much harder to shift on to men.
But it's not impossible if both men are women are committed to full equality.
This story was originally published on Medium.
About the Creator
Sometimes serious, sometimes funny, always stirring the pot. Social sciences nerd based in London. Check out my other social media: www.linktr.ee/katiejgln
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