Growing up, whenever my parents announced they were having friends over for dinner, my heart would immediately sink.
It wasn’t just because I hated making small talk as an introvert, nor was it because I had to clean the house before our guests arrived.
The thing that made my heart sink was knowing I would be expected to play host for my parents.
Every time we had people over, the same scenario would play out: the women would gather in the kitchen and find ways to help, whilst the men sat around chatting before being called for dinner.
And each time, the women would make comments about the men being unhelpful, while the men would claim they hadn’t been told to help. Sound familiar?
It’s difficult to quantify exactly how or why this tends to happen. There are multiple factors, including living in a patriarchal society that enables male entitlement to service.
That’s not to say men are inherently selfish and uncaring for the females in their lives. But according to the Office of National Statistics, women overwhelmingly shoulder the brunt of unpaid work, which includes cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
Again, that’s not to say men aren’t capable or willing to help at all. But how often have the men in your life (or perhaps you have said this yourself as a male), claimed that they “didn’t know” they had to complete a particular household task, or that they hadn’t been told to do it.
This further leads to something that has been, in recent years, coined as “weaponised incompetence”: the deliberate act of performing a task badly so you are never asked to do it again, and therefore you aren’t responsible for this activity.
The problem is that housework and domestic labour are not the default responsibilities of women: these are tasks that should be shared amongst the people who live in the same home. It’s not inherently the woman’s role to delegate tasks, plan ahead, and check that tasks have been done correctly.
Whilst this is not exclusive to any gender, it’s clear from social anecdotes alone that women often fall victim to this type of life and end up taking on the mental load and physical labour in the household. On the flip side of the coin, much can be said when the other partner (often, a woman) enables this behaviour by not communicating clearly, setting unattainable standards or not setting firm enough boundaries.
The purpose of this article is not to point fingers and place the blame on either sexes. Instead, I hope to draw your attention to common tropes that can cause serious harm in relationships, whether those are familial or romantic.
To combat this, it has been suggested that you follow the below steps:
Talk to Them About It
Explain how their actions and behaviours are impacting you and your relationship with them; it’s possible they aren’t aware of the effects of their behaviour and need attention drawn to it.
Hear Them Out
Active listening is an important factor in any communication, as it can help you understand the reasons or causes behind their behaviour. Perhaps they are dealing with an issue you aren’t aware of, so engaging in their story can help everyone feel more connected.
Set Clear Boundaries
Healthy boundaries are something that can be incredibly difficult in a culture that doesn’t acknowledge them. You may experience some pushback, but it’s important to stay firm and refuse to let someone to think it’s okay to continuously cross the line.
Hold Each Other Accountable
In order to break away from a pattern of weaponised incompetence, it is important to continue holding people accountable for their actions so that nobody falls back into old habits.
Create Actionable Plans
Creating an action plan can help set guidelines for how to move forward with positive change.