Do any of these phrases sound familiar? “If I do that, I’m just going to mess it up,” “Babe, you’re so much better at it than me,” or maybe even “You’re never happy with the way I do it, so why don’t you do it?”
If so, then you might be a victim of weaponized incompetence (WI). This is a fancy buzzword for an age-old concept. Some call it pulling a Tom Sawyer. I prefer the term “lazy, childish nonsense.”
Unfortunately, WI is subtle and can be difficult to spot, especially if you’ve been putting up with it for a long time. While anyone can fall victim to WI, it’s alarmingly common in male-female partnerships. In fact, there’s a good chance you might be dealing with it right now.
What Is Weaponized Incompetence?
Jared Sandberg coined the term “weaponized incompetence” in 2007. This “ritualistic charade…isn’t about having a strategy that fails, but a failure that succeeds,” Sandberg wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Someone using WI might argue that they’d never be able to do a task correctly, so they simply won’t learn how. They’ll then try to convince you not to expect anything from them.
To be clear, WI isn’t the same as truly not knowing how to do a task. No one is born knowing how to do everything. “To learn something… can be difficult,” Sandberg explained. “But to refrain from learning something requires years of practice and refinement.”
Weaponized incompetence can arise in any environment: professional, familial, or personal. When Sandberg first mentioned the concept in the WSJ, there was a heavy workplace emphasis.
But as many overworked and unhappy women can attest, this tactic is all-too-common in romantic relationships.
Try Saying It With A Song
There’s a lot of grey area when it comes to weaponized incompetence. Every dynamic is different, so blanket terms can be troublesome. But Artimus Wolz managed to sum it up pretty well in song.
“Girlfriend gave me chores, but I don’t wanna do them,” he sang over a dance beat. “Gotta be a way I can get right through them. ‘Bout to try a brand new form of a gaslight. Gonna make her do ‘em, but first I gotta ask right.”
Then, he sang the hook that makes women everywhere shudder: “Listen, babe, if I do it, I’m-a mess it up.” During one line, Wolz held a dirty toilet scrubber to a drinking glass and asked, “is this the way that you wash a cup?”
Wolz’s song is satirical but painfully accurate. “You’re joking, but I legitimately worked with a man who washed the coffee urn with a toilet brush,” one user commented.
“When the Venn diagram between gaslighting, weaponized incompetence, and narcissism is a perfect circle,” added another user. And as the weaponized incompetence hashtag on TikTok indicates, there is a lot of deadweight out there. If you feel like getting depressed, angry–or a fun mix of both–just scroll through that WI thread for a while.
From Lazy Dads To Chronic Slobs
There are thousands of videos of women “joking” about their incapable husbands. But is the joke that funny?
Within that WI thread, women have shared glimpses of the messy kitchen their husband “forgot” to clean. They recounted trips to the store where their man called, frantic, demanding they return home to take care of the kids. Who, exactly, is laughing here?
Unsurprisingly, the “jokes” from the men are worse. Just take this video, for example, where the “joke” is that his wife won’t have sex with him despite his best efforts. Those efforts, by the way, are dishes and childcare.
Men are not incapable beings. They aren’t hardwired to be bad at cleaning. Nor do they have a genetic predisposition to laziness. So, why is WI so common?
Overvalue And Undervalue
TikTok user Laura Danger suggested it’s a societal issue. “Society has told us to value money and work,” she explained. “We function under capitalism. We also function under patriarchy.”
“A patriarchy overvalues masculine tasks and undervalues care tasks. Our society does not value the work that goes into managing a domestic situation,” she continued.
Women have come a long way from the 1950s. Relatively speaking, we have more agency and independence. Before the pandemic, we made up the majority of the workforce.
Yet, despite this newfound agency, women are still expected to handle domestic duties. WI simply capitalizes on those expectations.
What To Do If You’re Experiencing Weaponized Incompetence
WI is a manipulation tactic, plain and simple. Still, not everyone who uses WI realizes what they’re doing. So, it’s crucial that you be aware of how to identify and stop it.
“One way to stop a man doing this is to remind him women don’t have sexual feelings towards anyone they view as a child,” one user wrote under Wolz’s parody song.
In a follow-up video, Wolz danced below a screengrab of another comment. “My husband tried to pass off a chore to me because ‘you know I get water all over the floor though.’ I remembered your song, and I said, ‘so practice,’” the comment read.
Another potential solution? “Match his energy,” Danger said. “Do a s****y job back. If you thought, ‘if I matched his energy, the kids would suffer,’ your kids ARE suffering. Leave him.”
Granted, it might be worth talking about first. These familial roles are deeply ingrained in our society. Your man might not even realize what he’s doing.
But if you bring it to his attention and he refuses to stop, don’t forget that constant manipulation is emotional abuse. It’s not just about dirty dishes; it’s about being a good partner.
If he’s still unwilling to provide that bare minimum, then we suggest sticking with Laura Danger’s advice: leave him.