I Don’t Know How. You’re Better At It

Two sentences. Eight sneaky words.

I don’t know how. You’re better at it

This is how a lot of men get out of emotional labour. This is how I’ve let a lot of men get out of emotional labour.


I don’t know how to cook. I don’t see the mess. You’re good at this. You care more.


These are the ways we let traditional gender roles and patriarchal bullshit into our relationships.

Not because we necessarily believe it (though I do seem to care a lot more about mess. And I’m a way better cook…), but because, eventually, it gets easier. It is easier to do the thing than to spend all day arguing about the thing, feeling disrespected and vaguely devastated by how much work someone who cares about you is willing to put in in order to do less work than you.

I read this article today, A Single Dad Learns to Cook and felt my eyes in danger of falling out from rolling so hard several times:

I was wrong, of course; their mother loved them in a million different ways, but she could also cook — oh, how could she cook. Once in a while she’d consult a recipe, but mostly she was instinctually brilliant in a kitchen. I’d eaten so well for 10 years, the kids for five of those.

You know how you develop that instinctual brilliance? By putting food on the table three times a day for your entire adult life–and likely starting in your teens. By needing to feed yourself because you know no one else will. This is not a fundamental lady instinct borne of whatever magic makes girls (I’ve heard sugar and spice but am awaiting confirmation).

And baking? The woman could bake anything. On Sunday evenings, I’d drop the kids off, my heart full and void, imagining what it would be like to yet again kiss them goodbye, yet again let myself out, yet again drive away, alone … but before all this, I’d check the ceramic jar by the toaster oven in case she’d baked. When she had, the jar would be teeming with chocolate cakes and ginger snaps and other desserts too delicious to believe. I’d steal one, or more than one, filling my pockets with the only food I could swallow, and then I’d kiss them and head out, away from them, away.

Even mid-divorce she’s expected to nurture and nourish. Good god.

Cooking had always seemed like a horrible chore, to me, but then I was a guy, and we find most things that happen in houses (besides sex) to be almost unbearably chore-like. Vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathroom, paying bills, washing up, knowing the size of our kids’ shoes … chore, chore, chore. Cooking was the one chore, though, that one could most easily get out of, because if, like me, you were bad at it — or, probably bad at it — then who wants to eat ill-cooked food? Especially when one’s ex is Julia Child come back to life?

But this is what I’m really writing about. “Cooking had always seemed like a horrible chore, to me.”

See, he’s a guy, right. And guys find most things that happen in houses (say it with me, folks, we call that ish EMOTIONAL LABOUR) chore-like. We just have to accept that fact. All of those things that keep you fed and clean and nourished? Chore, chore, chore.

But then, he’s a guy.

See, as a guy, he finds these things dreadfully boring. As a guy. The implication being that women a) don’t find it boring (because they’re not guys!), and b) do it because they enjoy it. (The gender essentialism and binary thinking of this raise so many questions! If you’re neither a man nor a woman, can you cook? Is it a chore? If you’re a trans person did you magically lose or gain the cooking instinct? So many questions!)

Not only do women enjoy it, but we’re naturally good at it. Much better than him, a guy. So, really, we should just do all of it. Since, as he says, if you’re bad at cooking who wants to eat it? Isn’t that a nice little trick.

Be bad enough at something for long enough that someone else takes on the burden. Be bad enough at all the things that you find boring and beneath you that you can offload it onto someone else. Be bad enough at things and subconsciously (or consciously, who knows) view an entire gender as just far enough beneath you that they should do all the chores you hate with a smile on. Be bad enough at boring chores and convince yourself that someone else enjoys boring chores.

And then receive cookies and congratulations for writing about learning a basic life skill you deemed beneath you.


5 thoughts on “I Don’t Know How. You’re Better At It

  1. I wish I knew how to break this cycle. My fiancee and I split things pretty equitably, but — “you’re a better cook” “you care more about how clean things are” — these are sticky things. I do care more! I was raised to care more! I don’t want to eat chicken and rice every day, or live in a messy house. I want him to care as much as I care.

  2. I call bullshit on the “boring chores” line. You know what? I’m a woman, and I hate and resent having my time wasted with boring chores. My entire adolescence could be summed up as such:
    Stepmom: “Wash the dishes.”
    Me: incoherent muttering, begrudgingly does dishes.
    Stepmom: “Look, there are still specks of food in this pot! You have to actually clean it, not just run the sponge over it! Do it again.”
    Me: more incoherent rage muttering, begrudgingly washes the pot again.
    My stepmom would make us do things multiple times until they met her standards. It served to make me hate boring chores even more and now I tend to be the one in the relationship who cares less.
    However, some addendum a should be added to my example. First, did you notice how it was my stepmom and not my dad pushing for total cleanliness and showing me how to achieve that? Dad did cook, and wash dishes, but he didn’t do laundry, clean bathrooms, vacuum, dust, etc. He did do the more “masculine” chores like mowing the lawn, weeding, fixing the cars and anything which required going on the roof. But, he did not do the majority of the feminine chores.
    Second, I had a younger brother. Who did all the same chores as me, and was also made to do them to my stepmom’s standards. But there is one incident which really ground my gears.
    We had three bathrooms and three kids, so every week each of us would clean a bathroom. The master bathroom was the worst, because it was the biggest, and because we kids did not use it and therefore had contributed nothing to the mess. My brother rarely had to clean that bathroom, if ever, though my sister and I traded off doing that one. My sister is the twin of my brother, so there’s no age difference to explain the discrepancy between those two. I once heard my stepmom say my brother didn’t get assigned her bathroom because he didn’t do a good job. And I wanted to scream, because *I* didn’t do a good job, either, but when I half-assed it, she would make me come back and scrub the ring of dirt in the bathtub which I genuinely could not see and didn’t know what I was supposed to be scrubbing, three times until it finally came out. If she made me do that why didn’t she make my brother do it, too? Give me the easy bathroom sometimes!
    My point is, even when you try to divide things equitably, regardless of gender, boys still get a pass.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s