Justified or not, women can tend to find men frustratingly lazy/self-serving/myopic/unable to plan the kids’ birthday party. And they can tend to voice such frustration often.

Image via Sincerely Kinsey
Image via Sincerely Kinsey

I have a friend who shrugs her shoulders and says, regularly, “Look, women are just the more capable half of the race”.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable around this kind of talk. I truly don’t know what to make about where we – the two halves of the race – sit right now. We’re confused about roles. Women feel overworked and underpaid, lumped with too much responsibility. Men feel under-appreciated, misunderstood and emasculated.

But, I don’t reckon bitching about it is good. Moaning and bitching doesn’t feel like the evolved and constructive way to go about shifting things for the better. If anything it’s always seemed resigned and passive and unhelpful. And not kind.

I echo the thoughts of Irin Carmon in this op-ed on What Women Really Think of Men in The New York Times, responding to the “men are useless” cry:

“As a feminist, I disagree. It does women, and society, no favors to grouse about female superiority as a way to let men off the hook. When society writes off men as irredeemable, we all lose.”

There’s another (essentialist) argument to be made here. Anyone mindfully engaged in pondering contemporary gender relations (ie feminists) and who might think their critical thinking is reasonably advanced has a responsibility to carry the debate to higher territory.

Carmon writes, “Feminists’ critique of male power has long been caricatured as hatred of men. But it is feminists whose fight is motivated by the belief that men can be better.”

I agree. 

I watch some of my girlfriends roll their eyes, hmph righteously and go pick up their partners’ socks (or whatever) when they’re frustrated with the unequal division of labour and consciousness. I get it. And I’m not entirely sure – to be brutally honest – about what is the best way to navigate such a common impasse (only lightly represented by the example of the socks).

But I think we all need to try harder. All of us.

Carmon cites Obama who identifies as a feminist who recently said, “I can look back now and see that, while I helped out, it was usually on my schedule and on my terms. The burden disproportionately and unfairly fell on Michelle.” Carmon suggests men taking responsibility, even retrospectively, is what it’s going to take for us to believe another world is possible, one in which we don’t romanticise female superiority to let men off the hook.

I imagine I’ve opened a can of worms here. Feel free to vent below.

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Emma

    I love this conversation Sarah. I have read a few books, namely, The Queen’s Code by Alison Armstrong and there’s another book referenced in the Queen’s Code called The Female Brain which shows how biologically different we are – they literally don’t see the socks on the floor. I think every woman should read the Queen’s Code. It’s saved me a lot of rolling eyes, humphing and hurt and has given me a beautiful relationship not just with my partner but improved my relationships with all men and masculinity.

    • Emma

      Just to add, I think we do have to rise above ‘females being the better/more capable half of the species’ type of feminism. That is not getting us what we want as women.

  • TJ

    OMG. So good. I totally agree with this, it feels like you voiced a feeling I hadn’t articulated yet. It’s such a popular thing nowadays on TV, social media, and in real life to just totally mock men for being useless and clueless, it’s so wrong. Such a fan of your writing, thank you Sarah, always insightful! x

  • Samantha Jane Nugent

    It all comes down to feeling respected on both sides, whatever our roles, we have to be proud of what roles we take, instead of moaning about them ourselves and then the activities we do won’t be gender based so much, when they are given value. I hope that makes sense.

  • Not a can of worms at all (surely!); I’m not sure anyone could disagree with this logic… I can’t see any benefit to deciding that men are useless. I do think there is a deeper layer around how boys and men are taught to regard women that influences the kinds of roles men and women then tend to take on. I’m acutely aware of it as a mother to boys – I often talk to them about the ‘silly ideas’ that are perpetuated around gender (e.g. Pink is for girls), but I can already see them creeping in, in the things that others say: “you’re going to get beaten by a girl”, “boys don’t cry”, “rainbow mermaid Barbie dolls are a girls’ toy” (my 5 yr old saved his money up for one!). As part of expecting that men take more responsibility, is also the responsibility to learn to think critically about and question these sorts of social constructions and norms, including the ones which tell them what it means to be a man.

  • Odina

    Oh yes Sarah – the bitching is the worst, and so, so silly. Because of course, as with all things, it’s not “all men” and “all women”. And the fact of being a man or woman is not an excuse for any type of behaviour – you are an adult person in a relationship. If you’re unhappy with the way your partner behaves, it’s on you to raise that with them and sort it out, not passively roll your eyes and harrumph about them being useless by virtue of their gender (this goes both ways – I find it equally cringeworthy when men complain of their wives spending lots of money… like its an inherently female trait). you don’t like something? do something about it, or get over it.

  • Dianne

    Hi, I’ve never felt superior just because I’m a woman. I think there’s a balance like ying and yang, night and day etc. In my relationship with my husband there are things we’re both good at and things we’re both bad at. Luckily together we make a team and help each other through life. It’s all about finding the right partner who is always prepared to put the other first instead of looking for what can be taken from the other. Life can be wonderful when both people in a relationship care more for their partner’s happiness than their own. Giving, not taking, is the key.

  • O’Mafonzie

    I really like this and get it! As long as the genders relieve their hurt feelings by making themselves superior and as long as we focus on the negative instead of the positive in our differences we will have a battle of the sexes to wage. And what a waste of energy that is!

  • Petal Anne

    Couldn’t agree more… well put Sarah

  • Sally

    As another reader commented – being respected on both sides is key. As is not defaulting to one gender to question why something wasn’t done/should be done- my husband threw a hissy fit the other day because his shirts weren’t ironed, and defaulted to it being my fault. Yep.

    And why do people look to the mother when she is going to work and question who is looking after the children?!

    We are really our own worst enemies.

    You are right Sarah, it is up to us to change the approach.

  • Tamara Armstrong

    Great observations and yes there’s a lot of complaining about males spouses (and sons) happening in conversations I too have had with acquaintances, friends and family members. It irks me as well. I grew up with a mother that made it her prerogative to be the best wife and mother she could. She wanted for nothing more and in my eyes that looked like being a door mat to our family. If she ever needed help, she’d ask me before she asked my brother and when I would point out how unfair that was, he would laugh and say “No, she asked you first”. When my parents were married my dad was treated like a king and he was so ungrateful. Her nagging was white noise. He’s now re-married to a proud feminist who bows down to no man and she keeps him on his toes when it comes to domestic chores. I barely recognise him when I now see him in their kitchen after every meal, doing the dishes, packing away the food and wiping the benches. It’s insane to me because this never happened in my childhood. That’s just my step mother communicated to him that she expects from a partner – equal participation in domestic chores regardless of whether or not both parties work full time. Witnessing the roles my parents took on as a child gave me a clear idea of what I did not want for my future and I think that really helped me to see qualities in a potential life partner that would compliment my own desire for equality in the home. I communicated this to anyone I was interested in, and I protected and communicated my independence always. I still do. I’m very fortunate to now be married to a man that often exceeds the 50/50 of everything in our life together. We share the cooking, the cleaning, the parenting but he does all of the groceries, most of the food prep and the clothes washing. I have female friends that can’t believe how often they run into him at the supermarket. He gets our daughter ready for kindy, bed, outings, meals as much as I do. Some of his colleagues can’t believe it when he tells them I’m away for work on weeknights, because they’ve never left their child overnight with their own fathers. I complain far more than he does when I’ve had to cook three nights straight, in fact he rarely complains even if he’s exhausted. He grew up in a household where everyone took on the domestic chores, no matter whether or not they were female. It was just the expectation. He looks after us better than I feel I look after him and he’s as much of a wife to me as I am to him. People laugh when I say that, but I think we all have to share the ‘wife’ role, because traditionally it’s the nurturing, caring and selfless role. But it doesn’t belong solely to women. Men can be responsible and they are when they respect and recognise the needs of the people they love.

  • Anne

    This type of negative attitude is useless. There is a much brighter bigger picture beyond some socks on the floor or what that represents. Women can be myopic too. In any relationship we need to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each partner to move forward in a supportive way or move on. I am fortunate enough to like as well as love men.

  • Kaci

    It breaks my heart to hear such ill-will against men. I have a dear tender-hearted son. What is he to think and learn from the barrage of put dows against men? Please be kind for my son’s sake.

  • Lynn

    I honestly believe it’s not gender related but more about and individuals personality and role models as a child. If a woman has been role modelled to pick up socks, then she does…and effectively lets the bloke off the hook. If a bloke has had his socks picked up for him, then he leaves them there for his partner – if she choses to pick them up, then she has chosen to let him off the hook. Essentially it’s all about communication of relationship standards and actually asking for what you want (not assuming your partner should know!)

  • Katherine Collette

    What I dislike about this ‘OMG, he’s just hopeless!’ thing
    is that it seems to occur more in relation to men doing what are seen as traditionally‘female’ activities. It’s like, ‘He can’t change a nappy, LOL,’ or, ‘Look how he stacked this dishwasher!’, not ‘He’s terrible at working out the family’s long term financial plan,’ (or whatever). So we end up with women being better or quicker at picking up socks, which means they pick up all the socks, which means they don’t get time to do more interesting, stuff that requires actual thought.

  • Kate

    Every time I feel the urge to complain about “useless men” I think about the 2 little males I am raising and resolve to try and raise them to be less “useless” than my generation of men were raised …
    I honestly believe males and females simply have a different belief of what needs to be done every day. Of what is important. I guess on the whole it’s not a bad thing to not stress that socks are left in the middle of the bedroom floor (for example 😉 )

  • Louise

    My daughter once said to me that men can see far because their role was to be hunters, women see detail because their role was to gather. That thought opened my mind, had me perceiving the dropped socks in a different way. When I tried it on this different way of perceiving my husband and three sons I allowed them a voice and there were things they saw that were not present for me with my detail focussed brain. This discussion is long overdue, Sarah and I thank you for it.
    I recently heard a respected feminist on the radio saying that the way we say things in the gender discussion is critically important. She said we won’t have equality until we speak it that way. We speak of ‘working mothers’ and generate a picture of the juggling involved. But, she asked, until we speak of ‘working parents’ we exclude the amount of juggling that fathers often have to do and we shut them out from the picture and from the acknowledgement. Their efforts go unrecognised. Until we are inclusive in the way we speak there will be no equality for anyone.

  • Karen

    This was awesome. The comments were just as good, and not too mean spirited or hateful like most I see see on the Internet. It really helped me to see a different perspective. I have found myself begrudging ‘men’ in a general way too because, along with myself, women have been the brunt of much victimization, discrimination, exploitation and downright abuse from men, which is common in many cultures even today. I do think it makes us ‘ feel better’ to criticize them ‘as men’, as below us somehow. Women can be awfully demanding and selfish too, it took me a lifetime to see. And humanly speaking, we as women, may very well would have mistreated them if given half a chance. (Although, I have heard many men criticizing women too.)
    When you give birth to a beautiful son and he grows up to be a loving man, although imperfect, you have a different perspective.
    In my experience of most women has been that most of the ones I’ve known have been amazing wonderful nurturing creatures.
    I stay away from the others. Men too.
    I think it’s great to open a discussion like this to see different perspectives and swallow our pride and egos (on both sides) and expand our consciousness for a better world in the future and like one of the commenters said, “both people in the relationship give and take, and support each other”. The war has to stop somewhere, why not with the gatherers? The only thing we need to prove is that we CAN do better! Thank you everyone!

  • Mary-Jane Smyth

    Thank you for this post, I think it’s very helpful.

  • Claudia

    Yes but there are cases where the man is a compleat moron. Wanting to throw away a new iderdown dovet to purchase a man made one. Not taking clothes off when you work out so you sweat and then not washing. Washing before you go out on your bike and get sweaty not after. Having medical problems and picking only the aspects he wants to stick to and avoiding the rest eg not eating sugar but still eating carbs. Replacing good quality wool carpets with cheap man made crap. Buying the children cheep beds that the spring pock out while he has a expensive comfortable matress. Watching war and cowboy films over christmas with the family. Oh I could go on trust me ! Some men sadly are selfish morons others are just missunderstood.

  • Karen

    It’s a conundrum Claudia, but we’re not talking so much about the stark differences between moron and misunderstood as expecting men to be as adept at things such as planning a birthday party, (which I’m terrible at b/c I don’t enjoy it, nor like the pressure), as we are, as one example. Commenters sited men don’t even see the socks! ( not exactly sure about that? ), and what roles were customary in homes we grew up in, etc…many men really ‘can be’ excruciatingly frustrating at times, I experience it all the time, but that is more about just living with someone, anyone, male or female too. Like Samantha said, “it all comes down to be respected on both sides” and like Dianne said in her comment “when both partners care more for their partners happiness than their own. Giving, not taking is the key” and the whole conundudrum is with Sally’s comment, ” and why do people look to the mother when she is going to work, and ask who is looking after the children!?” The fact is, we women do have different brains than men. We can multi-task and they are susceptible to only being able to do one thing at a time. Wherein, the point comes full-circle. We, as women need to evolve from our superiority stance too, and be aware of our own inadequacies, not just theirs, and maybe one day, we will co-exist in a harmonious flow. Great discussion!

  • Wendy Smith

    I believe no-one is perfect. And that there is something great about every single one of us. We just need to spend more time focussing on each person’s greatness. We do have a choice.

  • Anonymous age 72

    Camille Paglia who admits to being a feminist, said if it weren’t for men, women would be living in caves, wearing rabbit skins. Sounds right to me, but I am not 100% sure about the rabbit skins.

    Anyone who says men are useless is as disturbed as anyone who says women are useless.

  • MitchGiz Wilkinson

    Women stay home and raise children, nurture for school and take care of family members when I’ll. But men build houses roads, planes, ships, trains, space crafts, computers, televisions, tablets phones, video game systems, sport entertainment, fresh water systems and there are also token men who take care of people and nurture. But primarily women are for child birth.