Men are congenitally incapable 

of doing household chores

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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02en_mas ... Masculinity


Men are congenitally incapable of doing household chores


Grace Bradberry finds that men
are congenitally incapable of doing household chores

Jason Cowley
(*allegedly* from) The Times of London
June 16 1998

Some press on alone...
Others pay
somebody else to do it

The notion that men are " congenitally incapable " of ironing, washing-up and removing the ring from the bath, is one that habitually arises when two or more women gather together and discuss cohabitation. Nobody, male or female, seriously believes it. There are men who cultivate an air of incompetence. Equally, there are women who accept the unequal division of domestic drudgery as though it were biologically determined. There is no reason, however, to suppose that the iron bends to the will of womankind any more than mankind. At least that’s what I’d always thought.

But the makers of a new Channel 4 series, Why Men Don’t Iron, think differently. Using scientific studies, they have examined why it is that men are, variously, distracted, competitive, incompetent, insensitive and generally hopeless, and concluded that it is a case of nature over nurture. A cast of experts is produced to support the thesis, and there are some horribly fascinating studies, in which adults and children play out their traditional roles to perfection.


In one alternately hysterical and depressing sequence young children are filmed playing, unsupervised, with Plasticine. At the end of the session, the little girls have produced complete sets of carefully cut out shapes. The little boys have created a terrible mess that the cleaners will have to deal with later.


The series also justifies that oft-heard male line " I can only do one thing at a time ". Take Kevin Beck, an engineer who chose to look after the children while his wife went out to do her higher-paid work. Eventually he was destroyed by the futility of it all: " You paint the walls, they put fingerprints on them, you vacuum, they drop something. I spent all day doing that. "

Are women less susceptible to this existential angst? We aren’t told. But Kevin’s inability to combine more than one pointless task is analysed in depth. " I have to do things one at a time, " he says. " When I start something I have to get it finished. I can’t multi-process, as Lisa calls it. "


The programme acknowledges that this may be down to social conditioning, but it also points to sex differences in neurochemistry as another factor. Michael O’Boyle, associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, suggests that " the female brain exhibits highly integrative state, being able to access a variety of different regions rapidly on both sides of the brain in a small amount of time and in a very efficient manner ".


Six men and six women are then put through a psychological test. Shut in a kitchen one after the other, they are each given ten minutes to fulfil a series of tasks that includes washing-up, making coffee, toast, scrambled eggs and ironing a shirt. The best contestant was a woman, the two worst were men. Overall, the women scored better than the men, with one male exception. Was it that the men were indeed congenitally incapable, or did they just lack practice? One of the lowest scorers said: " I wouldn’t normally rush around like that . . . I’d have planned everything better, or bought a takeaway. "


Isn’t that really at the heart of it? Men are conditioned from an early age to find someone else to do the job for them. In a contest of Who-Can-Leave-The-Kitchen-Bin-For-Longest, men will always win, unless their partners have bad sinuses. They will exist without loo roll, clean plates, even toothpaste if necessary, rather than walk to the nearest shop.

Those without women do leave the house for a domestic purpose. On Saturday mornings I spot them wandering down the road clutching enormous bundles of shirts, which they dump on the counter at the dry cleaner’s. To cut down on the " multi-tasking ", they do not trouble to put them in a bag.


One particularly male skill seems, in fact, to be this uncanny eye for " unnecessary " stages that can be eliminated - such as using a laundry basket. I once let a friend stay in the room of my male flatmate who was on holiday. Entering his room on a reconnaissance mission, I waded through 15 pairs of boxer shorts - stuffed behind radiators, sandwiched between newspapers and draped over dirty glasses. How could he live like this?


The series does not provide a definitive answer, but it does offer a part-by-part excuse for any man who feels the need to come up with one. Where the enterprise falls down, in my view, is in providing too much information. As Aldous Huxley wrote:


" Several excuses are always less convincing than one. "


And so it is that just as the anonymous narrator is letting men off the hook for their poor verbal skills, he dumps them in it on the ironing front. " Electrical activity in the male brain is concentrated mostly in the right half, " he tells us. " In the female brain, it is spread across both. " And this is why, on average " females perform better on verbal tests, and males do better on spatial-mechanical tests ".

Surely the latter skills are just what ironing demands? The logical conclusion would be that men should iron, while women talk. Oddly, the series doesn’t draw it.

  • Why Men Don’t Iron begins on Channel 4 on June 23 at 9pm.

Some press on alone...

  • IT IS as ridiculous to believe a man when he says he cannot iron as when he says he cannot cook. He is either lying and look ing to be mothered or else mal-coordinated beyond repair. Either way, he is not to be trusted.

Also worth avoiding is the ironing obsessive who lines up the spray, starch and steam-spraying, multi-function iron on his board and then handles each shirt as though it were the Turin Shroud. Such kinky behaviour, evident in readers of men’s health magazines, is the give-away sign of one who stops in the midst of sexual activity to fold his trousers over a chair. Bad news all round.


In between, however, lies a golden mean where, when the situation demands, a man can whizz an iron over a shirt and stride confidently out to meet his day’s engagements. There is nothing effete about it; it suggests a robust self-sufficiency and self-respect.

My own ironing days began when I started work after leaving university. Before that, at boarding school, my shirts disappeared magically on a Monday to reappear pressed and per fectly creased on a Thursday.


At university you could get away with chucking any laundry in a machine, drying it and sticking it back on again. Only the nice boys in the debating society and Conservative Association bothered with ironing.

Work, however, meant each morning had changed. Added to the schedule of showering and shaving came five minutes grinding away at a fly-away collar or tetchy cuff. It was boring but easy, much as changing a tyre or cooking breakfast is easy.


You can tell a man who leaves the task of ironing to others by the creases in his shirtsleeves, left by folding. He may receive his shirts neatly stacked, but the tell-tale sign of laziness will nonetheless show.

If the bombs should fall, how ever, I will be there, ruins all round me, but a pressed shirt on my back, a thin shield of pro tection against the domestical ly retarded and pitiable non- ironers.



Others pay somebody else to do it

  • FOR the past five years, I have been spending upwards of £30 a month on ironing. The ritual, even though I married three months ago, never changes. A woman arrives at my door, gathers a bundle of my shirts and trousers into a black plastic sack, weighs the bundle and then works out the cost on a pence-per-kilogram basis. The next day , driving a small red van, she returns my clothes on metal hangers, immaculately pressed and starched and wrapped in polythene.

Friends think that I’m mad to spend so much money on something as simple and easy as ironing. I disagree: I have never found ironing remotely simple.

It is stressful, tedious, demanding, difficult; in fact, I can’t think of anything on which I’d rather spend £30 - on which, that is, not on whom. From time to time, my wife offers to do my ironing; she says she finds it relaxing. Can this be true? Perhaps there is, after all, something in the claim that a biological determinism underpins men’s aversion to housework. I don’t believe this, and I don’t have an aversion to housework, just to ironing. I quite like cooking, although I seldom do any, as my wife never ceases to remind me (following recipes takes so much patience). Vacuum-cleaning is not really any trouble, and I appreciate the order that follows a big spring-clean.


It’s not that I’ve never tried to iron: I have. (My father used to spend hours showing me how you should always iron away from the points of a collar to avoid creases). No, it’s more that I simply cannot master the craft; and it is a craft

  • a well-ironed shirt is a thing of beauty.

If you disagree, just look around you, especially if you are in an office or reading this on a bus or train. The men who do their own ironing will be immediately apparent, their domestic inadequacy stamped on them like a branding mark. The points of their collars will be creased, their cuffs a mess and the sleeves crumpled.


As for me, I shall continue to await deliveries from that little red van.


(forwarded from the ABIGAILS list)


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