Weaponized Incompetence: What is it and How Do We Deal With It?

A man feeling overwhelmed and hesitant to tackle household chores.

In the world of work and domestic chores, a term has been gaining popularity - “weaponized incompetence” But what exactly does it mean, and why is it crucial to understand and identify this phenomenon? Let's break it down.


What is Weaponized Incompetence?

Weaponized incompetence, also known as strategic incompetence, refers to a purposeful and manipulative tactic where someone pretends to be incompetent at a task to avoid responsibility. By playing the 'helpless' card, they dodge their obligations, leaving others, often women, to pick up the slack.

This phenomenon can take place both in a professional environment or at home. In the workplace, a colleague might say they're 'just not good' at using the new software, leaving you to finish the project on your own. At home, your partner might claim they 'just can't figure out' how to do the laundry, leaving you with another task on top of your already full plate.

In Latine culture, a historical prevalence of machismo and marianismo can feed into this tactic. Machismo, characterized by an emphasis on masculine pride and the domination of men over women, often results in traditional gender roles being strictly maintained. Under this societal expectation, men might feign helplessness or incompetence in domestic tasks, thereby perpetuating weaponized incompetence. By doing so, they reinforce harmful stereotypes and unequal distribution of responsibilities, leaving women to shoulder most, if not all, of the domestic burden.

Weaponized incompetence not only burdens the person left to do the job but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes that some tasks are inherently 'too difficult' for certain individuals, often based on their gender, ethnicity, or age.

How to Spot Weaponized Incompetence

It's important to differentiate between weaponized incompetence and a genuine lack of skill or understanding. The former is a manipulative behavior, while the latter can be addressed with training and patience. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Pattern of Avoidance: The person consistently avoids certain tasks or responsibilities, claiming they're 'just not good' at them.
  • Lack of Improvement: Despite guidance or training, the person doesn't show any progress or improvement.
  • Selective Incompetence: The individual can perform complex tasks but suddenly becomes 'incompetent' when it comes to specific duties or chores.
  • Excuse Making: The person often gives vague, non-specific excuses for not doing a task, or they over-dramatize the complexity of the task.

In the domestic sphere, a classic example is a partner who claims they don't know how to cook or clean properly, leaving these duties primarily to their partner. This is particularly prevalent in households that follow “traditional” gender roles, where domestic chores are stereotypically assigned to women.

In the professional realm, an example could be a colleague who perpetually evades a portion of their duties by claiming a lack of technical skill or understanding, leaving you or others to carry their workload.

How Can you Stop Weaponized Incompetence?

Overcoming weaponized incompetence involves addressing it head-on, setting boundaries, and promoting a culture of shared responsibility.

  • Communicate: Open a conversation about the issue, expressing your concerns without attacking the person. They may not even realize they've been utilizing this tactic.
  • Train and Support: Offer to train them in the tasks they claim to be incapable of doing. If they genuinely lack skills, they will improve over time.
  • Set Expectations: Make it clear that everyone is responsible for certain tasks. If it's a colleague, discuss the issue with your supervisor. If it's a partner, talk about shared duties and equal contribution to household tasks.
  • Set Boundaries: Be firm in not taking over the tasks they are avoiding. It may lead to short-term discomfort, but it could bring long-term change.

Weaponized incompetence is a manipulative tactic that not only adds to the burden of those who pick up the slack but also reinforces harmful stereotypes and is part of a larger conversation about gender equality, shared responsibility, and dismantling harmful stereotypes.

a Latina woman skillfully juggling the demands of family and work life.

Despite Latinas in the U.S. leading the charge as the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in 2023 and despite the rise of Bachelor’s Degree attainment among them, Latinas continue to feel the pressure of gender role expectations often imposed within Latino culture. A recent Pew Research Center study has shed light on just how much pressure Latinas in America are under.

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