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Sunday, June 11, 2023
By Namita Bhandare

Good morning! I recently stumbled upon a new term, ‘weaponised incompetence’, which is basically the (mostly male) art of doing a simple household chore so badly that nobody will ever ask you to do it again. That and the gender news of the week. Read on...


The Big Story

How India’s raja betas are using weaponised incompetence to wriggle out of housework

I am on the phone with the wife of one of my oldest friends, let’s call her ‘A’. It’s April 2020, I remember this because we’re marooned in our homes (and we’re the lucky ones who aren’t trudging back home on foot) just days into the nationwide lockdown that began on March 24. ‘A’ tells me she’s doing it all, the cooking, the cleaning, the washing—while working from home. I get on the phone with her husband my pal and yell at him. Surely he can make the bed and wash his clothes (and his wife’s too)?

You Should Have Asked by Emma (Source: The Guardian)

And then A tells me with a resigned sigh: “He will do it so badly, that I will just have to do it all over again.”

I didn’t know it then, but there’s a term for this. It’s called weaponised incompetence. Basically, it’s a partner (mostly a man) claiming that he would love to help out with housework but lacks the skill to run a washing machine, or rinse a few dishes in the sink or even cook a simple meal. In other words, weaponizing an incompetence that follows the script: “If I do a simple job so badly, nobody will ever ask me to do it again.”

Whose job is it anyway?

It's no secret that all over the world, women bear a disproportionate load of the housework that includes cooking, cleaning, chopping, caring for the elderly and the sick and so on. The first consequence of this imbalance is on women’s workforce participation. A 2018 International Labour Organisation report found that in 90 countries the #1 reason why women were not in paid jobs was because they were so busy with the unpaid labour of running their homes. If you want exact numbers then 606 million women (and 41 million men) around the world cited housework as the reason for not being employed.

[For a more scholarly discussion on the impact of unpaid care work on economic development please read this paper by economist Mitali Nikore and others here.]

The impact of weaponised incompetence can also be seen on marriages, writes feminist writer Mahima Vashisht on her Substack, Womaning in India. But for the presence of domestic helpers, women (and subsequently marriages) would simple collapse under the load.

Examples of weaponised incompetence include men who can’t figure out how to operate a vacuum cleaner, or what kind of milk to pick up at the store.

This can, and does, get so frustrating that very often women will just throw up their hands and say: “Forget it. I’ll just do it myself.”

[If you haven’t yet signed up for Mahima Vashisht’s Womaning in India on Substack you can do it here.]

You should have asked

If you haven’t yet seen this 2017 comic by French illustrator and feminist Emma that so brilliantly captures the idea of mental load, please do so here.

Housework is not just a physical act of labour. Beyond the cooking of a meal is the mental labour of planning it: Are the ingredients available? Have you remembered to restock? If you have guests over, have you catered to specific dietary requirements? What about the left-overs, freeze or give away? If give away then to whom?

“A lot of women feel that they are bearing the emotional load when it comes to planning,” says psychologist and author Sonali Gupta.

“I have 250 tabs open in my mind at all times, most of them are to-do lists for the house and family,” says Vashisht who adds that even though she’s married to a man who identifies as a feminist, “our life is not untouched by gender roles’. “After our child came into our lives, I found myself shouldering a lot more of the domestic and caregiving responsibilities,” she says.

The Raja Betas

Vashisht echoes what my friend Samar Halarnkar, journalist and author, The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking calls the Raja Beta syndrome.

Put simply it’s how Indian boys are cosseted, fussed over and spoilt by moms, grand-moms, elder sisters, sisters-in-law all of whom believe without any irony that said Raja Beta has been born to save the world and so must be spared the humdrum business of putting his plate in the sink after eating the meal so lovingly cooked for him.

“Boys are pampered and put on a pedestal, and for this their mothers are to blame,” says Halarnkar. “They believe that any housework by them is a great favour or achievement.”

When men help out with simple tasks—clearing the table after a meal, for instance—they can expect to be teased about “helping out in ‘womanly’ tasks,” writes Vashisht. And women who accept this help are also shamed for “letting my man indulge in such trivial pursuits. After all, it should be clear to all of us that men were put on the planet to do bigger things than clearing the table.”

While working on a year-long series on women and workforce participation I often asked the women I interviewed about whether their husbands chipped in with housework. Yes, all of them insisted. When I asked for specifics the answers varied from ‘plays with child while I cook’ to ‘fetches water from the handpump’ and ‘buys vegetables on his way home’. These were women who toiled at home, cooking twice a day, because how could Raja Beta eat ‘stale’ leftovers from lunch?

But of course there’s a flip side. Sonali Gupta who counsels couples says the complaint can work both ways with men shouldering the lion’s share of banking, managing finance and administrative work. “Ultimately, relationships are complex and you have to see the context in which statements are made. I often get couples where both say they would like the other to share more responsibility.”

Weigh in: What will it take for men to bear a greater share of housework and why does it matter? Write to me at:

In numbers

Six out of 10 households used LPG as their primary source for cooking in 2021-22. But in rural areas only half, or 49.4% use it, with over a third of households in India still relying on firewood as their primary source for cooking.

Source: Dhruvika Dhamija in Ashoka University’s CEDA

The big update

Sports persons of Bengal in a protest rally over alleged police attack against India's top wrestlers (Photo: Samir Jana/Hindustan Times)

Here’s everything you need to know (and also what you wish you didn’t) about the world’s largest ongoing protest by athletes against sexual harassment.

  1. On Monday, the father of a minor wrestler recorded a fresh statement before a magistrate saying Wrestling Federation of India head Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh “had not sexually harassed my daughter but his approach was biased against her.” India has extremely strict laws against the sexual assault of minors and the clarification is likely to impact the weight of the charges against Brij Bhushan. The father conceded that he had been receiving threats on the phone, but did not clarify from whom.

  2. On Wednesday, Union minister of sport Anurag Thakur finally held a six-hour meeting with the wrestlers, including Olympians Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik who have been demanding action since January.

  3. Following the meeting, the wrestlers agreed to postpone their agitation until June 15, which is the deadline for filing of a charge-sheet against Brij Bhushan.

  4. On Friday, Delhi police told the court that there is no evidence that the wrestlers made any hate speech and charges against them on this ground should be dismissed.

  5. Also on Friday, Delhi police took one of the wrestlers to Brij Bhushan’s house to ‘recreate’ the crime scene. Well done, sleuths.

  6. Meanwhile, Brij Bhushan has announced plans to hold a grand rally at Gonda, UP to mark nine years of the Narendra Modi government.

Elections for a new head to the Wrestling Federation of India after Brij Bhushan’s tenure ended in March could be fraught. During his 12 years at the helm, Brij Bhushan had packed the body with family members. One of the assurances by Anurag Thakur to the wrestlers is that Brij Bhushan’s proxies will not succeed him.

Rest in power

The death of Gitanjali Aiyar, a former newsreader with Doordarshan, at the age of 71 on Wednesday signalled to me an end of an era. In these days of shouting matches and haranguing anchors, not to mention openly partisan journalists, it would seem ironic to be nostalgic about an age of sarkari-approved news where news readers could not deviate from the script. News of Indira Gandhi’s assassination was, famously, broken by BBC well before Doordarshan confirmed it.

And yet, that era marked a softly enunciated refinement that people like Aiyar brought to the job. Despite the blandness of their script, they remain to a generation of Indians instantly recognised names, a part of our nightly dinners, their faces still embedded in our collective memory. Aiyar along with Minu of the one name and brilliant smile, the late Tejeshwar Singh of the impossibly deep baritone and Rini Simon, now Khanna, who spoke with the sort of authority that brooked no nonsense made impressions and had a following that not one anchor in today’s raucous “news TV” can claim.

Seen and heard

“Ask your mother or great grandmother…by 17 years, they would have already had their first child…you haven’t read it, but do read Manusmriti.”

Justice Samir Dave of the Gujarat high court has some words of wisdom about the good old days when girls got married at 14 or 15 and were mothers by 17. He was responding to a 16-year-old rape survivor who was seeking permission from the court to terminate her pregnancy at 7 months of gestation.

The long(ish) read

Françoise Gilot in an interview (Source: AP)

Of all of Picasso’s many mistresses, Francoise Gilot who died on Tuesday at the age of 101 was the only one who famously walked out on him.

She was an accomplished artist in her own right. But when she left Picasso with their two children after a decade together, the older artist scoffed: “You imagine people will be interested in you?” The inference was that without the Great Man, “They won’t ever, really, just for yourself. Even if you think people like you, it will only be a kind of curiosity they will have about a person whose life touched mine so intimately.”

Free from Picasso’s shadow, Gilot thrived, painting every day well into her nineties, publishing two books including, Life with Picasso and a marriage with Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine.

The New York Times pays tribute here.

Can’t make this s*** up

Two truly weird stories from the alternate world of faking news.

First, came the bizarre announcement that Sweden had officially declared sex as a sport and was kicking off its maiden sex tournament on June 8.

The facts: Dragan Bratic, founder of the Swedish Sex Federation, had applied to be a part of the Swedish Sports Confederation in January this year. That application was rejected and sex, thankfully, remains out of the realm of competitive sport.

The second concerned a reported data breach at Zivame, an e-commerce store, that caused no small amount of consternation given that Zivame sells women’s lingerie. The personal details of 1.5 million users were reported to be up for sale. But on social media, Sanjay Soni who uses the handle @Cyber_Huntss, and said to be a popular Hindutva influencer, made the startling claim that only Hindu women’s data was up for sale.

False, as it turns out. Rajasthan police have arrested Soni on charges of leaking women’s private data, extortion and hatching a communal conspiracy.

News you may have missed

Indian men, please stop killing us

Representational Image

Yes, not at all men. But when one in three women report being subjected to domestic violence, then it follows that one in three men commit that violence.

Last week the scale of that violence was off the charts with the latest in the series of murderous men from India’s financial capital, Mumbai. The gory details of how 56-year-old Manoj Sane killed and disposed of the body of his live-in partner, 32-year-old Saraswati Vaidya are here, should you choose to read them.

Then, in Hyderabad, Sai Krishna, a married priest from the Bangaru Maisamma temple killed his girlfriend and dumped her body in a manhole reportedly because she wanted to legalise their relationship. His mother has said she should not have pestered him.

Sadly, every time a new horror story emerges, instead of introspecting on the real issue, i.e. intimate partner violence, we are distracted by extraneous noise either about love jihad (if the man happens to be Muslim and the woman Hindu) or a morality tale of the dangers of live-in relationships.

There is only one question to ask: How do we stop this epidemic of violence?

Body of art

In the video posted on social media, two children, a girl and a boy, are painting on their mother’s upper torso–erm, naked upper torso. The video so offended some people that the police in Ernakulam registered a case against the mom under POCSO (protection of children from sexual offences) in 2020.

The 33-year-old mum explained that the video was made to challenge patriarchal notions and to send a message against the over-sexualisation of the female body. Justice Dr Kauser Edappagath of the Kerala high court agreed. Nothing wrong in a mother allowing her body to be used as a canvas by her own children in order, says LiveLaw, to “sensitise them to the concept of viewing nude bodies as normal”.

“The male body is displayed in the form of six-pack abs, biceps etc. We often find men walking around without wearing shirts. But these acts are never considered obscene or indecent,” the judge said about double standards.


A report by Stanford University and the Wall Street Journal, has found that Instagram is the main platform used by pedophile networks to promote and sell content showing child sexual abuse. A simple search for sexually explicit keywords referencing children leads to accounts that use these terms to advertise content that shows the sexual abuse of minors.

Representational Image

A Financial Times expose into sexual assault charges made by 13 women against Crispin Odey, one of the biggest figures in UK finance is causing ripples. The Financial Conduct Authorities has ordered an investigation. Morgan Stanley has cut ties with his hedge fund and Goldman Sachs also stated it is “reviewing” its relationship with the firm. Gift link to the story here.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appointed the first woman to head the country’s central bank. Hafize Gaye Erkan is a former US banker who has held senior roles at Goldman Sachs. She will, reports Al Jazeera, “play a key role in efforts to boost the country’s crisis-hit economy”.

...And the good news. On the morning of May 1, a Cessna 206 took off from the town of San Jose de Guaviare for Araracuara in the Amazonas province of Colombia. On board were four siblings ranging in age from 11 months to 13 years. The plane never made it.

It took two weeks to find its wreckage in the inhospitable terrain known for predatory animals. Alongside the wreckage were three adult bodies, including the childrens’ 33-year-old mother. But no sign of the kids.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, 40 days after that ill-fated take-off, the children were found. Dehydrated, malnourished, but, miraculously, alive. No one knows how they survived, but perhaps the knowledge the indigenous kids gained from their community, including their grandmother, held the key.

Read more in The Guardian here.


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That’s it for this week. Do you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you’d like to share? Write to me at:
Produced by Nirmalya Dutta

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