My friends and I gathered for a group meal... an act of love rather than spontaneous labourFaye Harrison with Permission for Varsity

The idea of ‘weaponised incompetence’ has become a contemporary buzzword. It describes an individual intentionally performing a task poorly or refusing to complete it entirely, because they want someone else to see their incompetence and assume responsibility instead. I often observe that straight white men find domestic labour emasculating, and time and time again I observe their disgruntled female friends or girlfriends doing something on behalf of a man who is clearly able to do it himself.

This isn’t an issue specific to Cambridge, but this university in particular has a problem with encouraging these men to complete domestic tasks. Don’t want to cook? There’s a whole team of catering staff five minutes from your door! Think unclogging your shower is gross? The cleaners are available every weekday! In some colleges you don’t even have to make your own bed, and I can’t help but think these odd traditions are an inherited necessity from the days when women couldn’t study here. It was by chance over Christmas I met a Churchill alumnus whose cohort was one of first to allow women applicants. She told me how a tutor had told her "you’re not here for your own benefit". The implication was that she was expected to serve as both entertainment and home-maker for her male peers. How much has changed?

“Able-bodied men who complain that they ‘can’t cook’, I have found, have never had to”

One of my biggest pet peeves has become when a man tells me that they "can’t cook". You attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities and you can’t read a recipe? You can’t set a timer? You can’t, even poorly, use a knife? When I stand and watch over the simplest pasta sauce in existence come to a simmer, and the man sharing my kitchen who I have spoken to twice in my life sighs and says "I can’t cook," he really means "can you give me some?" I feel sorry for his mother, who most likely has made every meal for him, asking for nothing in return but receiving even less than that when her labour goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Able-bodied men who complain that they "can’t cook", I have found, have never had to. I observe my male friends making the same two microwave meals on repeat, eating in hall, and dipping into their overdraft for Ubereats because they have never had to learn how to cook at home. I’ve never eaten from hall unless it was free for me, and I’ve never cooked a microwave meal at uni. This isn’t because I’m a snob or because I’ve always had the mental energy to spend half an hour cooking something super nutritious (I make a five-minute fried egg sandwich three times a week at least), but because I have enough common sense to realise that cooking, even if it’s just chopping and frying, cutting stuff up and throwing it in the oven, isn’t actually that hard.

Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe it’s their mother’s fault for never telling them how to boil pasta? I’d almost want to accept an excuse like this if my observations of male incompetence didn’t extend to other elements of household labour. Despite a Henry Hoover sitting right outside his door, my friend divulged to me last year that he’d actually only cleaned once during Easter Term. Circuit Laundry, when the application actually works, is the simplest way to do laundry in human history. You throw a laundry pod in the machine and push a button. Yet, I know of a woman who did her male friend’s laundry for the whole of first year. This man does STEM, and he can’t push a button on a machine? I fear for his graduation prospects. Would the captain of his rugby team seeing him wash his own clothes be emasculating? I asked my (admittedly few) straight male friends this question and received answers all along the lines of "no, I just can’t be arsed to do my washing," and "I just wait and bring my washing back when I go home," - presumably for their mother to do it for them.

“Cambridge life seems to perpetuate the domestic incompetence of young men”

There are obviously exceptions to this rule. My friend Dev has cooked for me many more times than the other way around. I immediately feel the need to repay him: it’s such a nice gesture, so maybe I could hoover his room while I wait for the food to be done. I can’t imagine my male friends experiencing the same guilt when I cook for them. When there was college gossip about the untidy state of a girl’s room seen from her BeReal, I couldn’t remember a single time when her male flatmate’s biohazard of a living space was ever spoken about in a similar way.


Mountain View

Barbieland or Kendom? Girlhood in Cambridge

Cambridge life seems to perpetuate the domestic incompetence of young men, hampering their ability to manage their future home lives. The university experience highlights a discrepancy in the perceived value of male and female labour. Whether this is exacerbated by the legacy of gender discrimination or a class-based obliviousness to the need to do household chores, male students would benefit from an increased awareness of what it means to carry out (or avoid) domestic labour.