Reframe Men’s Learned Helplessness.

We women often chuckle because men are so “incapable.”  I’ve been observing this for years.  There is no lack of capability; they’ve just learned they can delegate the stuff they dislike and women will pick it up for them.   All they have to do is act helpless.

We can change this because we have reinforced it.  I was watching a young man and a young woman the other day.  They were working on something and the man did not want to do the task asked of him.  So he acted like he didn’t understand.  The young woman sitting next to him immediately took over his computer and did it for him.  She had a smug look on her face and he did too.  He didn’t have to do the task he didn’t want to do. She felt superior like he was an idiot.

Another time, at someone’s house, an older man was asked to flip the bacon in the pan.  He didn’t want to.  So he said “I don’t know how.”  His wife took over and flipped the bacon.

A new mother watches as her husband changes the baby’s clothes.  He fumbles around and then picks an outfit that looks mismatched.  She sighs audibly and then pushes him out of the way, “here, let me do this.”

In each case, what are the lessons learned?  Men have learned that if they do something seemingly “wrong” or act like they are not capable, they won’t have to do an ordinary, seemingly “boring” task.  Women feel superior but in fact, have taught men that they will save them.  The result?  Women do more of the mundane tasks at work and home.

Since we have rewarded this behavior, we can change it.  The first case?  The young woman can simply shrug her shoulders and let the young man figure it out.  He will.  The second case?  Let the bacon burn.  Or teach him how.  The third?  Let it go.  Who cares if the clothes are mismatched?  He did it! And he’ll learn.

Three simple ways to turn learned helplessness into male empowerment and free us to think about bigger stuff.  You in?

©Jodi Detjen, 2013

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