What Is ‘Weaponized Incompetence’ And How To Spot It

Are these phrases familiar to you? “If I do that, I’m just going to mess it up,” “Babe, you’re so much better at it than me,” or maybe even “You’re never happy with the way I do it, so why don’t you do it?”

If so, you could be a victim to weaponized incompetence (WI). This is a fancy word for an age-old concept. Some refer to it as pulling a Tom Sawyer. I prefer the term “lazy, childish nonsense.”

Unfortunately, WI is subtle and can be difficult to spot, especially if you’ve been putting up with it for a long time. While anyone can fall victim to WI, it’s alarmingly common in male-female partnerships. In fact, there’s a good chance you might be dealing with it right now.

What is Weaponized incompetence?

Jared Sandberg coined the term “weaponized incompetence” in 2007. This “ritualistic charade…isn’t about having a strategy that fails, but a failure that succeeds,” Sandberg wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Someone using WI might argue that they’d never be able to do a task correctly, so they simply won’t learn how. They’ll then try to convince you not to expect anything from them.

To be clear, WI isn’t the same as truly not knowing how to do a task. There is no one who is born knowing everything. “To learn something… can be difficult,” Sandberg explained. “But to refrain from learning something requires years of practice and refinement.”

Weaponized incompetence is possible in any environment, whether it be professional, familial, personal. The concept was first introduced by Sandberg in the WSJThere was a strong emphasis on the workplace. 

This tactic is common in romantic relationships, as can be seen by many unhappy and overworked women.

Sing it with a song

There’s a lot of grey area when it comes to Weaponized incompetence. Every dynamic is unique, so it can be difficult to define. Artimus Wolz did a great job putting it all together in song.

“Girlfriend gave me chores, but I don’t wanna do them,” he sang over a dance beat. “Gotta be a way I can get right through them. ‘Bout to try a brand new form of a gaslight. Gonna make her do ‘em, but first I gotta ask right.” 

Then, he sang the hook that makes women everywhere shudder: “Listen, babe, if I do it, I’m-a mess it up.” During one line, Wolz held a dirty toilet scrubber to a drinking glass and asked, “is this the way that you wash a cup?”

Wolz’s song is satirical but painfully accurate. “You’re joking, but I legitimately worked with a man who washed the coffee urn with a toilet brush,” one user commented. 

“When the Venn diagram between gaslighting, weaponized incompetence, and narcissism is a perfect circle,” added another user. As the weaponized incompetence hashtag on TikTokIt means that there is a LotThere is a lot of deadweight out there. If you feel like getting depressed, angry–or a fun mix of both–just scroll through that WI thread for a while.

From lazy dads to chronic slobs

There are thousands of videos of women “joking” about their incapable husbands. But is this a joke? That funny?

In that WI thread, women shared glimpses of the future. messy kitchen their husband “forgot” to clean. They recounted trips to the storewhere their man called, frantic demanding they return home for the kids. Who is this laughing at? 

Unsurprisingly, the “jokes” from the men are worse. Just take this video, for example, where the “joke” is that his wife won’t have sex with him despite his best efforts. These efforts are, of course, dishes and childcare. 

Men are not incapable. They aren’t hardwired to be bad at cleaning. They don’t have a genetic predisposition for laziness. Why is WI so common?

Overvalue and Undervalue

TikTok user Laura Danger suggested it’s a societal issue. “Society has told us to value money and work,” she explained. “We function under capitalism. We also function under patriarchy.” 

“A patriarchy overvalues masculine tasks and undervalues care tasks. Our society does not value the work that goes into managing a domestic situation,” she continued.

Since the 1950s women have come a long distance. We have more agency and independence, relative to others. Before the pandemic, made up the majorityThe workforce. 

Despite this new agency, women still have to take care of domestic duties. WI capitalizes on these expectations.

What To Do If You’re Experiencing Weaponized Incompetence

WI is a manipulation tactic. Still, not everyone who uses WI realizes what they’re doing. So, it’s crucial that YouBe aware of how to stop it. 

“One way to stop a man doing this is to remind him women don’t have sexual feelings towards anyone they view as a child,” one user wrote under Wolz’s parody song. 

In a follow-up videoBelow is a screengrab of another comment. “My husband tried to pass off a chore to me because ‘you know I get water all over the floor though.’ I remembered your song, and I said, ‘so practice,’” the comment read. 

Another possible solution? “Match his energy,” Danger said. “Do a s****y job back. If you thought, ‘if I matched his energy, the kids would suffer,’ your kids ARE suffering. Leave him.”  

It might be worth mentioning first, though. These familial roles are deeply embedded in our society. Your man might not even realize what he’s doing. 

But if you bring it to his attention and he refuses to stop, don’t forget that constant manipulation is emotional abuse. It’s not just about dirty dishes; it’s about being a good partner. 

If he’s still unwilling to provide that bare minimum, then we suggest sticking with Laura Danger’s advice: leave him.