16th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) In the bustling economic powerhouse of Hong Kong, where modernity meets tradition, the cityscape is punctuated not just by soaring skyscrapers but also by deeply ingrained societal norms that often go unnoticed. Among these are the gender dynamics within households, particularly concerning the division of domestic labor—a subject that has become increasingly relevant as Hong Kong strives to position itself as a progressive, world-class city.

In many Hong Kong households, an unsettling trend persists: the weaponisation of incompetence by men in domestic settings. This phenomenon, where certain individuals feign or exaggerate their inability to perform household tasks effectively, has roots deeply embedded in traditional gender roles but is exacerbated by contemporary societal pressures and expectations.

Historically, Hong Kong, like many Asian societies, has adhered to a Confucian ethos which emphasises family hierarchy and gender-specific roles. Men were seen as breadwinners, while women were custodians of the home. Although Hong Kong has made strides towards gender equality, remnants of these traditional roles linger, influencing behaviours and expectations within the domestic sphere.

In practice, this often translates to men underperforming in household duties, subconsciously or otherwise, leading to a disproportionate burden on women. This tactic of weaponised incompetence isn’t just a refusal to participate but a strategic manoeuvre to avoid such responsibilities altogether. Men may perform tasks poorly, knowing the outcome will likely be that they won’t be asked to do them again, thus reinforcing the cycle where women are seen—and see themselves—as the more capable homemakers.

In Hong Kong’s high-paced economy, dual-income families are the norm, and the reliance on foreign domestic helpers has become a societal staple. Families often employ helpers from the Philippines or Indonesia, who live in and take on the bulk of domestic work, including childcare and elderly care. This arrangement, while economically beneficial and culturally accepted, inadvertently perpetuates the gender disparity in domestic responsibilities.

With helpers managing the household, men in Hong Kong have even less incentive to engage in home duties, further entrenching the stereotype of male domestic ineptitude. This dynamic not only impacts the immediate family structure but also influences broader social perceptions of gender roles, potentially stalling progress toward genuine equality.

The implications of this imbalance are profound, affecting personal relationships and societal structures. In families where domestic responsibilities are unevenly distributed, women often experience greater stress and reduced job satisfaction. This imbalance can lead to deeper societal inequalities, as women might forego career opportunities or advancements due to disproportionate domestic burdens.

Moreover, the normalisation of weaponised incompetence can lead to a lack of respect and understanding between genders, perpetuating a cycle of resentment and misunderstanding. It undermines the principles of equality and partnership that are foundational to modern relationships.

Addressing this issue requires a cultural shift, starting with awareness and education. Men need to be encouraged from a young age to participate fully in domestic life, learning that household responsibilities are not just ‘women’s work’ but a shared duty. Educational systems and media can play a crucial role in reshaping perceptions, highlighting the value of shared responsibilities for a balanced home life.

Couples can benefit from open discussions about domestic duties, setting expectations that are fair and balanced. Employers also have a role to play by implementing policies that recognize the domestic demands on their employees, regardless of gender, such as flexible working arrangements and parental leave for both mothers and fathers.