Women Aren’t Better Multitaskers, So Quit Asking Us To Be

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 

When it comes to multitasking, women tend to be better at it than men. Just look at how adeptly we juggle the roles of employee, mother, friend, wife. We pay bills from our laptop while whipping up a chicken cacciatore. We check in on our friends via text while in the waiting room of our kid’s dentist appointment. At work, we have 15 tabs open on our browser, simultaneously creating a presentation while responding to client emails and fielding a call from the school nurse about our kid’s “stomach cramps.” We are superheroes!

Men could never handle such chaos. If they’re taking out the trash, they’re taking out the trash. If they’re working on a project, they’re working on a project. If they’re giving a kid a bath, that kid has their full attention. Their focus is generally for only one thing at a time because they’re just not as capable as women at Juggling All The Things.

LOL, kidding.

Actually, nobody is good at multitasking. Not men and not women and probably not nonbinary people although this most recent study didn’t include any nonbinary folks. *grumpy face* The study, by Plos One, concluded that, when it comes to multitasking, there is no statistically relevant difference in aptitude between men and women.

Multitasking — though it sounds good on its face because who doesn’t want to accomplish two things at once? — comes with a cost. The human brain has evolved to switch efficiently from one task to another, but that doesn’t mean it can do so without losing time, energy, productivity, or creativity. Every time a human being switches from one in-process task to another in-process task, their brain has to adjust modes. This is called switch-tasking. The more frequently the brain has to switch-task, the greater the cost to productivity.

But the study at Plos One already took all of this for granted, because other studies had already shown that multitasking is bullshit. What these researchers wanted to know was, when it comes to multitasking, is there a difference between men and women? And the answer is no. We all accomplish less when we’re multitasking. This study even controlled for well-documented gender differences in processing speed and spatial abilities and still concluded we all basically suck.

So let’s go ahead and throw this dumb stereotype that women are better multitaskers right in the trash where it belongs. And right after that, let’s address the issue for why it became a stereotype in the first place. It happened for two reasons: Women demanded parity in the workplace and in politics and started to get it. (Though we still have a long way to go.) And when women started doing more, men mostly just kept doing what they had been doing. Nobody picked up the slack.

Sorry guys, but it’s true. Science says so. Study after study has demonstrated that women do more housework than men in a marriage regardless of whether they have kids, and that women carry far more of the mental load. In other words, women are also working outside of the home but are still doing the lion’s share of all the crap at home as if that were still our only job. We’re not multitasking because we’re geniuses. We’re doing it because shit needs to get done, and if we don’t do it, a lot of times, no one else will.

Granted, we’ve made some great progress in this area as more and more kickass dads step up and into their role as equal partners in parenting (welcome to the club, guys! *high five*). We have a ways to go with housework and mental load though, and it will probably take generations to reach true parity. Read the comment threads of any article posted to social media about mental load, emotional labor, housework inequality, lazy husbands, etc, and it will be filled with exhausted wives and mothers begging their husbands to pitch in. There is a reason this meme has gone viral on our social media pages several times over:

And don’t @ us with “men just don’t see the mess.” That’s also been proven untrue. A recently released study found that “men and women respondents do not differ in their perceptions of how messy a room is or how urgent it is to clean it up.” The differences come in to play when the gender of the room occupant is revealed. I’ll give you one guess as to who is held to a higher standard.

So, it’s not that men can’t see a mess, it’s that they have been conditioned to believe they don’t have to care about it or do anything about it when they do see it. They can overlook a mess because they know based on experience that either someone else will pick up for them or they can leave it and no one would judge them anyway. Meanwhile, keeping a tidy house is just one of the many things women are supposed to accomplish while also accomplishing many, many other things.

Women are tired of multitasking. We don’t want to. We’re not actually good at it. It’s stressful and exhausting and we don’t want to be called superheroes, we just want help. We want the dudes in our lives to step the fuck up and be an equal partner in parenting, housework, and mental load. Because, turns out, we actually suck at multitasking too.

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