Cambridge Professors Give Men the Excuse They’ve Been Looking for to Continue Not Helping Around the House

Dirty Laundry

SG Buckley
2 min readDec 24, 2022


Photo by Greta Schölderle Møller on Unsplash

You rise early, feed the kids, feed the dog, clean the kitchen, take the kids to school, walk the dog, race home and open your laptop — to do your day job — and that’s when you see it:

Fresh crumbs on the counter; dirty dishes in the sink. Greeting you like a raised middle finger.

It’s infuriating, but you can’t just leave it. You clean up the mess, while silently fuming at your thoughtless husband.

Now, thanks to professors at Cambridge University, men have an excuse.

Writing in the journal, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Dr. Tom McClelland of the University’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and co-author, Professory Paulina Sliwa, say “affordance theory” explains why men can leave crumbs on a counter or a sink full of dirty dishes or a basket of laundry on a bottom stair, strategically placed to force them to leap over it or haul it upstairs.

The academics define “affordance” as a “possibility for action” and suggest that this perception of affordance depends on gender. In a home with a man and a woman, the woman is more likely to feel an urge to act than a man when seeing domestic work to be done.

For example, they write, “…women may look at a surface and see an implied action — ‘to be wiped’ — whereas men may just observe a crumb-covered countertop.” No action required.

Worse, women perceive the dirty countertop as pleading with them to clean it. Not true for most men.

The professors blame social conditioning.

Professor Sliwa, who recently left Cambridge for the University of Vienna (I’m betting her male co-author left too many typos for her to clean up), says:

Neuroscience has shown that perceiving an affordance can trigger neural processes preparing you for physical action. This can range from a slight urge to overwhelming compulsion, but it often takes mental effort not to act on an affordance…Tasks may irritate the perceiver until done, or distract them from other plans. If resisted, it can create a felt tension. This puts women in a catch-22 situation: either inequality of labour or inequality of cognitive load.

I think many of us saw this glaring disparity in urges to pitch in domestically during Covid lockdowns.

My husband wants you to know that as I wrote this story this morning, he served me coffee and a bagel in bed.

The point of this post: They can be trained.



SG Buckley

Writer, editor, parent. Former staffer at Quartz, WSJ and Inc. magazine.