Judith Woods: ‘Finally, there’s proof that men can multi-task – they just choose not to’

By | August 20, 2019

The shouting over too many suitcases and the whole “why the hell are you bringing the pasta maker to Scotland?” imbroglio will have finished. The simmering fury and the silent reproach over leg space versus waterproofs and who gets to play their music will be abating. In fact, I would like to think by 6pm we will embark the ferry to Arran wreathed in smiles and radiating Instagram family togetherness.

The calm after the storm will have once more descended. Until next time. Any woman reading the news story about multi-tasking will know exactly what I mean when I say the giant gulf between the sexes is never greater than at moments of domestic chaos.

A new German study has exposed the accepted wisdom that men cannot multi-task is, in fact, a myth. They can. They just choose not to. OMG. Imagine ladies, if we adopted the same “I can cook for the kids while ringing my mother-in-law and changing the bed linen, I just choose not to” attitude to life? Not an option. Really, so not an option. Researchers at Aachen University put 48 men and 48 women through a battery of tests, and concluded that men were just as capable of switching between tasks as women – and there was no difference in performance.

On learning this, I immediately telephone my spouse at work and demand to know whether he secretly can multi-task and has been hiding this fact for three decades? His rather equivocal response is as follows. “If by multi-tasking you mean doing a lot of things in slapdash haste rather than one thing properly then, no, I can’t do that,” he responds. “It’s illogical.”

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“Does that mean you can’t because you haven’t got the ability? Or can’t because it offends your sensibilities?” “I can’t. Because. It. Makes. No. Sense,” he replies. “Besides, why are you calling me? Haven’t you got a fish tank to clean? Holiday clothes to launder? Papers to cancel?” Yes, yes and yes. I’ll do it all because otherwise it won’t get done. Or it might get done by my husband but very, very slowly. In the time it takes him to wash the dishes at glacial speed, I can have accomplished six or seven slapdash tasks. In truth, he relies upon it. The whole household does; and let’s not pretend also because it’s my thing. Or I thought it was.

This new research shatters one of our most fundamental certainties. Women the world over have been brainwashed into believing that we can’t read maps but we alone can multi-task. What nonsense! At least the multi-tasking bit is. Men on the other hand have been left thinking it’s easy to check the air pressure in the tyres but they can’t quite be trusted to simultaneously eat a sandwich and look after the baby. Absolutely true!

When it comes to holidays it is my role to plan, find and sort everything, while chivvying our two daughters into doing the same. My husband’s sole area of specialism is packing the car. Packing the car makes those interminable arguments over stacking the dishwasher look like date night. I’ve consulted with friends and they too find their husbands become weirdly territorial over what goes into the boot. Every item must be accounted for and justified. It’s like being given the once over by the North Korean border control guards; do you need all these clothes? If so, why?

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I once went on a camping trip with two other families. At one point we womenfolk went off on a jaunt and stopped by a garden centre. I had to hide my friend’s plants in my car because she knew her partner would hit the roof (not easy in a field) if she tried to sneak them into the footwell. Not because there was no room, but because – well who knew? She later returned the favour by stowing away a pair of stone lions I found in an antique shop. I didn’t need to explain. She just knew.

Heading away this weekend I can already anticipate the points of multi-tasking friction. As we reach the motorway, for example, my beloved will wonder whether “we” have remembered to bring the torch or the phone charger cables or the address of our accommodation. Later, he will enquire about the packed lunch, the binoculars and the whereabouts of the dogs’ water bowl. We did bring it, didn’t we? Of course we did. Cramming all that stuff into my head (pink job) means that he can order it oh-so-neatly in the boot (blue job).

Does that make us an offensive gender stereotype, or just a normal couple muddling through? Answers on a postcard, I have a ferry to catch…

Irish Independent

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