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If It’s a Man’s World, Let Men Kill the Bugs

Men are the obvious choice for Resident Bug Executioner, but is that a gender role we should kill along with that giant spider?

I would trade sexual favors in exchange for not being burdened with the responsibility of killing the rogue bug that invades my personal space. For me at least, this is why the job of insect murdering always falls on the man (or masc) in the relationship. It’s a chore I will pay dearly to not do.

As gender roles shift, many of us cling to the archaic belief that, in heterosexual relationships in particular, it’s the man’s job to kill the bugs. But where, exactly, did this dynamic originate? There’s nothing inherent to male biology that makes them better equipped for this task. The stories we’ve been told about prehistoric men being the hunters and women the gatherers are myths, and even if they were true, they’d explain nothing. Women probably would have had to deal with more insects as gatherers than men would have as hunters. You encounter far more bugs picking up fruits than you do trying to chase down a wild animal. 

Maybe we could compare this chasing of a wild animal to the act of killing a bug. You’d think, then, that smashing a house centipede with a shoe would offer a man more of a thrill. But of course, this isn’t true, either. My partner loathes the experience as much as I do. He does it only because the prison of masculinity demands it of him. At best, most men say that they’re simply “okay” with being the cold-blooded killers of the house. 

“I’m fine with it,” says Christoph Paul, singer/bassist in the band The Dionysus Effect and editor at Clash Books. “I don’t like to kill the harmless bugs, but if my wife wants me to kill something, I’ll do it.” 

“I’m okay with killing the bugs, but why, if I’m risking life, limb and being grossed out, do I also have to use my shoe to do the deed?” asks Matt Melis, co-owner of the culture site Consequence. “She has dozens of pairs. I have two… Give me the tools, and I’ll do the job.”

I, for one, feel nothing of making men do this for me. If the price to pay for gender equality is killing my own bugs, I don’t want gender equality. I can work. I can drive. I can pay my own bills and vote. That’s enough for me. It isn’t feminist to demand that I now kill my own bugs, too. 

“I’m scared shitless of bugs,” says Isabelle Kohn, my boss and MEL’s senior editor. “I want them dead, but I can’t get near them because I’m afraid they’ll either jump out at me and latch onto my neck or that I’ll have to feel their stupid little exoskeletons get crushed beneath whatever killing tool I’m smushing them with. Meanwhile, my boyfriend has zero fear. He literally wouldn’t care if a bug ran across his face.”

Naturally, that makes him the obvious choice to take on bug-related tasks in the home. 

“I often wonder how gendered this is,” she continues. “Men aren’t ‘supposed’ to be afraid of bugs, while it’s ‘perfectly fine’ for women to be terrified of minute pests and rodents. Men are supposed to relish in killing and asserting their dominance, while women are supposed to sit back, relax and let the guys get bug guts on them. I’m perfectly fine with this grotesquely gendered imbalance in murder responsibility because it means I don’t have to wipe spider brains off my wall, but it also feels wrong to expect him to commit genocide on the entire centipede genus. Maybe I should pitch in.”

In other cases, it doesn’t have much to do with gender roles at all. Sure, men are almost always larger and stronger than I am, making them physically better equipped for smacking creatures of all varieties (and a comfortability with bugs may be socialized more in boys than girls). But in queer relationships, bug-killing responsibilities can be organized by a different dynamic entirely. For Jess, a woman whom I went to college with in Florida, it’s usually a matter of whether she or her fiance are closer to the bug. “I usually don’t mind doing it myself cause then she doesn’t have to,” she explains. 

Julia Carmel, a writer at the New York Times, tells me that despite hating bugs herself, she does the bug killing in her relationship. “My partner is more masc, but I do more of the ‘masc’ tasks,” she says. “Like, I’m power-drill gay, and they’re ‘how long can I ignore this problem’-gay.’” It’s also worth noting that numerous queer people I spoke to on Twitter said that they don’t kill the bugs at all, that the bugs are their friends and that they bring them outside. No straight person mentioned this option. 

In many relationships, though, the burden of bug killing simply falls on one person because it’s a nice thing for them to do. Of course, socialization and gender plays a significant part of it — a handful of women I spoke to even said they pretend to be more scared of bugs than they are so that their guys can feel more masculine. But in other scenarios, killing a bug is a courtesy. It’s a small compromise we make in relationships, doing something we hate but our partner hates just a bit more. 

What do I bring to the table? I’ll call any customer service line. I’ll politely go back up to the Taco Bell counter when they get your order wrong. When living in Florida, it was my task to catch and release all the little lizards and frogs that entered the home. And like I said before, I’m fine with providing alternative compensation, too.