You know how you tell your little woman to bring you a beer, and she brings you the dog instead?


Via Dana’s open letter to Nature amiably titled “There is a Crucial Difference Between Being Contentious and Being a Misogynistic Asshole,” we read Anne Jefferson’s open letter to Nature amiably titled “You got a sexist story, but when you published it, you gave it your stamp of approval and became sexist too.”

A post by Anne JeffersonDear Nature,

“Womanspace” by Ed Rybicki is the most appalling thing I have ever read in a scientific journal. When I read the Futures (science fiction) piece you published on 29 September 2011, about how the hero and a man friend were unable to cope with a simple errand and how that led them to discover the existence of parallel universe inhabited by women that naturally endowed women with their domestic prowess, but which women were too dumb to observe until the great men of science made their discovery, I checked to make make sure I was still on nature.com. To my dismay, I was.

The story hearkens back to the “good old” sexist days when men did important things (like write books about virology) and women did unimportant things (like keep their families fed and clothed); when men couldn’t be bothered to be useful around the house and even when women did manage to get science degrees they were better employed as cooks and errand runners. The writer makes the explicit assumption that all of his (and, thus Nature’s) readers are male and have a “significant female other” who helps with their shopping. The story uses a cliched trope that women have an alternate reality, but then adds the extra punch that we aren’t even smart or observant enough to know it. As a woman scientist reading this article, it seems in every way designed to make me feel othered and excluded from the scientific academy.

That’s how to tell them.

I particularly loved the bit about the explicit assumption, because I often think that apart from my friends Claire and Mary Ellen, no one else notices those assumptions when they appear. Here’s how this one appeared, in Rybicki’s story:

At this point I must digress, and mention, for those who are not aware, the profound differences in strategy between Men Going Shopping and Women Going Shopping. In any general shopping situation, men hunt: that is, they go into a complex environment with a few clear objectives, achieve those, and leave. Women, on the other hand, gather: such that any mission to buy just bread and milk could turn into an extended foraging expedition that also snares a to-die-for pair of discounted shoes; a useful new mop; three sorts of new cook-in sauces; and possibly a selection of frozen fish.

And the interesting thing is — and this is what sparked the discovery — that any male would be very hard pressed to say where she got some of these things, even if he accompanied her.

Have you never had the experience of talking to your significant female other as you wend your way through the complexity of a supermarket — only to suddenly find her 20 metres away with her back to you? And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened?

See? He’s assuming that the reader is male (and straight). He’s assuming that women are too busy foraging for shoes to read science magazines, or perhaps anything at all.

It’s a good thing we have all these waves of feminism (what is it now? 23? 37?), because the first two or three certainly didn’t finish the job.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I think that, yeah, there are two main shopping patterns.

    The “hunter” pattern, wherein one enters the store, acquires the desired/necessary item(s), pays, and GTFO. (That’s my preferred method of shopping.) And then you have the “gatherer”, who goes to the store for “one or two things”, and manages to come home with enough to feed a small army because, “oh, hey, this looks interesting, I think I’ll buy it. Oh, and what’s this? I’ll get that, too.” (I’ve had a few of those moments, too.)

    Thing is, these shopping styles, they’re not gender-specific. A man (yeah, babe, I’m looking at you) can be a “gatherer”. A woman can be a “hunter”. And that’s not even getting into other styles of shopping!

  2. Ing says

    Yes because when some Ex’s of mine have decided to go into Gamestop for “something” they’re totally hunting and not spending 45 minutes digging through bargain bins gathering.

  3. Josh Slocum says

    I’m so furious about this, mainly about the reaction of Nature, which seems to be a whole big lot of Ignore Them And They Will Go Away. Nature’s editor, Henry Gee, has been known to be a right asshole for several years. He’s thrown unbelievably unhinged temper tantrums online and at public conferences, claiming people who disagree with him are anti-semitic and using references to his murdered ancestors to poison the well against his conversational adversaries. He’s sexist and disgusting, and he’s a blatant troll. He deliberately trolled his own comments section “innocently wondering” why no one had yet shown up to trash that offensive story.

    Shame on you Nature. Shame on you!

  4. JennieL says

    Right, that really pissed me off too – “KnowhatImean? We’re all men here right? Hur hur!”

    And also:

    Have you never had the experience of talking to your significant female other as you wend your way through the complexity of a supermarket — only to suddenly find her 20 metres away with her back to you? And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened?

    What the hell does this even mean? Has any straight, partnered guy in the history of the universe really thought that female partner going down a shopping aisle, bringing back a product and putting it in a trolley is some kind of significant event which ought to occasion comment?

    I mean, is he trying to complain that she wandered off without his permission, and additionally showed the ultimate disrespect of turning her back to him? Is it the fact that he’s never seen the product before, and it is somehow an affront to his dignity to purchase products with which he isn’t already familiar?

    Dude, nothing has happened. Get over it.

  5. says

    Speaking as a male ‘gatherer’ who’s never been steered wrong by an impulse purchase (the first ever being a VHS tape of Neon Genesis Evangelion and going on from there), *and who frequently wanders off in exactly the described manner* when shopping? This guy can shove it. JennieL said it better than I could, so my only other comment is to second that!

  6. Fin says

    WMDkitty, I don’t think (from my own observations) that they’re even definitive categories. I tend to fall into the “hunter” pattern most of the time, but other times, I behave in the “gatherer” pattern. If you’ve ever done your grocery shopping hungry, you’ll know that you end up with a lot of odd food items in your trolley that you’re not entirely certain why you collected them. Conversely, a male friend of mine who is most certainly a gatherer by that definition, will also spend a long time researching products online for nutritional content, and beeline for those things at times.

    There’s an absurd amount of psychological studies related to shopping patterns out there, and these simplistic, gendered descriptions are pretty stupid.

  7. says

    @Fin — Oh, I agree, I’m just saying that these are the two “main” styles, each encompassing a variety of sub-styles, and even mixed styles. On good days, when I have a higher tolerance for sensory input, I’ll gather. On a bad day, in, make purchase, out, home. And I’ve made the mistake of shopping with the raving munchies — walked out with what seemed like half the store. I think that, you know, everyone has their own individual way of shopping, “hunter”, “gatherer”, something in between, or something completely different — we all go with what works for us.

    My only request is that people please stop blocking the aisles with your carts while you wander halfway down looking for just the right can of peas like it’s the key to fucking Life, The Universe, and Everything.

  8. plien says

    You know, i could say a lot about the stupid simplistic shopping stuff (my bf is a gatherer while i’m more of a hunter, i *hate* shopping) but i’m too angry b/c of the fact that this idiocy even gets published.

    There are loads of studies which prove that language _matters_ and this assfart doesn’t have anything to back up his “your wife wonders of in the supermarket” under the claim that it’s a sci-fi story (what sci-fi? is a bad anecdote sci-fi nowadays? Geez, & then you have misogynistic nerds claiming us little women are ruining sci-fi….).

    For those with facebook; https://www.facebook.com/groups/161369513961521/

  9. MikeMa says

    Generally, I gather at the hardware store and hunt at the food store. The reverse would be true for my spouse, if she ever willingly set foot in a hardware store. We do establish patterns like that but it is a matter of interest and competence, not gender. I rarely go to the mall willingly and when I do it is my job to carry and find a comfy, centrally located, chair. My spouse can then gather widely without me slowing her down. We both gather at REI and the big wine&beer store while we both tend to hunt at Costo to prevent insanity.

  10. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Generally I’m a hunter shopper. Before I go grocery shopping I make a list and there’s very few things bought that aren’t on the list. But when I go into a bookstore then I’m a gatherer. I think a great way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon is to wander through the local second-hand bookstore, gathering books.

  11. says

    JennieL:

    and additionally showed the ultimate disrespect of turning her back to him?

    It was the “back to you” comment that caused me to bite through my spoon. What an absolutely fucking odd thing to throw out casually in an already stupid paragraph.

    “YOUR significant female”

    “complexity of a supermarket”

    “only to suddenly find her 20 metres away”

    What, does a fucking alarm go off when she gets out of range? Or is she on a string?

    “And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened?”

    One of my grandfathers gave his wife the exact amount of cash each week so she could hobble out on her dodgy leg to buy the food and cleaning goods he authorised. Before using it to cook and clean.

    She never, as far as I know, had any money of her own until he died. I’m glad to say she survived him by forty years.

  12. says

    I followed Henry Gee on twitter for a few weeks back in 2009. This is what I said to him when I unfollowed:

    .@cromercrox When I decided to follow you, thought I’d b gettng enlightend scientist. Instead just an egotistical misogynist prick. Too bad.

    And to one of my followers who asked what that was about:

    @stratosphear Ya. 3rd time he’s offended me /c a tweet & never said anythng interestng. Can’t believe he’s an editor of _Nature_ .Unfollwd.

    Pretty much sums it up.

  13. Kevin says

    Just yesterday, I had to pick up two things – two – on my grocery list. Skinny bagels and lunch meat (don’t judge me, they were for my 87-year-old father).

    $82 later…

    Oh yes, I “gathered”.

    I’m trying to think of the source of such misogynistic nonsense. It’s obviously learned, but where? I grew up in a household where the roles were “traditional” (dad still can’t cook; can’t even make his own coffee in the morning). And I would no more display this type of unthinking disrespect for half of the planet’s population than I would go to church.

    I don’t get it. Trying hard to understand that brand of “thinking”…but still don’t get it. Maybe it’s…nope, still don’t get it. Or it could be…nope, still got nothing.

    Tiny…um…egos, perhaps? Propping themselves up by knocking others down? That’s just about the only thing that even comes close to sounding coherent.

  14. karmakin says

    Male and a gatherer here! Well. Not always. If my wife is waiting out in the car and I’m running in for something specific, I hunt that stuff like it’s going out of style. Good manners and all that.

    Even then, if I see something on sale, I grab it. Actually, that’s my shopping style. I’m a sale hound.

  15. Didaktylos says

    One of my grandfathers gave his wife the exact amount of cash each week so she could hobble out on her dodgy leg to buy the food and cleaning goods he authorised. Before using it to cook and clean.

    She never, as far as I know, had any money of her own until he died. I’m glad to say she survived him by forty years.

    Did they even make it to the fifth anniversary before she put him out her misery?

  16. says

    Should be a third category – Nomad with limited pack animals. I shop with the knowledge I’ve only got 2 panniers on my bicycle to carry the stuff home in. Concentrates your mind on the essentials no end.

    From what I gather in this thread, everyone here shops with a car.

  17. Ray says

    I recall buying an overcoat in my wife’s company: she was nonplussed that it took me five minutes total, but look, there are maybe three styles of men’s overcoats in say, three colours. My choice is dead-easy compared to hers, between a dozen styles and fifty colours.
    On the other hand, in a hardware-store, video-store, etc., I never leave without at least one unforeseen purchase/rental – ‘Oh, a hank of cord, that’ll come in handy.’ or ‘I never did see that movie when it came out…’

    Saeva indignatio forever Ophelia.

  18. says

    This is why I like thrift shops – the hardware store reason. I all but pass out from boredom in the very doorway of new clothes shops, but I like flicking through the racks at thrift shops, because no one item is the same. But when I need milk or lentils, there’s no flicking through to do. SIMPLE, MR RYBICKI!

  19. says

    Well, most days I hunt.
    I know what I need and get it. I’ll spend about 2 min at the bargain bin. Gather the mammoth when it’s dead and there.
    Tomorrow I’ll go for a wonderful gathering event. I’ll soend hours in the store and come out with much more things than I thought I could need.
    No gender-readjustment necessary

    And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened?

    Well, it’s not her fault he can’t tell rat poison from sugar…

  20. says

    Alas, the assumption that all readers are male is nothing new, so I’m mostly struck by how unfunny the thing is. Whatever possessed Nature to run something so utterly lame, in a comedy vein that was done to death decades ago?

    I would have thought that if Nature were to branch out into fiction and/or humor, they’d run something that was worth the ink, something actually amusing.

    Nature’s supposed to be about cutting-edge thought, but that “gee, guys don’t know how to shop” sex-stereotyping hasn’t been cutting-edge humor since the days of Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners.

    What’s next? An Amos and Andy sketch? Why, that might even generate some valuable outrage — it’d be a win-win. (Oh, and by the way, my husband only became a Tull fan after *I* introduced him to that music.)

    The world has moved on, people. The equivalent would be for a well-thought-of humor magazine, maybe the British “Private Eye”, to publish a serious piece on Heisenberg’s brand new idea about uncertainty. Wow!

  21. Sili says

    My sister reads the advertisements, writes itemised shopping lists, knows what everything costs and where everything is in the shop, and usually knows how much she has to pay when getting to the register.

    I saunter around with a vague idea about needing milk and perhaps veggies, and usually end up filling my backpack anyway.

  22. says

    I love that he is this hunter shopper who goes with a mission and succeeds in minutes except, no, he was sent with the explicit goal of finding a single type of item, spent the whole day doing what he wanted to do instead. At the last minute he goes somewhere that is apparently not a shop selling kids clothing and thus fails to do the one thing he needed to do. It’s ok though, because it’s women’s work.

    So let’s break a few things down here.
    1. He claims in the comments that his wife is a successful working scientist
    2. He mentions in the story that he is unemployed
    3. She would normally do the shopping but she was too busy doing the cooking and he is apparently never asked to do the former so this is a novel diversion not a normal activity for him.

    Let’s be clear, he can’t shop well because he doesn’t ever do it and he considers it so irrelevant as work that it’s just funny when he comes home empty handed. This isn’t about appreciating what his wife does, it’s about justifying his never helping with work he considers below him.

  23. plien says

    Should be a third category – Nomad with limited pack animals. I shop with the knowledge I’ve only got 2 panniers on my bicycle to carry the stuff home in. Concentrates your mind on the essentials no end.

    From what I gather in this thread, everyone here shops with a car.

    Ah no, BF owns a Bakfiets & i have a bike that looks a bit like this.

    We both are susceptibele to the charms of used bookstores btw. :-)

  24. says

    I no longer subscribe to Nature, but this reminds me of a financial planning magazine I once purchased. I was happily reading an article when the author started to refer to “your wife.” I realized that the magazine wasn’t for me and never bought another. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one, and maybe it’s a bad idea to exclude 50% of your potential readership; certainly the magazine rapidly went under.

    It’s worse than 1955. I compared this to Greg Clark’s slice-of-life family humour anecdotes from the 1940s and they came up the non-sexist winners.

  25. says

    The whole “shopping strategy” dichotomy is an inaccurate description of a spectrum. When I’m in a hurry, I’m in and out with the two things I need most. Normally, I shop with a basic list and supplement it with what’s on sale or looks good or reminds me of a dish I haven’t made in a while or is on my long-term list of things to get when I run across them. Perhaps once a year I scour the shelves, compare prices and alternatives, and consider new products.

  26. Carlie says

    For fifteen years my husband has done all of the cooking, and therefore all of the grocery shopping. He was at the checkout last week, taking a look over his list to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, and the cashier said “Oh, did someone give you a list?” Right. Because it would be unthinkable for a man to have his own list and do his own shopping. Blargh.

  27. says

    Monado @ 29 – YES. Drives me absolutely crazy. Sloppy journalism/travel writing: “The Turks enjoy sitting in cafes smoking and talking. Women generally stay home/get on with the shit work.”

  28. Blue Duck says

    So, apparently the author of said article & the editor of Nature are indeed, stuck in a timewarp circa 1955.

    Also, speaking as a Pacific NW Native woman, they misunderstand Gatherers.

    See, I come from a tribe that (in addition to fishin’ and huntin’) has a good gathering tradition. And, having participated in gathering throughout my life, I can say these writers grossly misrepresent the process of gathering. It is essentially hunting, albeit with prey that cannot run away. You see, the foods (or materials, medicines, etc) are NOT all ripe/ready at the same point in time, and when ripe are available in specific environments. The red huckleberries do not, in general, grow in the same eco zone as the black huckleberries. And they aren’t ripe at the same time (red ready before black, in case you were wondering). The salalberries can be found by the beach, but to get blue elderberries one must go well inland to the coast range. And so on and so forth.

    In other words, gathering is not some all day meandering task where the lil’ woman wanders about all day picking up a little bit of this, and a little of that, whatever shiny objects she happens to run across. One has to know when to search for a particular plant or plants because it is in season, and WHERE to find it. It is a task undertaken with specific planning, and goals in mind. Not, as contemporary lazy ‘science’ writers are wont to do, portray gathering as something akin to meandering through a mall picking up a little bit of this, that & the other thing.

    OK, that’s just my tangential rant for the day.

  29. says

    She was too busy making supper to bother

    And it’s sentences like this that make me want to scream. Not ‘She was too busy making supper to be able to manage X’, but ‘she was too busy with unimportant female stuff to actually bother doing more unimportant female stuff‘.

    That this is written by a man in a supposedly more equal, egalitarian society (Australia) stuns me.

  30. leftwingfox says

    Blue Duck:

    That was largely how I heard the “Hunter/Gatherer” bit the first time. Hunters spend their energy on the first object they need, and leave, while the gatherer wanders through, noting the best prices and values in each location (the ripe berries on the bushes, as it were), then picking up the choice objects on the way back to preserve energy and carrying capacity.

    And while it was done with the “Men hunt, women gather” assumption, I found that the gathering behaviour is much more efficient for my carless existence.

  31. Bruce Gorton says

    I gather, unless it is clothes. It probably has something to do with cooking and enjoying eating. Also, it is a behaviour that denotes curiosity, a wish to see what is actually there, how it tastes and what it would go with.

    I would imagine a simple hunter style mind wouldn’t make for a very good scientist – too little exploration.

  32. Rieux says

    Here in Minnesota, our top tourist destination—the Mall of America—includes a small store called “Rybicki Cheese” that sells mainly Green Bay Packers clothing and trinkets and similar Wisconsiniana.

    I don’t really have much of a point, except (1) the name “Rybicki” can’t be all that common, so I wonder if there’s a family connection and (2) I kind of hope so, because Packers fans are all extremely awful people (!!!eleventy!) and it would rather fit the tenor of “Womanspace” for one kind of ugliness to be related to another.

  33. ewanmacdonald says

    I opened this article and immediately came right down to what I was here to do: bloviate in the comments box. I now see from the above that you silly ovary-having gatherers have read the whole thing and contributed to the discussion, hyuk hyuk hyuk!

  34. geocatherder says

    Female here, and hunter or gatherer in the grocery store as time and energy permits. Mostly hunter these days, though I then get home and realize I’ve forgotten something. I never forget things on my gathering trips.

    My parents, both hunters when employed, became gatherers after they retired. Then they moved from a big city to living in the country 15 miles outside of town. They cut coupons, visited several stores on their forays into town, made friends and connections who alerted them to which old orchard was being cut down (cheap firewood) or which grower was selling his fruit/veggies in the orchard or opening up the post-harvest to gleaners. It made a HUGE difference in their monthly food bill (as well as their annual wood cost).

    Something to ponder… but any idiot who tries to tie it to a sexist outlook on life isn’t working with much material. And if, in the extremely unlikely event that there is an afterlife, my parents will explain it to him. In detail.

  35. says

    That guy there is an idiot. Simply. When is this guy scheduled to return to his own alternate universe?

    Put up a post on my own blog as well.

Trackbacks

  1. […] It was a not-very-good piece that relied on sexist stereotypes for a crutch. It gets a very thorough going over in the comments section there — a great many people were appalled that such a “tongue-in-cheek” exercise in perpetuating falsehoods about women could get published, even as fiction, in a science journal. It also got slapped down by Jacquelyn Gill, who compiled a huge list of negative responses, such as this one by Anne Jefferson. This wasn’t an FtB-led rejection — it was a massive, science-internet-wide gag reflex that puked all over poor Ed Rybicki’s story. Dana Hunter was our local huntress spearing the wild Rybicki, with follow-ups that included Ophelia Benson. […]

  2. […] PZ points out that Rybicki’s article was widely criticized, not to say rebuked; it was far from being a Freethought blogs exclusive. It was a not-very-good piece that relied on sexist stereotypes for a crutch. It gets a very thorough going over in the comments section there — a great many people were appalled that such a “tongue-in-cheek” exercise in perpetuating falsehoods about women could get published, even as fiction, in a science journal. It also got slapped down by Jacquelyn Gill, who compiled a huge list of negative responses, such as this one by Anne Jefferson. This wasn’t an FtB-led rejection — it was a massive, science-internet-wide gag reflex that puked all over poor Ed Rybicki’s story. Dana Hunter was our local huntress spearing the wild Rybicki, with follow-ups that included Ophelia Benson. […]

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