I don’t know about cavewomen, but this is what I gather

A day before my interview with the Toronto Star and I’m writing a critical post about one of their articles.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. Actually, I think it’s important for journalists to be honest with one another and to offer constructive criticism. Truth to power, right? Even when directed at specific works by writers with more seniority. (Don’t hate me, Cathal Kelly. I’m just some rookie that calls it like I see it.)

Here goes.

My critique is aimed at this recent article in the Toronto Star: Nature’s laws of shopping: Men hunt, women gather. I hope you read it for context before deciding whether or not you agree with my reservations.

FROM THE ARTICLE

As soon as you set foot in the mall, the friction begins.

She wants to amble around to the Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Roots, but can’t quite remember where any of those stores are. (This will be contradicted later. Wait for it…)

He knows exactly where he’s going and wants to practically run there, get the thing you’re looking for and flee as if the food court were on fire.

Now we know why. (This is way too definitive a statement to blanket the evidence that follows.)

University of Michigan psychologist Daniel Kruger (credentials? What kind of psychology does he do?) has found (have his findings been peer-reviewed?) that how we shop has an awful lot to do with how we once found our food. Men hunt. Women gather. Conjugal chaos ensues. (Big statements, no qualifiers.)

Kruger had his lightbulb moment while on vacation with his future wife and another couple in central Europe. (Many scientists go to great lengths to ensure that their pre-conceived notions don’t influence their results. This seems like a set-up for reverse engineering) After days of driving through sleepy villages, the foursome arrived in Prague. Kruger and his buddy got ready to hit the sights. The women started looking around for the nearest shopping centre.

“This caused, well, a little scuffling,” Kruger said. “And then the girls just dumped us.”

As a scientist, he refused to do the sensible thing – shrug his shoulders. He wanted to know the reason (within certain parameters? within a cultural context?). He combed over studies of aboriginal tribes (tribal behaviour varies greatly among tribes, time periods, etc) and did a battery of tests on student volunteers (How many? What were the tests like? Were they blind? Are they repeatable?). The results will be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology. (Big problem: Kruger is an editor on this journal. Also, if his study is in the press before it’s published, it makes it harder for keen readers to check the original research for themselves.)

Kruger found that our habits haven’t changed. Our environment and our goals have. (Again, a broad statement with no qualifiers.)

In prehistory, women gathered or foraged for food. This kept them close to home, performing a daily, intensive and social activity (I’d say these habits, at least, have changed greatly for tons of women!). A good memory (what happened to forgetting where stores are?), a keen eye and a lot of patience when choosing help make a good gatherer.

[…] (Please read and evaluate the rest of the original evidence in the article for yourself. I can’t reproduce it here in its entirety.)

This leads to a simple conclusion – men and women should never do together what we’ve spent thousands of years doing apart. (I really don’t think statement follows from the evidence in the article and this logic could also be used to justify some pretty outdated separations. But, I’m from Venus. What do I know about Mars?)

“Maybe men and women split up (while hunting) because they got on each other’s nerves, using different strategies,” Kruger said, rather carefully.

“Honestly, I haven’t been to a mall for years to shop for clothes. (But I hope you spent some time “in the field” doing research) I buy things online,” Kruger said. “I’m my own best proof of this theory.” (A personal anecdote probably shouldn’t be your best proof.)

 

Ok, I have to clarify that this isn’t intended to be a personal attack on anyone. I just think it’s important that journalists stay critical of their sources, especially when writing headlines and stories in ways that imply universality.

I wrote in lots of points and I wouldn’t necessarily expect every single one to be addressed, however, my aim was to show how many questions this piece raised for me. Also, it’s tough to document absences but two major omissions are (1) The details of how Kruger’s studies were conducted (at least generally) and (2) The critiques and comments of other scientists.

And as long as we’re allowing anecdotes, I’m a woman who generally loathes trips to the mall (especially during the holiday season) and I really do not like carefully picking through really similar options as if they were berries.

I guess I would have been a crappy gatherer.

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