Hunting Wit, Gathering Sense.

17 Nov

Ah, “evolutionary psychology” – if only this was the reason for creationism…

As people have pointed out so many times before, “evolutionary psychology” – at least as it is adapted by popular ‘scientists’ and the media – is just complete and utter rubbish with circular “logic” and tiny sample sizes, yet sweeping generalisations about genders and humankind (!!1!).

Whether “finding the answer” to the question why women allegedly prefer rich men or why rape is – strictly evolutionary spoken, of course – a pretty good strategy to spread the joy of Awesome Semen and advance humankind (!!1!), evolutionary psychology is quite impressive when it comes to either making up or selectively choosing historical reasons for their own theses; never mind the facts that actual historians know (comparatively) little about pre-historic “everyday life” (respectively, have to reverse their theses every couple of years) and the gender essentialism evolutionary psychology espouses is a 19th-century social invention.

A classic is the evolutionary psychologists’ tale of male hunters and female gatherers (closely related to why men have always – !!1! – preferred blue and women have always – !!1! – preferred pink; namely because blue skies signalled a good day for mammoth hunting, and fresh berries, ready to be gathered, were pink – so there you go!), and, as with so many myths that are continuously repeated in a uniform manner, they just won’t go away, numerous deconstructions be damned.

The latest example would be this very charming short story, titled Womanspace, that was published in “Nature”. Nature, an “International Weekly Journal for Science” and established in 1869, is a leading scientific journal (and a whopping 15% of the publishing group’s board members are women, which, sadly, is still a rather good percentage…) whose self-proclaimed mission it is “to place before the general public the grand results of Scientific Work and Scientific Discovery.” And boy, did they deliver…

This might be a bit of a shock, but there are actual women scientists… Even worse, some of them read scientific publications like “Nature”, expecting to access articles that are relevant to their fields (say… like a friend of mine who, despite her silly lady brain, has gained her Ph.D. in geology, does research, field work, teaches and is generally awesome; and who has alerted me to this article). As so many columnists before him, Ed Rybicki has tried to be funny and write this story “tongue-in-cheek” as he says (yet, his piece has been deemed “appropriate” to be published in a scientific, peer-reviewed journal – well done, Nature Publishing Group…), but the feminazis with all their standards just don’t have a sense of humor… again.

Absolutely! And here’s why – quoting from Ed’s master piece:

“You’d never think that all it took was two middle-aged men, sent shopping by the wife of one to buy knickers, to crack the biggest discovery in modern physics.”

…’the biggest discovery in modern physics’ and ‘knickers’ in a single sentence – this oughta be good…

“It was very simple: I’d been staying with my friend Russell in Canberra, trying to sort out how we were going to get our book on virus structure together, when Russell’s wife Lilia decided that their youngest daughter needed new school knickers. She was too busy making supper to bother; these otherwise unemployed elderly men were the perfect candidates — and the prospect of not having to listen to us blather on about just where to pitch the book, and what to put in it, and which Jethro Tull albums we liked, probably tipped the balance our way.”

So, Russell and Ed do the “hard work”, the men’s jobs: being all scientificky, whereas the wife deals with the kids and prepares dinner, being delightfully oblivious to the actually important things in the academic/professional world (despite being a scientist herself, apparently), and, to not have to occupy herself  with anything that does not deal with baby wipes or school (why would any wife be interested in the book her husband is writing anyway?), she does what she knows best: doing and thinking about chores around the house. In an emancipatory moment, she actually asks her husband to pitch in and – *gasp* – go and buy something for their daughter.

“Seeing as we could continue to do all those things in a car and in the supermarket — and do a side trip to drool over new electronic goodies in Harvey Norman — we agreed with alacrity.”

Yes, this is what manly men do: first, evaluate whether your partner’s wish to help hir with daily chores would put a crimp in your day, and if (and only if) this is not the case, agree; then combine shopping with electronic goodies – everything else will make you catch teh gayz. So, here we go:

“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.”

Where is this even coming from? I was reading a story about two middle-aged, apparently usually unhelpful husbands who go shopping for the daughter of one of them and have the prospect of coming home to a hot meal. Yet, this seems so outrageous a task that Ed has to put in a disclaimer about Shopping In General; namely, that men are rational, organised, goal-oriented and in control, whereas women are emotional, chaotic, easily distracted (…like children, really), and revel in totally unelectronic ‘girly’ stuff like shoes, cleaning devices and food – since their looks and their households are clearly the beloved centres of their lives.  *yawn*

Moreover, and in the best evolutionary-psychology-circular-logic tradition, Ed is quick to find the reason for his keen observation: because men are rational and goal-oriented, they were hunters; because women get easily distracted and are a bit silly, they were gatherers; because men were hunters, they are rational and goal-oriented; and because women were gatherers, they are easily distracted and a bit silly. Got it?

He moves on to the incredible mystery of women’s behaviour in supermarkets, being able to find the milk AND the bread, then disappearing for minutes – MINUTES! – in the maze of aisles, then suddenly popping up again next to the toilet paper (…funny, though, how no one mentions the apparent special female sense of orientation here…? Ah, right, that is an exclusively male talent because… because mammoth dodging!) and it’s like moving through parallel universes!

“[…] we talked it through exhaustively, even conquering problems like: “What happens when you take some item from another universe to the checkout — when they won’t recognize the barcode?” Except they do — electronic systems are quantum-computing devices in their ability to access stock codes, and when they don’t, then it’s invariably a woman who gets sent to look for them, and they, of course, find them …”

Do you get the funny? Because metaphor. Not only is the only place women have some sort of extraordinary capabilities the supermarket, it is also a field of parallel universes only women can navigate through (…if you don’t wanna go buy bread, don’t go buy bread, but please don’t make up stuff about a parallel universe where only I can find the bread, dude). Apparently, this is a sex-given talent that has nothing to do with any sort of responsibilities or duties or practice or missing choices – it is inexplicable why women are able to find the bread and the milk, also known as the female astrophysics. And clearly, “female domains”, such as supermarkets, are parallel universes that look like lots of intertwined fallopian tubes, and only women know their way around those, as we all know – why would any man even bother to board that rollercoaster?

“[…] women can access parallel universes in order to find things, whether they do it consciously or not. They have probably always been able to do this, and now there is fierce speculation as to whether this constituted the evolutionary advantage we had over other primates: the presence of bulbs, grains and nuts on the table that had been retrieved from parallel universes when the hunters came home empty-handed was probably a major factor in the survival of our species.”

And yes, my friend, this would be the feeble attempt at pseudo-self-depricating chauvinist humour… Because women are naturally so good at gathering useful and useless things from all sorts of places their lady minds wander (of course they do not do that deliberately, though – that might come close to ‘male rationality’, and we can’t have that), letting a mammoth slip away (haha) wasn’t all that bad all the time if you had a backup (men are in charge, though, and do the actually useful things in the real world, not some weird parallel fallopian tube universe where you can get nuts…).

So… what was this story about, then, actually? I was left as confused as most people… To sum up: This “story” was published in a scientific journal, it seems to solely address men (because women can’t be real scientists), the only “science” it contains is dropping random physical buzzwords (parallel universes), takes up the myth of male hunters and female gatherers as if that was proven common knowledge, and then proceeds to tell an anecdote that is neither funny nor instructive nor of any other value whatsoever, all in the name of “tongue-in-cheek”. This “tongue-in-cheek”-story recycles almost every possible elderly sexist cliché there is, starting with women doing the care work and spending half their lives in the kitchen whilst men discuss the real stuff, dropping men into a parallel universe of alleged female proficiency, leaving them all baffled at the chaos and irrationality, depicting women as emotional and slightly dim-witted children who get distracted by everything that sparkles (or cleans the kitchen floor), and then trying to mould this very funny story into an evolutionary psychology scheme of the obvious characteristics of hunters and gatherers, because funny.

Is anyone laughing? Because I thought jokes were supposed to make you do that… And I couldn’t even find a smile in the supermarket. Or nuts, for that matter.

Update: Ed is quite serious about defending his piece, which you can see when you’re brave enough to stand the comments (I skipped through – usually everything gets even more terrible in the comments section of sexist “articles”…), stating that his own wife who is a scientist and better-paid than him found it funny, and people simply lack reading comprehension or humor (yes, a very new line of argument…).  And here’s a great response …and another open letter here (btw: Paul Anderson? He sound’s hot. ;))

10 Responses to “Hunting Wit, Gathering Sense.”

  1. Zweisatz November 19, 2011 at 10:49 am #


    What I find terribly interesting: the only thing he was doing with his colleague was discussing their book. While his wife took care of the food, the children and probably the house while working. And … women are “unorganized” and “easily distracted”? Right.

    And did he really have to recycle the “My wife thinks it’s funny, so it’s not totally esoteric bullshit”-argument?

  2. E*phi November 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    And I was seriously considering spending money on a subscription of Nature Chemistry. Well, that does make the decision a whole lot easier.

    • accalmie November 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

      ed rybicki would be so proud of you – you made a rational shopping decision… ;)

      • E*phi November 20, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

        I reached a level of sciency power (possibly I stole it from teh menz) that allows me to break the laws of womenspace at will. ;D

        • accalmie November 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

          well, then: all hail to you, woman who is miraculously capable to use both halves of her brain! ;)

  3. accalmie November 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    the thing is: rybicki thinks it’s a witty, innovative story and some women are just taking themselves too seriously (which…is such an old strategy i can’t be bothered to comment on it anymore). he also pops up as his own sockpuppet in every other thread, saying that he is now ignoring all the whining about his piece of science fiction [sic] because people just don’t get it (…right, that’s not how ignorance works, at least not in this sense, but yeah…), and he fails to even remotely comprehend the actual criticism – because, apparently, his wife found it funny and hey, it was published, so it must be good! the fail, it’s strong in this one indeed… and to publish such utter rubbish in order to create controversy about the most boring sexist stereotypes *in a scientific journal* really is a testimony to the quality of the nature publishing group.

    • Angelika November 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

      imho great-effing-debunking accalmie !
      (i read something en-passant on several blogs and feministing and simply thought *wtf*, saluting Eve Ensler-like with a *i am soooo over* this e.g. nonsense-evo-psych-rectal-haberdasher)

  4. pissedoffwoman November 25, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Hey waitasec.

    1. If a woman is able to find all kinds of stuff in the supermarket (or by extension, in the paleolithic savanna) that her man cannot, wouldn’t Occam’s Razor suggest that the most likely explanation is BETTER SPATIAL REASONING SKILLS?

    2. I don’t think the human species could’ve gotten much meat if hunters “go into a complex environment with a few clear objectives, achieve those, and leave.” I realize today’s hunters care mainly about trophy bucks, but if your objective is to eat, you WANT to be easily distractable, to throw your spear at anything that moves from mammoth to rabbit.

    3. This got published in a SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL???

    • Angelika November 28, 2011 at 12:28 am #

      @pissedoffwoman – yup. in Nature (!) Futures (!) sci-fi (!) section.
      imho (and acc. to my meta-analysis) e.g.
      1. this E.R. is a *nobody in “the scientific community”
      2. his sci-fi-short-story is also/extremely “boring” and not what scientics would call “good writing”
      3. the “evo-psych-rubbish” he is now citing to “justify” his sci-fi-wrting (!) is straight from … (y r welcome to use your own words)
      4. last but nor least “he doth protesteth too much”

      btw/fyi, Jacquelyn Gill (the link is also in accalmie’s post) has a good/collection on what’s buzzing on the webz related to this *womanspace :
      and pls,


  1. Womanspace: Responses to Rybicki’s display of male privilege on NPG « The Contemplative Mammoth - November 18, 2011

    […] Hunting Wit, Gathering Sense, Stop! Talking. […]

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