Friday, October 8, 2010

Gaze Into the Gender Mirror

I've noticed something interesting as I've told people about the Van Winkle Project.

Five different women, all of them holders of one or more advanced degrees, have told me that on a day-to-day basis they don't necessarily follow the news slavishly. These highly intelligent and gifted women, which include my wife, said that for briefings on happenings they might have missed they can rely upon their spouses as the husbands are the news junkies in the family.

It sounds like a workable arrangement. For one thing, it allows the women to regularly cash in their 25+ extra minutes per day coupons (see Sept.'s A Coupon Fantasy post). At the same time they don't walk through life uninformed about major events and issues.

This leads me to speculate.

Could it be that women in general do not read newspapers, follow sports, check the weather, and listen to the radio as avidly as men?

Of course, I must remember even as I put forth this provisional hypothesis , women are the greater consumers overall of text. For example, according to 2009 statistics, women account for 64% of all book purchases. Or go to the magazine section at the newsstand and notice how the overwhelming number of the publications there are aimed at women. Much of this fare is practical, not escapist at all. How to raise better kids, stay fit and healthy, fix savory meals, make the home a place of beauty and relaxation.

It looks to me as if women, rather than avoiding all outside information, tend to be selective.

What I'm theorizing is that there might be a gender difference here. I'm wondering if, generally speaking, women have a savvy, selective approach to news and the ongoing cultural stream? Might it parallel the ancient division of male-female labor?

- The men go out to hunt and range far afield.

- The women stay closer to the home fires, gather locally, and make use of what the men bring back.

One Day Back at the Cave, a Fantasy

He: You won't believe what I saw out there yesterday!

She (stirring the stew): Yeh, yeh...

He: There were tracks from some large thing. I think it's been killing the deer. I found carcasses.

She (stops stirring the deer stew):  Really? How big is the thing? Can you kill it? Make it go away?

He: I don't know. I'm going to have ask Joe next door what he thinks.

She (sudden inspiration): What about the other villages? Have they seen it? They have any ideas how to deal with it?

He: Great idea. I'll go over there tomorrow and ask them.

She: Be careful. It's a long walk. And that thing might attack humans. We don't know.

He: You just stay here. I'll take care of it. I'm dying to find out if anyone else has seen it.

She (with admonishing gesture of stew stirring stick): Don't get distracted like last time and swap stories all day and come back without any useful information. I could care less whether the Neanderthals beat the Cro-Magnons at rock rolling last month! Try to show some discrimination.

He: Can I taste some of that?

She (slapping his hand): Not before dinner!

And I'm Left to Wonder...

After speaking to women over the past week I've started to think that maybe they're on to something. Perhaps when I awake from my Van Winkle state I can lean on others to let me know if anything of major consequence happens with the state of the economy and politics as well as what movies are worth seeing and which ones aren't, what famous person died or fell into the morass of public scandal, etc.

Then I think again. Relying on others to bring me news of the world might be against my male nature. It could prove as unendurable to me as if I took my caveman and put him on a leash that never let him go beyond sight of his cave.

Yet I question if this "nature" and "hard-wired" stuff matters after all these many, many, many years of human history. A schizo argument with myself ensues...

Me 1: I get that news and information spread by drumming, stories around the fire, the tracks and signs pressed into damp earth, all these were once a matter of life and death to the ancients. But this is the 21st century. I'm thinking that knowing all that stuff about what's going on in the larger world isn't particularly useful for individual survival.

Me 2: Are you saying that our life can be reducible to what is useful? That the only things that matter are those that are personally pragmatic? If so, why bother to look out the window at a sunset unless we need to know what it portends for the weather which will then affect our crops? If your pragmatic point of view is right, we don't need to notice sunsets at all since you and I, we're not farmers.

Me 1: But we're human. We seek beauty and hope. Wherever we can find it.

Me 2: Then we're not pragmatists after all. We're transcendentalists. We're aesthetes. We're mystics in the making...

Me 1: Whatever, but I still worry that for the past 20-30 years we've been biting off too much information and that it's only getting worse. Enjoying the sunset in our backyard isn't the same as trying to make ourselves responsible for knowing about all the sunsets humans are experiencing around the globe every day. Who signed us up for that? Maybe together we should read some Henry David Thoreau as a corrective? Now there was a guy who believed in limits.

Me 2: Hmm. I guess we've got the time.

Me 1: There's a copy of Walden around here somewhere...

Me 2: If we can only get ourselves put back together and stay on the same page.

Me 1: What?

Coming soon. Dipping a toe into the waters of Walden Pond - V.W.

1 comment:

  1. It's the opposite in my house. I consume news and my spouse doesn't (other than sports news). I sometimes forward him news items or mention them to him. But I would not rely on him to alert me to anything worth knowing about as we have very different perspectives on and interest in politics. economics, sociology, and other news-related topics. I also have a lot more free time than he does in a typical day.