The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Loss of basic female skills or loss of basic journalistic skills?

Posted by Mel Campbell on January 31, 2011

(This post is cross-posted at Crikey.)

There’s an article by Helen Dow currently on News.com.au (originally in Queensland’s Sunday Mail) reporting on some findings from social research consultancy McCrindle Research in Sydney: namely, that Generation Y are losing basic skills of self-care and self-sufficiency. Here are some of the stats from the story:

  • Only 51 per cent of survey respondents aged under 30 can cook a roast, compared with 82 per cent of baby boomers.
  • Only 20 per cent of young respondents can bake lamingtons; 45 per cent of respondents aged over 30 can.
  • Only 23 per cent of young respondents can grow a plant from a cutting; 78 per cent of older respondents can.
  • And only 40 per cent of respondents under 30 can drive manual cars, compared to 71 per cent of older respondents.

Notice that I have deliberately elided the issue of whether the respondents were male or female, and I have not generalised out from the survey sample to the wider Australian population.

Looking at the stats alone, this could actually be an interesting story about our culture of affluence, disposability and general alienation from the means of production. Unfortunately, this report spuriously claims that these are “female skills”. (No, Sunday Mail, putting scare quotes around ‘female’ doesn’t absolve you of knee-jerk sexism, especially when you choose to illustrate your story with goofy pictures of women wielding cooking and cleaning equipment.)

This is a cheap, distasteful reporting strategy aimed at enraging readers who will circulate the story and comment on it, generating advertising revenue. At the time of writing, the story had 88 comments. However, rather than merely getting angry at the perpetuation of these cynically sexist ideas, it’s important to understand how stories like this are developed – and to demand better responses from journalists.

This story angle has most likely been generated by a McCrindle press release. The stereotypes about which skills are ‘male’ and ‘female’ were decided on by the research company and the angle was ‘packaged’ in the release.

Although there are no press releases on the McCrindle site pertaining to this research, another similar release came out from McCrindle on 29 November 2010, entitled “Men of 2010″. Obediently, both the Herald Sun (“Modern man is a bit of a drip”) and Daily Telegraph (“Men losing their traditional skill set”) reported on the decline of traditional “man skills”. The Hez story was a straight rip of the presser, while the Tele found a representative man to interview – probably via a site such as SourceBottle.

However, it’s the job of really good journalists to question the way PR-led stories are presented. The principles of journalism prize not taking things at face value: always getting two sides to any story and looking for the deeper causes of a situation. Rather than replicating the angle provided in the release, a much more critically engaged response from the journalist would have been to get on the phone and on the internet, and find out from independent sources whether the information is reliable.

For a start, I’d like to see some corollary statistics about the prevalence of automatic cars on Australian roads, the number of young people living in urban areas without gardens, the number of young people living at home where they’re not primarily responsible for cooking, and the consumer culture of disposability that means we think it’s easier just to buy things and throw them away rather than to make, maintain, fix and nurture.

If it’s difficult to find these statistics via the limited amount of research time that newsroom journalists have at their disposal, then they need to find an expert who does have access to them. A journalist could seek comment from someone not associated with McCrindle – perhaps an academic working in sociology or gender studies, or another social researcher who’s done similar work.

A journalist on his or her toes (and, sadly, they often seem to give this genre of story to female reporters) could even just call Mark McCrindle and ask him, straight up, to back up his claims with quantitative evidence: how did his company assign particular skill sets to ‘men’ and ‘women’? Did the survey respondents themselves associate certain skills with certain genders – or did the researchers design that association into their survey?

This story is the end of a chain of assumptions that nobody has seen fit to question. But the profession of journalism should make assumption-busting its first order of business.

13 Responses to “Loss of basic female skills or loss of basic journalistic skills?”

  1. Here’s the full release which was sent out fyi. It is a summary of the research:

    Changing roles (redefined skills) 25 January, 2011
    Male and Female roles in the 21st century: breaking gender stereotypes
    No more hemming skirts or stirring gravy, as women today hang up their aprons and rev up their laptops, while some men of 2011 are far more comfortable baking a cake than mowing the lawn.
    As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, McCrindle Research has conducted a national survey to compare the skills of Gen Y men and women to those who have gone before, looking at which skills have been passed down the line and those which have evolved into something completely new.
    CHANGING ROLES FOR MEN
    Men in Generation Y appear to be losing some of the skills their grandfathers were proud of. The following percentages show survey respondents who thought men under 30 in 2010 have less of an ability to do these tasks compared to men that age 20 years ago:
    1. Tying a reef knot – 56%
    2. Building a cubby or tree house – 53.5%
    3. Fixing a leaky tap – 45%
    4. Repairing a punctured tire on a pushbike – 40%
    5. Changing the car’s oil – 37%
    Lighting a wood fire (37%) and putting up a shelf (32%), were also ranked badly, with around a third of the population agreeing that men are now less capable in these aspects.
    Before a bout of modern day man bashing ensues, it’s critical to realise that while these traditional skills are declining, a host of new capabilities have started to emerge. 39% of the nation thinks that men are more adept at changing nappies these days, while a further 60.5% reckon men can now bake a mean cake and cook for a crowd at a dinner party (60%).
    When it comes to household chores, men are also much more involved. The following chores were all discovered to have much more participation from men in 2010, with the percentages those who felt men were helping in these areas more than they did 20 years ago:
    Top 8 chores:
    1. 72% – Helping to cook dinner
    2. 71.5% – Helping with the grocery shop
    3. 70.6% – Stacking the Dishwasher, helping to wash up
    4. 71.4% – Dropping the kids at school
    5. 68% – Clothes shopping
    6. 65.6% – Helping with the washing
    7. 61.2% – Doing the ironing
    8. 62% – Reading to the children
    Changing roles (redefined skills) 25 January, 2011
    Social Researcher Mark McCrindle said, “What we are seeing is not so much a decline in ‘man skills’ but rather a change in family dynamics, reflecting that both parents are likely to have full time jobs and greater demands on their time than ever before.”
    “Even though skills such as woodworking and mechanics are on the decline, men are picking up new talents such as cooking, ironing and an increased role in bringing up the kids. The advent of “Kitchen TV” in particular seems to have influenced our nation’s men, with over half the population saying men can now fire up the oven to bake a cake, or cook for a crowd at a dinner party,” McCrindle continued.
    COOKING UP A STORM
    When it comes to cooking, Gen Y women are becoming more adventurous, ditching some of the basics which were staples for their grandmothers. The chart below shows a number of more traditional recipes cooked by the women of the Baby Boomer generation, in comparison to women under the age of 30.
    Social Researcher Mark McCrindle said, “Growing up in an era of global connections, overseas travel and cultural diversity has exposed young women to a wider range of cuisines. Although only half of this age bracket knows how to cook roast chicken, stir-fry is a modern-day staple with young women identifying their wok as one of the key items in their kitchen that was not in their grandmother’s.”
    TOOLS OF THE TRADE
    When it comes to cooking it’s not just the meals which have evolved, with women today using different cooking tools than their grandmothers before them. 64% of Baby Boomers have over 10 cookbooks, compared to just 31.5% of Gen Y women. In fact, most Baby Boomer respondents had 21 or more cookbooks, compared to the less than 5 owned by most Gen Ys!
    FIVE DISHES WOMEN REMEMBER THEIR GRANDMOTHERS MAKING WHICH ARE NOW NOT ON THE MENU AT HOME:
    1. STEWS
    2. TRIFLE AND SIMILAR PUDDINGS
    3. OFFAL (TRIPE AND LAMBS FRY)
    4. SHEPHERDS PIE
    5. PLUM PUDDING/FRUIT CAKE
    Changing roles (redefined skills) 25 January, 2011
    Mark McCrindle said, “For the younger generations life is facilitated online – but beyond friendships on Facebook, cooking techniques are picked up through you-tube videos, culinary terms explained in Wikipedia and over a third of Gen Y women primarily use online recipes when it comes to perfecting their culinary skills (37.1%) compared to 30% of Boomers.”
    It’s a similar story with packet mixes, with Gen Y women less likely to make biscuits and slices, cakes and pancakes from scratch. They were more likely to be enthusiastic bread-makers however, with 37% of Gen Ys likely to bake loaves from scratch, compared to 30% of Boomers.
    Mark McCrindle said, “When looking at the changing list of kitchen equipment, the key issue that comes to light is time. Life is increasingly busy for women today who are juggling a variety of roles and this means un-sifted flower gets tipped straight into the bowl and mincemeat is bought readymade. Similarly, the tools on the rise are all designed to maximise time. From blenders, to letting rice cook unattended while completing other tasks, these tools all make life simpler. It’s no wonder the slow cooker has made a comeback!”
    SKILLS OF THE MODERN DAY WOMAN
    When it comes to traditional skills, Gen Y women differ from their Boomer mothers and grandmothers. Just over half (54.3%) can hem a garment compared to 87% of Boomers, while 22.9% can grow a plant from a cutting, compared to 77.6% of older women. Driving manual cars is also on the decline, with just 40% of Gen Y women processing this skill – compared to 71% of Boomers!
    However, showing how they have adapted to a changing world, Gen Y women possess a whole new set of technological expertise. These are the top 5 key skills the new generation has mastered:
    1. 100% (of surveyed Gen Y women) can upload a photo to facebook (compared to 58% of Boomers)
    2. 94.3% can text a picture from a mobile phone (compared to 52.6% of Boomers)
    3. 91.4% can pay a bill online (compared to 77.6% of Boomers)
    4. 85.7% can book a restaurant online (compared to 57% of Boomers)
    THE OLD AND NEW OF KITCHEN TOOLS! The 5 tools of Grandmas kitchen, now seen as pre-historic. 1. Rolling Pins 2. Meat mincers 3. Flour sieves 4. Meat mallets 5. Manual beaters The new appliances and implements that are cooking in kitchens nationally. 1. Woks 2. Stick-blenders 3. Garlic Press 4. Rice cookers 5. Deep fryers
    Changing roles (redefined skills) 25 January, 2011
    5. 60% can make a skype call (compared to 43.3% of Boomers)
    When asked the question, which traditional men’s chores are now shared between men and women, in nearly all categories over half of all women believe these chores are now shared:
    Percentage who said that these jobs, once considered exclusive to men, are now shared among the genders:
    Mark McCrindle said, “Gen Y women are sometimes disparaged as having lost the traditional skills of their mothers, yet the reality is that they are a multiskilled generation. The fact is that they are more likely to text a photo than dust a photo frame, or work with spreadsheets rather than mend bedsheets is testament to their twentieth century roles.”
    THE BEST AND THE WORST
    Survey respondents thought the best thing about changing gender roles in the 21st century was that men have a greater opportunity to help with the children and to enjoy time with them while they are young.
    The worst thing about the shift, according to respondents, was that nowadays men and women have lost their “can do” attitude. If something is broken they will call someone else to fix it, or go out to buy a new one. This was also a concern for respondents who today we are focused on buying bigger and better (especially in regards to technology) rather than fixing up an item we already have.
    Research method: National survey conducted by McCrindle
    This research was not funded or sponsored by any organisation. The 509 survey respondents were drawn from McCrindle Research’s proprietary research panel AustraliaSpeaks.com which is a national, representative, and research-only panel.

  2. mellygoround said

    Uploading photos to facebook is a skill? The new ‘lady’ skills seem pretty shit compared to the new ‘man’ skills. Being able to send a picture from a mobile vs raising children. Hmmmm.

  3. Ms .45 said

    Sounds positive – “men and women finally discover Adam Smith, realise holding onto pointless skills is fucking stupid”.

  4. Hanen said

    I love that so many of men’s ‘new skills’ are phrased as ‘helping’ rather than ‘doing the washing’ etc. Because it isn’t *really* his job, he’s just helping out, so that she can go pay the bills online…

    I’d still be curious to hear whether it was researchers or participants who categorised skills into genders.

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by antzpantz, Athanae Lucev, anthony georgeff, sarahscustard, anthony georgeff and others. anthony georgeff said: RT @athanaelucev: Great piece on Sunday's massive News Ltd gender fail: http://tinyurl.com/65jste3 [...]

  6. Can’t help but ponder how this comes at the same time as a bit of a boom in the traditional feminine pursuits of the 50s and 60s…. before the feminists ruined it all ;)

  7. Rebecca said

    Wow… you got Mr McCrindle to comment, nice job. Still fail at gendering household roles though.

  8. MarianK said

    Very interesting press release, Mark. Really highlights the distortions made by News scribes, and Mel’s overall point about sloppy journalism.

    What seems to be missing from your research is the extent to which younger women are absorbing traditional men’s skills (whereas there was plenty of information about young men absorbing traditional women’s skills – even if it’s often only as ‘helpers’).

    Certainly, the big ‘traditional male skill’ that women have absorbed is to become much more active in the workforce. However, to what extent are younger women absorbing other traditional male skills like basic home and car maintenance? After all, a lot of women are now single parents and can’t always afford to pay tradies for simple maintenance and repairs. Also, rising house prices are forcing a lot of younger women and couples into buying and renovating low-cost housing – thus forcing women to learn many basic home renovation skills that their grandmothers didn’t need to.

  9. Helen said

    I agree with Hanen. As long as men are described as “helping with” a certain activity, they are not responsible for that activity. And the H-word is rife throughout media discussions of men and domestic work. McCrindle hasn’t picked up on this important distinction.

  10. [...] dubious statistics about women, and some equally dubious journalism, analyses at Dawn Chorus. Mel Campbell focuses on both the [...]

  11. Media Watch on the ABC did a very informative story on McCrindle Research and its Principal, Mark McCrindle just last night. In case you missed it, here is the link: http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s3341830.htm The story is very revealing – in particular how McCrindle have used the media to increase his personal profile in order to attract fee paying clients but using really dubious conclusions from equally doubtful research. Also, how the AustraliaSpeaks research panel is neither national, nor representative.

  12. Samara said

    Wow, I really like to think we have better skills than booking stuff online or making a Skype call. I know I like to think I have much more to offer, and a lot more to offer than what my grandmother did (sorry nan).
    What I found with people my age (I’m around 25), there are two very different groups the traditional – makes the stay at home mother’s day if he loads the dishes. The other group – which u fit into and have a lot of backlash from. Got sick of watching women have nothing, and feeling very alone when there children grow up – no longer needed and the space created from putting the typical house wife tasks before a relationship, has created a huge gap.
    I can proudly say I can’t cook, I hire a cleaner, I make money which in most cases is more than men I date. We don’t baby guys, so they have had to step up. If you had someone waiting on you on 24/7, would you really try and change things? When today its oh your hungry? Well there’s the kitchen. If you want children, iam not giving up my career so you either stay home or we hire someone. Yes I can hear you all know judging.
    Does it really matter if we can’t cook? Or if we hire people to fix or do task? We don’t have the time, and we have more freedom to spend our money on these kinds of things.

    As for manual cars, it should be noted that they are being fazed out, and a lot of cars don’t come in both styles. So clearly less people will need to drive a manual – but for the record I do, but I know a lot of males who don’t!

  13. Em Hayes said

    What about the percentage of Gen Y women (and men, for that matter) who have University Degrees compared with the Baby Boomers? Maybe that would add more perspective. In regards to the aformentioned stats, I figure (apologies if already discussed) that the technology boom has obviously impacted our “roles”. Now women AND men don’t have to learn from a young age how to do chores, how to cook, change the oil in a car – as now a few seconds on the internet will give you all (and probably more) information on these topics and anything really, than Mum or Dad ever could.
    I don’t know how to bake lamingtons right now, but in a minute or two I would.
    (Trying to argue with antifeminism has become a daily grind, it seems.)

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