The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘gender stereotypes’

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 (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.


Posted in Media Watch | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

Gigabytes for Girls

Posted by Cate on May 14, 2009


With yet another example of ridiculous gender stereotyping, technology retailers Dell have released a new Website Della, with editorial and products supposedly targeted at women. I don’t know I just like my technology to work when I want it to, not to be some kind of social accessory.

Some of the highlights:

There’s a big plug for the Mini plug notebook  with lots of gendered descriptions for women who like to hang out with their friends

  • Enjoy a resized keyboard for a convenient fit – even in your bag

Um, since when is my bag meant to be small because I’m female?

  • Check the weather, movie times or restaurant directions wherever you go
  • God forbid we might want to use our internet access tocheck the news or stock market or work emails like the other gender. Shall we check out horoscopes too?

    Are you imagining the restraint the copywriters would have to use to ensure the absent of exclaimation marks? But rest assured, you can get more excited, the mini notebooks come in lots of different colours to ‘match your outfit”.

    The”Tech” section specifically targeted at women offers nothing more than  matching a mini notebook to your lifestyle.

    There’s  a “Featured Artist”, fashion expert Robin Moreno with a video on “How to score at Vintage Stores”.  

    The Giving section is possibly the most patronising of all. It’s news to me that computer recycling (green wash anyone?) is somehow a women’s job. And when will the time come that big business decides to offer dosh to charities besides breast cancer fundraisers?

    Excuse me whilst I go powder my nose.

    Author’s edit: I just finished writing this post and saw a news item about Net Registry and their use of Benny Hill style ‘naughty nurses’ at the CeBIt Australia  trade show  to promote their products. But, don’t worry, it’s really ok, the company assures us that the stunt was just a bit of fun and was directed by “women and a gay guy”.

    Posted in Business, Tech & Net | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »