Misogyny? In Nature you say?

A couple of months back a strange article titled “Womanspace” appeared on Nature’s website. It is an impressive piece of misogynist shit. Claimed by the author, Ed Rybicki, in a comment to be “tounge-in-cheek”:

Ed Rybicki said: I wrote this tongue-in-cheek, but I swear I’ve witnessed my daughter entering Womanspace recently: she’s 16, and has started doing all the same things in supermarkets I’ve become used to my wife doing.

Ok, so it’s tongue-in-cheek, but he really meant it anyway … right? So what is it he’s talking about? The real gem here—if I can use that word—is this piece:

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.

And the interesting thing is — and this is what sparked the discovery — that any male would be very hard pressed to say where she got some of these things, even if he accompanied her.

Have you never had the experience of talking to your significant female other as you wend your way through the complexity of a supermarket — only to suddenly find her 20 metres away with her back to you? And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened?

I think the one not aware here is you dear Rybicki. This “discovery” as you call it is only the product of your misogynist little mind. His ground breaking discovery is that men and women live in different parallel universes! Yes, you heard me … not just Venus and Mars, different universes! After reading a number of comments by both men and women on the blogs were I found this link, it becomes pretty clear that shopping habits have to do with what you’re shopping for and how interested you are in the products, not what gender you are. If anything, Rybicki has re-discovered the gender stereotypes from decades past. Well, Mr., welcome to 2011. Enjoy your stay, and please don’t piss of the local population. You may return to your own alternate universe or era at your own convenience.

For some weird reason I expected Nature to hold a better standard than this—being a not unimportant scientific journal and all—but apparently I was wrong.

Anne Jefferson wrote this about the article, sums it up better than I could:

The story hearkens back to the “good old” sexist days when men did important things (like write books about virology) and women did unimportant things (like keep their families fed and clothed); when men couldn’t be bothered to be useful around the house and even when women did manage to get science degrees they were better employed as cooks and errand runners. The writer makes the explicit assumption that all of his (and, thus Nature’s) readers are male and have a “significant female other” who helps with their shopping. The story uses a cliched trope that women have an alternate reality, but then adds the extra punch that we aren’t even smart or observant enough to know it. As a woman scientist reading this article, it seems in every way designed to make me feel othered and excluded from the scientific academy.

I think this bit from the comments under the Nature’s article is worth quoting. It’s written by two graduate students Ylaine Gerardin and Tami Lieberman:

Although this story was intended to be humorous, a quick reading identifies the following notions, which are hard to laugh off: (1) routine domestic duties involve mysterious rites known only to women; (2) only men can be reliable observers who make scientific discoveries; (3) it is naturally a woman’s business to worry about domestic issues (making supper, organizing childrens’ clothes) while the men concern themselves with higher matters (writing a book on virus structure).

Source: Ophelia Benson

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  1. nthmost says:

    “””The writer makes the explicit assumption that all of his (and, thus Nature’s) readers are male and have a “significant female other” who helps with their shopping.”””

    It’s this part I found most offensive, and this part that the male commenters just do. not. get.

    Ed wrote a followup article on his own blog…


    …in which he not only defends his position but finds he is EVEN MORE RIGHT THAN HE COULD HAVE EVER IMAGINED!

    Oh well, Ed can’t be faulted. Men hate admitting when they’re wrong, after all.

  2. Veronica says:

    It was supposed to be my second point, but someone else said it better so I quotes her instead.

    Thanks for the link. He seems to have missed the point of the criticism. At least in part. There was at least one good comment on his post explaining it to him.

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