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Woeful loss of all sorts of skills

There is something that I really hate. Well, a number of somethings. These somethings include (a) a bad understanding of generational theory which leads to oversimplifications (b) the notion that there are innately “female” (and, for that matter, “male” ) roles, and (c) really really poor research which gets media coverage because it provides pithy lines. Today’s article from News about the idea that “Generation Y women losing ‘female’ skills” managed to hit all those particular dislikes squarely.

The “research” indicates that “Gen Y” women (and I am surprised they didn’t call them “girls” or better still “ladies”) increasingly can’t iron a shirt (a man’s shirt presumably), cook a roast chicken or hem a skirt. And, horror, they can’t (or don’t) bake lamingtons.

One of the biggest problems I have with the way this “research” is presented is that there is no critical analysis of the fact that the people who undertook it – McCrindle Research – are a market research company who make their money from doing this kind of “research” and their principal, Mr Mark McCrindle, gets paid to give speeches about the mysteries of Generation X and Y in the workplace. Basically, the whole article is essentially a piece of advertising for his business.

Secondly, the language in the article is so biased. These “traditional” female roles (because women have been baking lamingtons for centuries and centuries) are becoming “endangered”. Words like “woefully” and “dying” litter the short article. It is clear that we need to feel it is terrible that this is happening – possibly a threat to the stability of society. It also can’t help itself but also go back to other “research” which shows that men are “more comfortable changing a nappy than a car tyre” – ho ho ho. There is also the terrible internal consistency in the piece – in one line it is saying that we live in a “throwaway” culture, in the next it is that people outsources their repairs.

The biggest problem with the “research” is the vast generalisations with it. Because it is research undertaken by a market research company, there is no peer review, no ethics review, no need for academic rigour. So what was the sample size? What were the questions? What kind of questions elicit the statistic that only “20 per cent of Gen Y women are capable of whipping up” lamingtons? Were they yes/no questions? Were they rated? How was the sample chosen? Can the survey even remotely stand scrutiny as statistically valid?

Not that this particular journalist was going to ask these kinds of questions when you can label a photo of a young woman with a mixer “Young women wielding kitchen equipment is an increasingly rare sight.”

The sweeping generalisations in this article annoy me. Anecdotally (which is probably as statistically valid as this survey) many young women are taking up these “tradition” skills for fun or entertainment. I bake way more and much better than my mother ever did. The freedom to not have to do these things makes one enjoy them more. My mother got to hate cooking because she always had to do. I enjoy it because I don’t. And surely when in many spaces men are just as likely to be whipping up the lamos, we become a better world when these tasks are shared.

Making generalisations about generations is intellectually lazy. There are things which are similar because of the time in which people grew up: yes, in general Gen Ys are more tech savvy than Baby Boomers because they grew up with technology. But that doesn’t mean that all Gen Ys are tech savvy, or that all Baby Boomers aren’t. People are as effected by class, education, social position and employment, for example, as they are by generation. Using Generations as a catch all is as lazy as racism, and about as accurate. And placing women in a box labelled ‘traditional female skills’ is just woeful.Perhaps we should instead mourn the dying art of journalistic integrity and popular ‘social research.’

For further reading and entertaining outrage- see Howling Clementine and The Rotund

5 responses to “Woeful loss of all sorts of skills

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Woeful loss of all sorts of skills « Godard’s Letterboxes --

  2. 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.
    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.
    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.”
    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!
    1. STEWS
    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!”
    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.”
    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 which is a national, representative, and research-only panel.

    • Melissa

      Normally I wouldn’t publish what is essentially a press release in my comments. However, as I think that it demosntrates the intellectually bereft nature of the populist market research and the idea that you can generalise about entire generations based on a sample size of 500 we’ll go wiht it…And look at that incisive social analysis!

  3. Boganette

    Fantastic post! I couldn’t agree more. There are just so many levels of wrong in that pointless article. It is completely sexist in its terming of ‘female’ and ‘male’ roles and the whole Gen Y are failing meme is in full force. Aside from everything else the article is just pointless – say we said that women really weren’t able to cook lamingtons: Well, who cares? How is the ability to bake an essential trait? You’re exactly right in that the entire article is just free publicity for a dude-bro’s business and it’s there to get clicks. But the problem is it is also fuel for sexist douchebags who will read it and say ‘see? ironing is something ladies do’. Or again send the message to women that they’re not doing enough and what they’re doing, they’re not doing right.

  4. Pirra

    I found that article hilarious when I read it.
    I don’t bake lamingtons because, *gasp, shock, horror* I don’t bloody like lamingtons! (Of course, I’m Gen X anyway, but still) I bake pretty well when it comes to other baked goods. (Although unlike you, my mother was the better baker but I am by far the better cook when it comes to meals)

    I can iron just fine but my husband does it because it’s usually HIS clothes that require ironing and being in the defence force they must be ironed a certain way and really he’s just more skilled with an iron than I am.

    The token comment in there on men unable to complete traditionally male tasks on the decline is laughable. Smacks completely of “look, see I am not being sexist I bagged men too”. Oh really? Where are the stats on how many men can’t bake a lamington, or how many men can’t drive a manual car? Of course there are less men and women able to drive a manual car, they make less of them now! It’s actually quite difficult to find manual cars. As for most men being more comfortable changing a dirty nappy than changing a flat tyre….on what universe? And so what if they are? Most of the women I know are quite capable of changing a flat tyre themselves.

    Women aren’t losing domestic skills, we need them less. It’s often more economically viable to buy things ready made than to make them yourself.
    Knitting your own jumper can cost you double than just buying one. Not to mention the time investment.

    Speaking of time, I have to go cook dinner. I might not be able to bake lamingtons but I sure can make a mean garlic prawn risotto!

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