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