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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ding-Dong! Verily I Try... (or Christmas and Hunter-Gatherers)

I just read a rather amusing article that gave me one of those "lightbulb" moments, about miscommunication and miscues. I've just figured out (for the umpteenth time) another variation on How Much I am Out of Step with Other Women:

“One Christmas, I received a tub of Porcelana Fade Cream from my husband’s great aunt,” says Ryan-Sigler, a 46-year-old teacher from Lynchburg, Va. “I was at the tender age of 36 and the cream was supposed to ‘fade brown spots.’ I have to say that was the worst Christmas gift I’ve ever received.”

From body shapers to Botox, nose hair trimmers to the dreaded Thigh Toner, there are some gifts it’s better to neither give nor receive. Out-of-the-blue self-improvement gifts often relay a not-so-merry message. Happy holidays — you look old! Merry Christmas, you’re getting fat!Or season’s greetings, isn’t it about time you took care of that lady ’stache?

As I read this, I had one of those *gasp* moments, realizing that my reaction to such a present would have been very different. Porcelana Fade Cream, the "worst Christmas gift" ever? Why? I'd use the face cream (which I would never buy for myself, preferring to mix witch hazel with potting soil and cucumbers, or to use real oatmeal with a low-price facial scrub). I'd probably thank the woman and, if I liked the cream, hint at another jar for next year! What's the big deal? It's a free skin product! So what if it's for age spots and I don't have any? I have moles - would it work on them? Would using it prevent age spots? Let's find out!

Sooner or later, we'll all have to deal with that lady 'stache or our weight gain (weight accumulates around the organs as one ages, which is why even former stick-figures like me have to start watching their weight after forty) or the Thunder Thigh syndrome. So if someone gave me one of those cheesy Thighmaster contraptions, I'd probably laugh and give a demonstration. Can I use it while shimmying?

With than in mind, I now certainly hope that nothing that I gave anyone insulted them. (I doubt it, though. Paradoxically, I am pretty attuned moms' needs when it comes to finding them weirdly appropriate gifts - the hand-held LED message fan was a big hit at the Secret Santa exchange with the mother who promptly signaled "Ice cream in freezer" at her husband behind her kids' backs! I was rather proud of myself for finding that one!)

What do we Americans have to give to each other, anyway? Goofy presents can be fun. I would just assume that the Thighmaster was a joke present. Lady 'stache - okay, not the most diplomatic present, but useful. I would, however, draw the line at nose hair clippers. LOL!

Also, the plastic surgeon who gave a friend's wife a discount for breast augmentation because the friend said "she really wants one" fell for one of the oldest ploys since the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Sorry, you set yourself up for that one, Doc. He goes on to say:

I tell this story as a cautionary tale now. When people talk about defects in their body, they’re often not asking for an operation. They’re asking for a hug and a kiss and reassurance they’re OK.

As I read this article, which is informative but also hilarious, I realized that I'm discovering more and more scenarios in which my reactions just don't gibe with the reactions of other women. For example, this howler finally expressed everything I was afraid to say about women's obsession with shopping:

The idea for Kruger's new study arose from a personal experience. He and his now-wife were traveling with friends through Czechoslovakia. When they arrived in Prague, the women immediately wanted to go shopping, an impulse that the men did not understand.

"We thought, 'Why do you want to go shopping? You can go shopping anywhere. There's a thousand years of culture here,'" he said. "They were adamant. They put their foots down. They took the credit cards and left."

That wasn't the end of it. When the women returned, Kruger said, they were full of joy and pride as they showed off their loot, even though many of their purchases came from a chain store that had outlets in other countries.

"For them," he said, "It was just the thrill of the chase."

Yes, I could never figure out What the hell gives? with buying the same old crap you can buy anywhere else. Normally, I look askance at "evolutionary psychology" - much of it strikes me as ad hoc justifying of sexist stereotypes, with about as much content as "Marxist criticism" (something exists, "Marx predicted it," "this is what he really said," repeat ad nauseum) which in my opinion is not too far from "Nostradamus predicted it." (As Eric Hoffer said, "Marx was not a Marxist.") However, this explanation seems to make sense:

The results fell into the gendered trends that Kruger was expecting to find: Overall women tended to behave like foragers, and men acted like hunters. To him, that made sense.

When groups of hunter-gatherers arrived in a new place, he said, the women were eager to scope out the landscape for patches of food that they would return to again and again. Foraging was a daily and social activity, and kids often came along.

To determine whether a plant was perfectly ripe, women developed a fine attention to colors, shapes, sizes, textures and smells. All of those senses come into play when trying to find shoes that match a new dress or clothes to buy as gifts.

Well, it could be confirmation bias, but it dovetails with so much of my anecdotal experience that I can't help falling for it. And thanks for the "(most)" MSNBC! Thank you!

My method of shopping is to whip through the store with the idea that "I'll know if if I see it." (Notice I did not say, "when." I have walked out of plenty of stores without buying anything. If I say this in front of other women, they express the same shock that they'll invariably express when I say things like, "I'd rather chop wood than do the dishes," or "I think I could have majored in military history.") I practically run past the racks and shelves, until one or two items make me stop and examine them further.

No one can riffle through a rack of clothes faster than me - most of it I don't like and won't buy, so there's no point in looking at it. My goal is to get as much as I need as possible while spending as little as possible, with the fewest trips to the dressing room as possible, since I'm usually dragging with me a large bag containing a heavy book (because I feel insecure without one - don't ask me why, I even brought a book to the casino once).

So, in an earlier age, I would have been a hunter rather than a forager/gatherer? Or is this really a false dichotomy? It's something that fascinates me. I don't think human beings change so fundamentally that there could not have been "tomboy cavewomen" who preferred running around the savannah to digging for grubs and roots with the kids, while certain sensitive men preferred to tend fires or look after children. After all, Native American tribes accepted that there were "lucky charm" gay people, and men who preferred to dress and act as women, and the occasional woman who struck out on her own. I am willing to bet that our recent ancestors and even Neanderthalensis, Homo habilis, and the Australopithecines displayed much more individual diversity than we give them credit for. I'll bet that back then there were, as there are today, loners and jabberers (once speech had been invented), laid-back types and control freaks, drama queens and eye-rollers, honest ones and smarmy used-carcass salemen (or women), and those who later would become the bookworm type, like me.

Jared Diamond expresses doubts about The Hunter stereotype in this unforgettable passage, one of my favorites, from The Third Chimpanzee:

What food did our early ancestors get with those crude tools, and how did they get it? At this point, anthropology books usually insert a long chapter entitled something like "Man the Hunter." The point here is that baboons, chimps, and some other primtes occasionally prey on small vertebrates, but recently surviving Stone Age people (like Bushmen) did a lot of big-game hunting. So did Cro-Magnons, according to abundant archaeological evidence. There's no doubt that our early ancestors also ate some meat, as shown by marks of their stone tools on animal bones and by wear marks on their stone tools caused by cutting meat. The real question is: how much big-game hunting did our early ancestors do?... The mystique of Man the Hunter is now so rooted in us that it's hard to abandon our belief in its long-standing importance. Today, shooting a big animal is regarded as an ultimate expression of macho masculinity.* Trapped in this mystique, male anthropologists like to stress the key role of big-game hunting in human evolution....

As an example of the purple prose spawned by this men's locker-room mentality, consider the following account of human evolution by Robert Ardrey in his book African Genesis: "In some scrawny troop of beleaguered not-yet-men on some scrawny forgotten plain a radian particle from an unknown source fractured a never-to-be-forgotten gene, and a primate carnivore was born. For better or for worse, for tragedy or for triumph, for ultimate glory and ultimate damnation, intelligence made alliance with the way of the killer, and Cain with his sticks and his stones and his quickly running feet emerged on the high savannah." What pure fantasy! [Yeesh, that was pretty bad!]

Western male writers and anthropologists aren't the only men with an exaggerated view of hunting. In New Guinea I've lived with real hunters, men who recently emerged from the Stone Age. Conversations at campfires go on for hours over each species of game animal, its habits, and how best to hunt it. To listen to my New Guinea friends, you would think that they eat fresh kangaroo for dinner every night and do little each day except hunt. In fact, when pressed for details, most New Guinea admit that they have bagged only a few kangaroos in their whole lives.

I still recall my first morning in the New Guinea highlands, when I set out with a group of a dozen men armed with bows and arrows. As we passed a fallen tree, there was suddenly much excited shouting, men surrounded the tree, some spanned their bows, and others pressed forward into the brush pile. Convinced that an enraged boar or kangaroo was about to come out fighting, I looked for a tree that I could climb to a perch of safety. Then I heard triumphant shrieks, and out of the brush pile came two mighty hunters holding aloft their prey: two baby wrens, not quite able to fly, weighting about one-third of an ounce each, and promptly plucked, roasted, and eaten. [Awwwww!] The rest of that day's catch consisted of a few frogs and many mushrooms... For most of our history we were not mighty hunters but skilled chimps, using stone tools to acquire and prepared plant food and small animals. Occasionally, men did bag a large animal, and then retold the story of that rare event incessantly.

I'm feeling more and more like a woman as I read this! LOL, men bragging and making something appear more difficult than it really is - girls, ain't it the truth?

*I wish to add, however, that the overwhelming majority of hunters in Minnesota also consider this to be an enormous responsibility, and feel a great respect for and kinship with the big animal. Most hunters in this state are extremely careful with their guns, respectful of people's private farms, and support local conservation efforts. The recent poaching of an eight-point buck known in this state by a jerk who wanted to act out his own Man the Hunter stereotype caused hurt and anger among hunters, who respect nature and the law, and expect others to do so.

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Blogger Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Great post. I thought there was a lot of meat in there, even if the hunters tended not to actually find any.

December 30, 2009 4:43 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Thanks. If I were to name any character in a movie that came closest to portraying me, it would be Jill in "Once Upon a Time in the West" and not any actress in a chick-flick.

December 31, 2009 8:26 AM  

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