Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Quick hit: Can't read a map? What are ya? A girl?

Apparently research tells us that women can't read maps. And men can. But men can't see small irrelevant objects around them, like socks on the floor, whereas women can:
The cliches that women can't read maps and men can't see things right under their noses seem to have been explained by science.

Researchers believe the reason the sexes differ is because of their specific roles in evolution.

Men had to hunt and stalk their prey, so became skilled at navigation, while women foraged for food and became good at spotting fruit and nuts close by.

The theory emerged from a study which looked at the different way in which men and women appreciate art.

Click through for the rest of the story.

This clearly explains why when I was in Berlin with a man of my acquaintance and we got hideously lost due to his poor map-reading skills it was because he's a woman in disguise and neither of us have realised it yet. Conversely I must secretly be a man in denial, due to my superior navigation skills.

Am I the only one who is confused about why this is still the subject of so much research and media reportage, and whole entire books?

30 comments:

Psycho Milt said...

...their specific roles in evolution?

WTF? Maybe there have been some massive breakthroughs in the study of human evolution that I missed?

Men had to hunt and stalk their prey, so became skilled at navigation, while women foraged for food and became good at spotting fruit and nuts close by.

Ah, I see - the journo has simply confused evolutionary theory with that caveman movie that had Racquel Welch in a fur bikini. Could happen to anyone...

Tamara said...

I want to know why this deserved front page coverage??

anna c said...

Sample size of 20 =/= scientific research. God.

Azlemed said...

i am the better navigator around here, hubby is useless at map reading... and why this needs studied so much i really dont understand... just the usual lets stereotype women and men

stargazer said...

yup, same with me. i was always the better navigator & am pretty good at getting where i want to be in all the various suburbs of auckland, even tho i'm a hamiltonian!

hungrymama said...

I'm bad at map-reading but good at ignoring floor-socks. What does that make me?

Anonymous said...

Ahh cliches and stereotypes, you're so much easier to make stoopid news out of, than actually investigate the subtle nuances that make up ANY human being.

Danielle said...

Evolutionary psychology: another one of the many, many things which make me stabby.

Also: I am totally obsessed with maps.

reddeath26 said...

@Psycho Milt-
I believe they are referring to social darwinism as opposed to darwinism. Although I could be incorrect on this. Either way they are basing it on a flawed logic.

earlgreyrooibos said...

So if my husband and I are both inept at maps and directions, are we actually lesbians?

Anna said...

Good point, reddeath - Darwin apparently thought that social Darwinism was arse. It's kind of sad to see his work undermined by people taking it in directions he never intended it to go in.

lauredhel said...

"Ah, I see - the journo has simply confused evolutionary theory with that caveman movie that had Racquel Welch in a fur bikini. Could happen to anyone..."

Psycho Milt: I am intrigued by your ideas, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Lucy said...

Also: I am totally obsessed with maps.

I so hear you. I can stare at maps for *hours*. Google Maps has swallowed large portions of my life as I refine and re-refine optimal routes. Which has actually saved me five minutes on my bike to uni, so that's...not nearly as much time as I've wasted on it, sadly.

But then, I figured out I was a guy sometime around the point when our flat had an all-female RWC quarterfinal watching event and the boys slept in.

Ah, I see - the journo has simply confused evolutionary theory with that caveman movie that had Racquel Welch in a fur bikini. Could happen to anyone...

I can think of several ways to validate this theory of men-hunt women-gather, involving cause-of-death and wound pattens on skeletons, but I have this funny suspicion they don't get tested all that often. But then, evolutionary psych is not what I'd call *good* science. Mostly because psychology has a large bullshit component anyway, and extrapolating back ten thousand years with a healthy dose of stereotype only tends to enlarge it.

Penni said...

I love maps. My husband sucks at reading maps. I can picture most of Melbourne from the air. However I always get lost in shopping centres and carparks. Which suggests I wouldn't have been so good at foraging.

My daughter loves maps too. Always has.

Julie said...

Well, well, well, all these deviant ladies who love maps! One day we shall rule the world, seeing as how we are so good at getting around it!

And lauredhel, you might not want to encourage Milt too much, he's hard enough to put up with as it is ;-)

Penni said...

Okay I'm back

"Any person can find beautiful a landscape, a building or a canvas that some others will find awful. But sex has little to do with those differences. Perhaps they relate with other variables, such as age or education," he said.
What a sad lonely person. What about creativity, imagination, inspiration, the sublime...? Surely not everything can simply be pinned down to 'variables'. Surely the world still has some wonder left in it. That's the problem with people who polarise gender. They're just such boring sadsacks.

Anna said...

Lucy, couldn't agree more about the bullshit component of psychology, and the even greater bullshit component of evolutionary psychology. One problem with evolutionary psychology is that some of the hypotheses can't possibly be disproved, eg women have babies because we're driven to perpetuate our genes, but women who don't have babies are simply adapting to an environment in which having babies isn't conducive to perpetuating their genes. Really and truly!

Matt said...

Hi Julie

Regardless of the merits of this research surely the objection you and others raise misses the point.

You point out correctly that there are individual cases where women read maps better than men. But that’s quite compatible with the generalisation that men on average read maps better than women. The fact that some don't approximate to the average hardly shows it’s not true.

In fact, feminists on the left rely on these kind of generalisations all the time. For example the claim that women earn less than men is often made by feminists. Yet no one would deny that there are cases where an individual woman earns more than an individual man.

There have been times when my wife has been on a higher salary than I have can I mock these statistics (which I have cited by student associations in the past) by claiming that you think I am women in disguise perhaps?

If its unfair for people to generalise about women viz a viz map reading why is it fair to generalise about women viz a viz their earnings. You can’t utilise generalisations as valid when it suits you and then castigate them when it does not.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt

There's a huge difference between saying that something is currently true and saying that something is inbuilt.

For example saying that most people in New Zealand can read does not in any way negate the existence of non-readers nor does is imply that people in New Zealand are incapable of not reading.

Matt said...

I agree this is different. However, I don't think that mitigates my point. Take two traits both of which are not innate. Crime and earnings. Now consider the following two arguments

1.On average women earn less than men, therefore all women should receive benefit X that men do not receive to compensate for it.

2. On average moari commit more violent crimes than pakeha, therefore all maori should receive negative treatment X that pakeha do not as censure for this.

I am sure that Julie would reject the second as objectionable; hence her objection to such generalisations seems to have nothing to do with the fact that the trait is innate, because in this instance it is not.

The first argument however is one been repeatedly used by feminists. I could cite examples where writers on this blog have made it. However, both lines of reasoning are analogous. Hence they either are both valid or both invalid.

I stand then by my original comment, Julie’s complaint about making generalisations about women is made only when it suits her. She is quite willing to make such generalisations and advocate them as fair when the political outcomes are in her favour.

For my own part I reject both of them, I don’t believe you should censure all members of a race because of what’s true of some them on average and *for the same reasons* I don’t support special benefits being given to women because of what’s true of them on average.

I am interested to know however why Julie wants to have it both ways.

stargazer said...

matt, see anna c's comment: a sample size of 20 isn't sufficient to make any conclusions. a generalisation has to be supported by fact, not by evolutionary psychology theory.

also, your first proposition ie that women should receive benefit x is wrong. pay equity is about righting a wrong, not providing a benefit.

Julie said...

Matt my issue is not so much with the actual nitty gritty of the research itself as with the way these matters are usually reported - as cardinal rules about men and women - and the implied silliness that then ensues when such cases that don't comply are pointed out. (ie that those who don't comply with the rule are somehow not men or not women, or whatever).

Where have I said:
"1.On average women earn less than men, therefore all women should receive benefit X that men do not receive to compensate for it."
Unless by "benefit X" you would extrapolate to include things like fair investigations of the reasons for those pay differentials, by occupation group, and then the adoption of sensible measures to address those pay differentials when appropriate.

I'm pretty damn sure that I have never ever said that all women should get (for example) 50c more an hour in their pay, because on average women get paid less.

And I do find your constant reference to me by name a bit creepy Matt, but maybe that's just my own stuff coming to the surface.

Matt said...

Stargazer

Note my use of the word “compensate”

I agree with you about the sample size. I also agree about evolutionary psychology some Christian philosophers have been criticising its use for some time. However, this was not the argument mentioned in the post. What was mentioned was that some individual women and men did not fit the generalisation, an objection that applies with equal cognency to the claim that women earn less than men. Some women earn more than some men. I am sorry but an objection isn’t valid when you like the conclusion and invalid when it does not.


Julie

I don’t know how else to identify the named author than to use their name. I am puzzled as to why merely mentioning your name creeps you out. You called me Matt, should I be crept out at that?

First, I did not say you made this argument, however I have heard numerous SA’s make it and I have heard contributors to this blog (no name dropping this time) make the argument once in response to a myself in a public meeting in fact.

Second, by benefit I mean simply something of benefit to women which is not given to men. In a campus context WRO’s and women’s rooms would be an example, but these are fairly trivial. Target scholarships and support to students who are women which is not available to students who are men would be another, an existence of a ministry of women’s affairs and a minister in charge of it is another the list could go on. Pay increases given to women which are not given to men etc. These are normally justified by the claim that omen do worse on certain social indicators than men do. The problem is the claim that women do worse on these indicators is only true of women *on average* and not of every individual woman. Hence this argument is based on the very kinds of generalisations that you reject in other contexts.

Julie said...

Matt, I'm hardly going to insist that you find something creepy, I was merely pointing out the effect it had on me. Thinking more on this I suspect it is the frequent repetition, and particularly the asserting. As I said in my last comment, it probably says more about me than you.

Anyway, back to the point.

You gave a number of examples of benefits you see as accruing to women and not men, let's work through them:

1. "In a campus context WRO’s and women’s rooms would be an example, but these are fairly trivial."
There's a whole post in that, and in fact it's on my list to write about one day. You state that it's trivial, so let's park that for now.

2. "Target scholarships and support to students who are women which is not available to students who are men would be another,"
How many of these are there? And who has organised them? My observation is that most scholarships that specify very tightly who is eligible are actually offered by private organisations and not the state. Eg children of a particular group of employees, boys who attended Dilworth, girls who were once Girl Guides, that sort of thing. Do you deny these private organisations the chance to provide scholarships to groups they identify as being worthy?

3. "an existence of a ministry of women’s affairs and a minister in charge of it is another the list could go on."
Again, there's a post in this. It's a very similar argument to the women's rooms and WRO area, albeit on a larger scale. When women, on average, are not discriminated against on the basis of gender then we could certainly abolish them. Are you arguing that women are not paid less on average, are not disproportionately the victims of domestic violence on average, are found as commonly as men in the boardroom or around the Cabinet table?

4. "Pay increases given to women which are not given to men etc."
Kindly name one example of this.

Matt said...

You write regarding a ministry of women affairs.

*Again, there's a post in this. It's a very similar argument to the women's rooms and WRO area, albeit on a larger scale. When women, on average, are not discriminated against on the basis of gender then we could certainly abolish them.*

Thank you.
So your position is that because women are discriminated against *on average* its appropriate that *all* women should be give a particular benefit ( in this case a ministry) which is not available to others.

So you accept that the way the government treats all women should be determined by what is true of women on average.

As I stated above however, an analogous line of reasoning would justify racism. It’s true that on average certain ethnic groups commit more crimes than europeans do. Should the government then treat all members of these ethnic group as less trustworthy than all Europeans. Its true that on average homosexual men are promiscuous so should the government treat all homosexual me as promiscuous? I assume you would say No.

So in other contexts you recognise its unjust to treat all people in a class a certain way because its true of the average person in their class. You seem however to want to adopt this unjust line of reasoning when it benefits you.

stargazer said...

it may be analagous in the theories developed in your mind, but it is certainly not analagous in terms of goals and outcomes. one view seeks to right injustices and improve the lives of all members of society. the other view seeks to make some members of society worse off than others. except that the irony is that discrimination leading to injustice in facts harms the discriminators as well, just that the adverse effects aren't always so readily apparent. so, for example, i'm sure i've heard research showing that company with women on the board of directors actually make better decisions. if there are institutional and cultural barriers preventing women from achieving those positions, then those barriers harm everyone and it is in all our benefits that work is done to attempt to remove them. it may be that some of them can't be removed, but that doesn't mean that none of them should be or that the matter shouldn't be investigated.

of course, equal sharing of power and resources mean that the privileged group may have some personal adverse effects, so we often hear cries of "discrimination, hypocrites" whenever that power structure is challenged. think of the people who argued against removal of slavery in US. absolutely nothing new here.

as regards the map reading research, there are valid questions to be asked as to why this research was commissioned in the first place, why was the research question framed in the way it was, whether the research followed appropriate scientific methodology, and whether the conclusions drawn can be supported by the data. any research on pay equity or other discriminatory factors should be and almost certainly is subject to the same degree of scrutiny, particularly by those who believe they are going to lose privilege as a result.

Bevan11 said...

I'm coming from a different perspective than Matt, but I also wonder why this was mentioned here.

Women on average live longer than men. Men on average live longer than women.
What is wrong with saying that women, on average

Why shouldn't these things be researched and reported?

I thought this sentence was illuminating:
"Men tend to solve navigation tasks by using orientation-based strategies involving distance concepts and cardinal directions, whereas women tend to base their activities on remembering the location of landmarks and relative directions, such as 'left from', or 'to the right of'."

OK, so it's not as important as finding a cure for global warming, but it still helps us understand more about ourselves.

Bevan11 said...

oops:
What is wrong with saying that women, on average ... read maps and perceive the world differently to men.

stargazer said...

bevan11, read through the comments again. what is wrong is that these generalisations are not yet supported by any evidence.

Anna said...

To say that the Ministry of Women's Affairs confers a 'benefit' on women simply isn't true.

If you look at the work MWA does, you'll see it's almost entirely about addressing discrimination (eg pay equity), or injustice (eg domestic violence) which affects women. It is about raising women's average status to men's average status.

If you dispute that women on average suffer more domestic violence that men, or think that the gender pay gap is acceptable, then at least you have a (slightly) logical argument against MWA. If you think MWA somehow acts to raise the status of some women over that of other people, then you don't. What specifically are these privileged women supposed to be gaining? Extra special rights not to suffer domestic violence?

Women who are not affected by discrimination simply don't receive direct benefits from anti-discrimination measures. In addition to that, I don't see how anyone, male or female, is harmed by attempts to achieve justice for women facing discrimination.