Battlepanda: An anthropologist's view


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

An anthropologist's view

I often remark on how the books I'm reading have an uncanny tendency to throw up material that is relevant to my blogging. Well, it's happened again! This time, I'm reading a delightful book called Watching the English by Kate Fox, it is a playful pop-anthropology love letter to the English and their quirky, rules-obsessed, class-obsessed ways. Kate Fox is a native daughter and bona-fide anthropologist who forewent the de rigure tenure in some sweaty jungle studying people who live in tribes in favor of studying her fellow countrymen in English betting shops and pubs as if they belong to remote tribes. Here's what she has to say on Men and Shopping:
A significant number of English males, however, choose to prove their masculinity by emphasizing how hopelessly bad they are at shopping. Shopping is seen as a female skill; being too good at it, even in the approved hunter-like manner, might cast doubt upon your macho credentials, or even raise questions about your sexual orientation. Among anxious heterosexuals, it is tacitly understood that only gay men, and a few ultra-politically-correct, New Man, feminist types -- take pride in their shopping skills. The done thing is for 'real men' is to avoid shopping, to profess to hate shopping, and to be completely useless at it.

This can be partly just a matter of laziness, the employment of a practice the Americans call 'klutzing out' -- deliberately making such a poor job of a domestic chore that one is unlikely to be asked to do it again. But among English men, uselessness at shopping is also a significant source of pride. Their female partners often play along with this, helping them to display their manliness by performing elaborate pantomimes of mock-exasperation at their inability to find their way around the supermarket, teasing them constantly and telling stories about their latest doofus mistakes. 'Oh he's hopeless, hasn't got a clue, have you, love?' said a woman I interviewed in a supermarket coffee shop, smiling fondly at her husband, who pulled a mock-sheepish face. 'I sent him out to get tomatoes and he came back with a bottle of ketchup and he says "well it's made of tomatoes isn't it?" so I go "yes, but it's not much bloody use in a salad!" Men! Typical!' The man positively glowed with pride, laughing delightedly at this confirmation of his virility.
Replace "shopping" with "housework" and "English" with "American" in most of that sentence, and you've got a pretty good description of many men's attitudes about housecleaning in this country, IMHO.

I've never heard of 'klutzing out', but it's a nifty term that I'm adding to my vocabulary.