Men are from Earth, women are from Earth

// 20 October 2008

Interesting article in yesterday’s Sunday Times (link here) about the Conservative party seeking advice from a marketing agency on “deciphering the female psyche”. Apparently:

The consultants use research drawn from brain science, anthropology and marketing to help their clients to improve their understanding of women consumers. Their big idea is that while men regard the world as a stadium in which they compete, women are more “altruistic” and “utopian”.

The consultants, who are close to Steve Hilton, [David] Cameron’s director of stategy, have been holding regular meetings with the Tory leadership for the past 18 months. Their influence can be seen in the Tories’ changes in marketing, political style and policies. The replacement of the “phallic” Tory torch logo with the “organic” oak tree brand was a clear attempt to create a more female-friendly image.


Partly at the suggestion of his new advisers, the Tory leader has played down traditional Conservative “masculine” subjects such as tax cuts and Europe in favour of more “feminine” issues such as maternity nurses, schools and care for the elderly.


The consultants point to scientific research which shows that while men use only part of their brains, women are more “whole-brained”.

Men are described as active, analytical, competitive and interested in things, while women are more concerned with feelings, relationships, people and empathy.

“Women have a stronger sense of moral order and justice and are, as a result, driven to improve the world at large,” the consultants write.

So are they really saying that taxation and European issues are subjects which don’t appeal to women voters, and that women can’t be analytical and “interested in things”? – whatever that means.

“Whereas men are most likely to think the nation’s most pressing issues are budget and cutting spending, women […] are more inclined to favour social programmes and services such as education, healthcare and childcare, poverty, joblessness, environment, world hunger and the United Nations.”

The report specifically mentions the party’s intention “to woo the middle-class mothers whose votes are likely to determine the outcome of the next general election”. Given the condescending attitude which seems to pervade the strategy, it’s amazing they think that the targetted voters are even going to be able to find their way to the polling station without the help of a man, let alone manage to put one’s ‘X’ in the right box as well.

I really can’t help but wonder why politicians think that a campaign apparently based on hopelessly outmoded and inaccurate stereotypes is likely to be more successful in attracting a specific group of voters than a campaign which considers the real needs of real women in real life.

Comments From You

Fran // Posted 20 October 2008 at 10:00 am

“Brain science”. I lol’d.

Research does show women to be slightly more interested in things (hey, women are “interested in things”!) like care and education but

a) as you say, it’s a generalisation and

b) that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in Europe or the economy, too.

Once again the Tories prove they haven’t really changed.

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 20 October 2008 at 11:03 am

Allow me to translate what the Tories are actually saying:

“How do we get women to vote against their best interest?”

Which is why they go to marketing agencies. Because they are experts in brainwashing women to act against their best interests.

Lindsey // Posted 20 October 2008 at 11:42 am

Of course that torch did just scream “penis” every time I looked at it, whereas that lovely squiggly tree reminds me of my lovely fuzzy bush. Nothing to do with greenwashing at all.

I actually got a mailer from the tories the other day with tick boxes to indicate what issues I care about. I read it as “we don’t have any beliefs or convictions, what should be pretend to care about to get your vote?” Plus it pissed me off that they addressed me as “Mrs”

Jess // Posted 20 October 2008 at 12:18 pm

I think this is genuinely worrying – beyond the election, if they get into power, we don’t want a government based on gender stereotypes. Ack!

Not that this is surprising at all, of course.

chem_fem // Posted 20 October 2008 at 12:49 pm

Oi Cameron!!

I’ll tell you what woman want and for free no less. How about the right to choose what happens to my body with out all the extra obstacles you plan to throw in the way or all the time limits you voted for?


Didn’t think so.

Clare // Posted 20 October 2008 at 12:49 pm

My favourite bit?

“while men use only part of their brains, women are more “whole-brained”.”

Childish, but I had to have a little chuckle.

It’s so transparent though, I just hope people are able to see them for what they are – totally out of touch with everything yet still depressingly likely to win the next election.

I’ve decided I’m winning the lottery on Wednesday so we can all go and live on an island and build the utopia we evidently all crave. Sigh.

Essen // Posted 20 October 2008 at 2:31 pm

When are men going to get offended about this crap as well?

I’m absolutely all for us feminists standing up and telling Cameron what we want and what policies appeal to us, but it’s so demeaning and downright rude to men to suggest that they don’t care how their children are educated or how their wives are paid, as long as their pet views on Europe are pandered to. And why do most men I know nod sagely at the “wisdom” of these surveys that claim they only have half a brain?

Fran // Posted 20 October 2008 at 4:20 pm

Lindsey, I had a letter like that, too. And they addressed me as “Mrs.” Must be common for them to assume all women are married (and not to consider “Ms.” as an alternative).

Soirore // Posted 20 October 2008 at 4:54 pm

Lindsey & Fran – Me too.

I thought it hilarious that a party would think I’d vote for them when they couldn’t even get my title right. It shows a complete lack of respect for women to have Mrs as the default.

zooeyibz // Posted 20 October 2008 at 5:49 pm

“men use only part of their brains, women are more ‘whole-brained'”

That much, at least, is true

Ellie // Posted 21 October 2008 at 11:50 am

Am I being oversensitive in finding zooeyibz’s comment above a bit offensive? I know she’s probably joking but still, would you keep the comment up if it was a joke at women’s expense?

Gemma // Posted 21 October 2008 at 12:54 pm

I understand the worries about gender stereotyping etc but I read this article on Sunday and despite some of its dubious language effecting certain connotations I thought it was possibly an interesting step in the right direction.

I recently read Susan Pinker’s “The Sexual Paradox” which puts forward some really interesting discussion on the difference between the sexes and the way our brains are gendered and do affect our life choices albeit within the boundaries we face culturally.

Is it really a bad thing that government parties recognise that women are often more involved with or interested in more philanthropic work, and with their vote in mind look to implementing change which would aid and recognise that work?

I do agree that the article doesn’t take the best angle, but I think there is something in it.

Helen G // Posted 21 October 2008 at 1:03 pm

Ellie: The system software seems to have formatted zooeyibz’ comment rather poorly: her first line was, in fact, quoting from the original Sunday Times article. I’ve adjusted the formatting – but not the content – of zooeyibz’ comment to reflect this, and hope that it clarifies things a little better.

Rose // Posted 21 October 2008 at 1:44 pm

So, men vote concerning tax cuts, serious stuff, for the wage earner and all.

Whereas women vote concerning the world they see, about children and education, and dinner party topics. Stuff in the home.

Im not sure what advice would make more sense to Cameron, a tax cut on shoes, or some silly, air-head notion about equality?

Did anyone else notice that it decribed male attributes, described women as being more holistic (whole-brained) creatures, and then ditched that to say that women were ‘only’ interested in these different topics? Surely, by their original logic, women are interested in both sides of the coin?

Infact, there are all sorts of bizarre ideas in it, not least that ‘tax’ isn’t an issue of morality!

Helen G // Posted 21 October 2008 at 2:22 pm

Gemma: Interesting… This review in The Guardian earlier this year seemed to me to be almost dismissive of Ms Pinker’s work, saying this about it:

“Susan Pinker’s obsession with hormones as destiny assumes women make choices unhampered by cultural baggage. This is allied to a touching faith in market economies; in her world, there are no decisions based, for example, on the assumption that men generally still find it easier to earn more. She offers no challenge to the way corporate capitalism is organised and nowhere suggests that women’s frequent decisions to work outside big companies or part-time might be indicative of a structural inequality that could perhaps be worth addressing.”

This, in my opinion, would definitely be an interesting topic for debate, and one which may perhaps be more fruitful than yet another ‘blog war’ over a subject which, it seems to me has no clear answers. As far as I’m concerned, whether we were ‘born this way’ or ‘became this way’ is, I think, perhaps not entirely pertinent to this particular, more generalised discussion of whether or not a political party’s adoption of what a friend of mine has called “pseudo-scientific evolutionary-biology”, as a method of attracting voters, really serves the interests of women in contemporary society.

Cara // Posted 21 October 2008 at 3:28 pm

Grr, the whole Mars and Venus trope annoys me.

Yeah hormones exist…so what…actual proper scientific research has failed to show any major differences between the sexes. We are all people!

Hmmm I got a letter from the Tories…was tempted to return to sender with a note saying No chance…I didn’t notice if they put Ms or something else, although normally that is one of my bugbears.

I thought zooeyibz’s post was funny.

It certainly would be offensive if the same was said about women, but I don’t necessarily think there needs to be complete symmetry. Because historically men have been privileged in society, and women have been opressed…in many ways still is the case. So jokes at men’s expense occur in a different context, and I would argue serve a different function, to undermine male privilege (or at least, laugh at it) – jokes against women uphold the existing gender dynamic.

Similarly, I wouldn’t care about being called ‘honky’ or ‘ghost’ etc. but would never use certain n words.

Aimee // Posted 21 October 2008 at 6:43 pm

This is NOT based on scientific research! That’s bolloks. It’s based on the long held reiteration of ridiculous stereotypes. It makes me so angry! How can the torys think that generalising and demeaning women in such a way is going to make them ‘female friendly’?

lisa // Posted 22 October 2008 at 9:41 am

All political parties fail miserably to address the concerns of the majority of women (of course there are exceptions) – poor if not shockingly substandard urban planning and housing, lack of public transport, low wages, pollution etc. The Tories are irrelevant. The best of a bad lot ? Possibly Lib Dems ? Greens ?

Leigh // Posted 22 October 2008 at 9:59 am

“Oi, Morons in the Blue! If you want insight into the female Psyche, put female politicians in decision making positions in your party. You Frakking idiots.”


Shea // Posted 23 October 2008 at 3:37 pm

@ Leigh– wise words brother :-)

Shea // Posted 23 October 2008 at 3:45 pm

Actually there has been some research that points to differences in the Cerebellar cortex, in men and women. The trouble is it is impossible to analyse any findings without acknowledging a deep scientific bias, inherent in all of this.

“women are more concerned with feelings, relationships, people and empathy.” Yes but women have always been consigned to the domestic sphere so its hardly surprising that they would be concerned with these issues. I actually think most women appear more worried about the economy at present.

I read the above post thinking “ah” so women make better judges, lawyers, doctors and politicians then? (A step too far for Cameron methinks).

Helen G // Posted 23 October 2008 at 4:02 pm

Women judges, lawyers, doctors and politicians? Good grief! Whatever will they think of next! Don’t you know women are supposed to be at home chained to the kitchen sink while having babies and cooking dinner, ready for when the head of the family comes home after another hard day at the office, winning bread and thinking about Europe…

…*wakes up in a cold sweat*…


Cara // Posted 23 October 2008 at 10:08 pm

Shea, you’re right to point out that scientific research, much as it pretends to be, is never objective and bias-free. Also brains do not develop in isolation from the environment.

And exactly – I completely agree with what you say about women actually being better lawyers, politicians, judges etc. – it’s enraging how empathy is seen as a fluffy, caring, personal world but keep it away from the hard-nosed world of Men’s Business, when actually the ability to understand and predict how other people behave is incredibly useful in professions and business!

(Of course when men do that, it’s not called empathy/ social skills/ gossip etc. because that’s feminine, it’s called strategising or something!)

Helen G, ha!

Sarah // Posted 24 October 2008 at 9:50 am

It would be suprising if there weren’t some average differences between women and men in terms of brain development, given the genetic and hormonal differences, not to mention the different upbringing and experiences girls and boys tend to be given. It shouldn’t be anti-feminist to say there are differences. The more important question is what, if anything, those differences tell us about real-world abilities and potential. Or to question whether small average differences between ‘men’ and ‘women’ as population groups really tell us much about any individual, especially given that there are also huge differences between individuals within each gender. And of course it shouldn’t be forgetten that there are people who don’t fit neatly into either the ‘male’ or ‘female’ box for one reason or another.

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