Compared to men, women are clueless about politics. Those are the depressing findings of a British study released last week. Even in advanced democracies like Norway and Canada, it found a massive gender gap in knowledge about politics. Men are news junkies, while women tune out.
According to the authors, these findings should alarm us. The fact that women are more interested in Kim Kardashian than Stephen Harper is bad for democracy.
And whose fault is it, anyway? Well, that’s easy. The study’s authors blame the media, for “marginalizing” women. They also blame a “historical hangover” of patriarchal attitudes from the days when women were not supposed to bother their pretty little heads about matters outside the home. Also, public affairs are still dominated by men. All these factors “discourage [women] from political participation,” warned Kaori Hayashi, one of the female academics involved in the study.
But maybe there are other explanations. Women tend to filter what they need to know. Their eyes glaze over at the media’s daily offerings of “gotcha” politics. And 99 per cent of what passes as “news” is noise, not signal. The news consists primarily of incremental political developments that are pre-hashed and rehashed ad nauseam, and will be forgotten by next week. These are interspersed with horrific scenes of wars and other natural disasters, along with developments from far-off countries whose problems are largely incomprehensible. No wonder sensible people tune out.
There is a large overlap between men’s and women’s interests. But many of these interests are fundamentally different. Men keep track of batting averages. Women keep track of weddings. Men are interested in facts, systems, sports, competition, status, and keeping score. They use the common ground of sports and politics to bond with other men. Women are interested in relationships, gossip, health, education and their kids. They use the common ground of social information and mutual support to bond with other women.
Men have opinions on almost everything, even if they’re ill-informed. Women tend to underrate their knowledge, and are far more likely to say, “I don’t know.” The obnoxious online comments you find on every news site come overwhelmingly from men.
As for “marginalizing” women, I can tell you that the media are desperate to play up every woman and women-related story they can find. The TV news is inundated with female anchors and reporters, and saturated with health and diet pseudo-news and emotional human-interest stories that are designed to tug at female heartstrings. But no matter what they do, a lot of women still prefer to watch Wedding Reality TV.
To help obtain their results, the British researchers administered a test of general political knowledge to 10,000 people in 10 countries. Sample questions asked people to identify Angela Merkel, the Copenhagen summit, and the secretary-general of the UN. In every country, the men outscored the women by a wide margin (although I am happy to tell you that Canadian women scored about as well as American men).
But ask a different set of questions, and you’ll get a different gender gap. When is Grandma’s birthday? Who heads the school parents’ group? What are the new hours at the library? Which has more calories, a grilled chicken sandwich or a hamburger? What are the pros and cons of co-sleeping? How long have we been married?
Er, he’ll have to get back to you on that.