Ed Rybicki fancies himself as a writer of fiction. Unfortunately for all of us, he’s fucking terrible at it. Really, really appallingly sloppy. He farted up a minor storm recently for writing a blog post entitled Womanspace. It is a dire exercise in blinkered white-male-privilege and downright fucking stupidity. No, but seriously? Go shopping for someone else and not ask where they want you to buy the stuff? I had intended to do a satire, but frankly, it’s too badly-written and obnoxious to parody without being sexist/racist/xenophobic and therefore not funny. It didn’t even work with robots or guardian angels and, in any case, the guardian angel I asked to narrate the story handed in its notice after five minutes, saying it didn’t “want to manifest on this planet anymore”.
So that just left one other choice. Rewrite the story, correcting the text to show what it might have looked like if the original had displayed the slightest sense of introspection. It’s still unfunny and sexist, but it’s a damn sight more honest. Possibly a little cruel, but some situations call for tough love.
You’d never think that all it took was for two middle-aged, middle-class men to be sent shopping by the wife of one to buy knickers, for the other to make a complete fool of himself on the Internet
It was very simple: I’d been staying with my friend Russell in Canberra, trying to sort out how we were going to get our book on virus structure together, when Russell’s wife Lilia decided that their youngest daughter needed new school knickers. She was too busy making supper to bother; these elderly men who wouldn’t otherwise lift a finger in the house were the perfect candidates — and the prospect of not having to listen to us blather self-importantly on about just where to pitch the book, and what to put in it, and which Jethro Tull albums we liked, probably tipped the balance our way. Seeing as we could continue to do all those things in a car and in the supermarket — and do a side trip to drool over overpriced electronic gadgets in Harvey Norman — we agreed with alacrity.
And so it was that, after a fair amount of time wasted doing pretentious comparisons of iMacs versus the rest followed by a cruise through rock nostalgia in the shape of special-offer CDs, that we already owned anyway, we found ourselves in a large supermarket, trawling for girls’ knickers.
At this point I must digress, and mention, for those who are not aware, the profound differences in strategy between Men Going Shopping and Women Going Shopping. In any general shopping situation, men go into the largest shop they can see and wander around until they find what they’re looking for, or possibly the latest PS3 game. Women, on the other hand, are thinking for the family: such that any mission to buy just bread and milk could turn into an extended foraging expedition that also snares a much-needed pair of discounted shoes for the kids; a new mop; three sorts of new cook-in sauces, because the lazy bastard won’t cook for himself; and possibly a selection of frozen fish because ditto.
And, unsurprisingly, a self-absorbed idiot would be very hard pressed to say where she got some of these things, even if he accompanied her.
Have you ever carried on a monologue, theoretically talking to your partner as you wend your way through the complexity of a supermarket but never of course actually making eye contact to ensure she’s listening, or even interested — only to suddenly find her 20 metres away with her back to you? And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened?
I know I have — and until recently, I had always assumed it was just me not noticing new things in the aisles we were walking through.
So there we were, looking for knickers, and a rather wary woman asked if she could help, given that we looked lost and hopeless. Russell explained to her exactly what we were looking for, and her wariness seemed to become mild alarm, until we hastened to reassure her that this was in fact a commission for the mother of said child. She then said, with what seemed to be great satisfaction, “Oh, no, you’ll never find those in here — you’ll have to go down to [some remote location],” which we had no chance of achieving before they closed, so the whole mission was now a failure.
It was as we trudged our forlorn way back to the car that Russell said: “You know, I’m sure we’ve found them there before — at least, Lilia has.”
I said, only half-joking: “Well, women seem to be able to do that — maybe they actually think about the job in hand?”
That was the catalyst: suddenly, we Idiots had an insight into how real Humans operated: find out where the article you need to buy is being sold, and get it before wasting time on window shopping.
Oh, we were roundly scorned when we got back, knickerless. Scorned both for failing our simple task and for our pathetic excuses, which smacked of desperate snatching at straws to excuse incompetence, to the astrophysics-qualified wife. However, we went into down-the-pub mode and tried to pretend we weren’t abject failures by fantasising about objects being accessible only to women via a parallel universe. We wasted a lot of time on this; it was more fun than doing any real introspection.
And there it might have sat, had it not been for the Internet and our desire to affirm what we perceived as our threatened male superiority. We simply put the idea of the parallel universe up in as many forums as we could access; we blogged on it; we talked to everyone we knew (well, male, obviously) who could be relied on to reenforce our self-perception of being more important and more competent than women — and slowly, the replies from The Lads came in.
Then, of course, there was much virile ho-ho-ho-ing about significance, and power of the statistical methods used, and it all got usurped by some theoretical physicists the moment it started to look as though there was half a joke in it. Wankers.
But the answer is clear: women use their brains in order to find things. They have probably always been able to do this, and now there is fierce speculation as to whether this constituted the evolutionary advantage we had over other primates: the presence of locally-gathered fruit, grains and nuts on the table when the hunters came home empty-handed from hunting mammoths in the river or fishing in a cave (hey! It was the biggest cave around!) was probably a major factor in the survival of our species.
The difference is that now we know that they can do it — and things have changed.
Because groceries aren’t all they go looking for. It turns out the next item on the shopping list is a less egotistic partner.
Russell and I no longer communicate. And we’re very lonely. It’s likely to stay that way unless we buck our ideas up.
- Womanspace: Responses to Rybicki’s display of male privilege on NPG
- Futures (an example of how short SF stories should be done)
- Dear Nature: There is a Crucial Difference Between Being Contentious and Being a Misogynistic Asshole
- What Womanspace Really Looks Like (And Why Nature Can Suck It)
- #womanspace. You Trollin’, Nature?
- An open letter to Nature
- Confession: I Have No Sense of Humor Whatsoever
Not all those who object to the article are female, or identify as such. After all, the wretched thing is also pretty insulting to males as well.