Taking ambivalent measure of the legacy of modern feminism
Dreamers of a New Day:
Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century
by Sheila Rowbotham
$29.95 List Price
In his new book, Paco Underhill, a longtime student of consumer behavior, evinces a particular aversion to the word woman. He prefers instead "the female of the species" or "the female of the household" or "the female of the house." The female of the species, we learn, behaves in a specific, predictable way in hotel lobbies. The female of the species feels about her kitchen the way the male feels about his car. The female of the species prefers certain species of things; for instance, she does not like cookie-cutter mansions, which, "as a species," convey "aesthetic bankruptcy."
These repeated references to taxonomy suggest Underhill believes himself a man of science, or at least an observer of human experience with some interest in the scientific method. They suggest he is a man of data. And this we would expect, because the subject of What Women Want—the extent to which consumer products reflect the preferences of the second sex—is a subject that has presumably generated much research worthy of exposition. There are regularities in what men and women purchase; some of them are probably counterintuitive. It might be interesting to read about them, and it might be interesting to hear about them from a marketing consultant like Underhill, the author of Why We Buy (1999) and the subject of an adulatory 1996 New Yorker profile by Malcolm Gladwell.
About that profile. "What Paco likes," Gladwell explains, "are facts." It's a surprising characterization, because What Women Want contains so few of them, tending instead toward a kind of shadowy market mysticism. Underhill either