Oh, Reuters—What Are We Going to do With You?

Prehistoric women had passion for fashion: "If the figurines found in an ancient European settlement are any guide, women have been dressing to impress for at least 7,500 years." (An alternative headline appears to be "Prehistoric women were no Ugly Bettys.")

Okay, just stop right there.

First of all, that's the lede on a story about a significant archaeological find that suggests Europe's Copper Age may have started at 500 years sooner than previously thought. The excavation of Plocnik site, a Neolithic settlement of the Vinca culture, Europe's principal prehistoric civilization, has led to the discovery of a mine and "a sophisticated metal workshop with a furnace and tools including a copper chisel and a two-headed hammer and axe," and complete with a prototypical chimney. Now, I admit I am inordinately anthropologically geeky, but ZOMG cool!—that's, in archaeological terms, a Very Big Deal.

But hey—did Reuters mention that the wommenz wore short skirts?!

Now, I'm not just geeky for copper pots and necropolises; I like hearing about the art and culture, including the clothing and body beautification, of the ancients, too—so I'm not begrudging its inclusion in the article. In fact, it's because I like reading about that junk, too, that I know it isn't just women who have been "dressing to impress" for millennia.

Reuters, let me introduce you to the Persian Empire. Oh, and the ancient Greeks. And don't let me forget the Egyptians. And the Incans. And the Aztecs. And the Maya. And a little continent called Africa. Oh, and here are the Navaho of North America, and the Kayapo of Brazil, and the Maori of New Zealand. You might notice that the men appear to be fond of elaborate hairstyles, body paint, tattoos, body modification, and jewelry.

Forgive me—I almost forgot these white men of colonial America who prance around in short pants and powdered wigs.

Oh, and have you met my friend, Mr. Bowie?

Dressed to Impress, Bitchez

What aggravates me about this framing is that it subtly reinforces the idea that women "dress to impress" but men don't, which itself underlies seemingly endless EvPsych revelations about how and why women dress (or move, or whatever) the way they do in relation to their internal and intrinsic womanness. Now I don't know if the quoted archaeologist, Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic, only commented on findings about Vinca women, but, even if she did, reinforcing the "only women" narrative is nonetheless easily avoidable by merely replacing "women" with "humans" in that lede—"If the figurines found in an ancient European settlement are any guide, humans have been dressing to impress for at least 7,500 years"—and not making the article about how prehistoric women were "into fashion."

The women-do/men-don't framing, especially in a modern setting, is a throwback to the days even before Malinowski and his "savage society," in which observational ethnographers would view as distinct from their own cultures the "uncivilized" behaviors of their "primitive" subjects—that is, decorating oneself with paint and feathers was ritualistic and purposeful, but decorating oneself with a squire top hat and frock coat was just getting dressed. Except now the Other isn't a newly discovered tribe, but women. The carefully coiffed hair, the jewelry, the accessories, the fashionable, skin-baring outfits—these are all evidence of dressing to impress.

Metrosexual Alpha

Except when Mr. Beckham does it. Then it's just getting dressed.

And therein lies the root of my problem with this article. Surely a writer on the cultural beat for Reuters knows that giving readers the impression that only women have historically "dressed to impress" is not merely sexist but factually wrong. Surely that writer's editors know. But off it went on the wire anyway.

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