“Women Are The Best Index of the Coming Hour”
American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this oft-repeated observation, and I’ve used it as a tagline of sorts, since founding Learned On Women in 2004. As socio-anthropologist and author Helen Fisher observed in her book, The First Sex: he “correctly discerned another feminine faculty related to web thinking [Fisher's description of how women tend to think more holistically]: women’s keen sense of future possibilities.”
To me the simple sentence (or clause, I’ve seen it referenced both ways) makes two great points:
1) That it’s worth paying attention to what women are doing, saying, thinking; and,
2) That women are an index – which I take to mean that they are a good indicator, but not necessarily always the final and ultimate word on trends and cultural shifts.
As Fisher continues (p. 19 of the softcover edition, by the way):
“Both men and women have some ability for planning long term. I have found no concrete evidence that either sex is more skilled at this essential task. However, a few business analysts believe that women are apt to think long term more regularly, while men are more likely to focus on the here and now.”
A few immediate examples come to mind – from the realms of investing and home-buying. Women seem to manage to ride out the ups and downs of the market a bit more easily than men are thought to. And, when women buy a first home, for example, they will more likely treat it as a commitment to the neighborhood/community and think way ahead to when they may have their babies and where those kids will go to school, etc. Men, with their more linear-leaning minds, on the other hand, might just see the building materials/construction quality and the price/square foot.
It makes sense on an evolutionary level as well. Women have adapted over hundreds of years to be generally available for the long term (about two decades) in order to raise their kid. Alternatively, men may not have that natural tendency (though obviously many do stick around), and have adapted to more immediacy in all situations. (Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters is a fun and accessible primer on some fascinating evolutionary psychology – if this line of thinking is of interest to you.)
But, I digress. Women, as a whole, are indeed a great indicator because they do seem to see a longer/broader picture, which is why women can be so helpful to marketers in identifying significant consumer shifts. Today’s hottest marketing trends may be the “local,”"green” and “storytelling” movements, for example. From whence do you think those bubbled up? From the people who have long focused on community and future generations/sustainability – which happens to fit the way a typical woman thinks quite nicely.
One more thing, I really do like to focus in on that “index” part of Emerson’s quote a bit more heavily. Yes – women are a great indicator, but don’t leave it all in their hands. Men are still very much a part of the world, the last time I checked. Their here and now insights may turn long-held views on their heads, and cause the huge shifts in society that women then will more slowly mold and shape. Gadgets and technology, stereotypically a man’s world, for one, completely re-directed culture – right? Now women are the ones to watch – in how they use or don’t use it.
Anyway – when you read Emerson, you definitely get the sense that he thought highly of women. His quote is a good, here/now and memorable reminder for those of us mapping out longer term strategies for connecting with consumers.
Note: This post first published, April 3, 2008, on eBrandMarketing.