Damn right it's copyrighted, ©Kent Lundgren, 1999
Men are Hunters
Women are Berrypickers
Gotta have meat! Gotta have  berries!


Thoughts about why men and women
do some things the way they do.
We all know that men and women are different – "different" doesnít begin to cover the ground, we arenít even the same species. In fact, weíre so different Iím surprised we can breed.
Why is that?

  The Genesis of an Idea
One cold, windy afternoon I stood on a street corner thinking uncharitable thoughts about the differences between men and women as I waited for my wife to pick me up. She was, at that moment, 15 minutes late, despite having called from her office to say that she was on the way and would be right there. "Why," I thought, "do so many women have such a vague attachment to the concept of on time"? There are those who argue that thatís not the case, that women donít have a problem with being on time.

A woman's watch is jewelryTo them I offer as collateral argument, womens' watches. Now this is a watch! On a woman. a watch is jewelry first, and a timepiece second. Only women to whom time must matter, such as nurses, wear watches that you can really read. Most womens' watches are so small you have trouble telling itís a watch, much less what time it is. If you see a watch like that on a woman, be prepared to spend time cooling your heels as you wait for her.

Now I understand that generalizations do not cover every case. Certainly there are exceptions to the rule that women are tardy. I knew one back in, oh, I think it was 1970 or so, who was reliably on time most times, but as a general rule, well . . .

Click one of these to see about
Being Late
Talking so Much
Colors Matter
Patterns Are Important
Going Shopping vs Buying
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Women and Time

"So," I thought as I stood there waiting, "Why can't women be on time?" The answer leaped into my mind with that hard ring of truth, like a good wrench dropped on a cement floor, that occurs sometimes. The reason is that women are berrypickers, while men are hunters.

Women are berrypickers. Berries are ripe in, say, August. August is a broad target. If you are going berry picking it doesnít matter if you get there today, tomorrow, or the next day. On any given day a bunch of the berries will be ripe; they arenít going anywhere, you can take your time.

In their frequent tardiness, modern women are just products of the practices of their foremothers. They canít help it; they were raised that way.

Men are hunters though. We have no such slack in our pursuit. Weíd better be on the game trail at dawn, for that is when the deer goes by. If we arenít there the deer will not wait around, and weíll be hungry and cold because we dallied a few minutes too long in camp, warming our ass at the fire in the chilly dawn. We can afford to be early, but weíd better not be late.

See how clear it is? We have each been conditioned to our roles by thousands of generations of forebearers who acted certain ways, and we continue to respond to internal imperatives despite the fact that much has changed.

As I pondered that thought over the next few days and months I wondered what other manifestations of behavior differences the "hunter vs berry picker" theory might explain.

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Talking is Noise

Talking, for instance. I never knew a woman who didnít talk more than any man I ever knew. They just can't help it. They will talk about things in infinite, painstaking detail, till finally, a manís eyes glaze over.They will hit a subject from the north and south, then come back and cover the same ground from east and west. When theyíve exhausted that subject (if ever) theyíll start over or take off on a tangent from it. The concept of a "companionable silence" doesnít exist among women. To women, silence means one of two things, either hostility or danger. Think about it Ė when two women are together they always talk; itís nonstop. If two women are together and not talking itís not because they have nothing to say, that never stands in the way. Itís because they are either very angry, or scared to death. Even if they donít like each other they will usually make sounds back and forth, sometimes sounding a lot like "meeoow". That shouldnít be regarded as what men would call conversation though, itís more in the line of polite noise.

Why do they talk so, even when thereís nothing left to say? Well think about it. Women out on the berry patch have to keep talking: it keeps the bears and snakes away! Silence in the berry patch can lead to danger: donít let up on the conversation or you might stumble up on a bear that didnít hear you coming. And if by some chance you do come upon old mister bear, then you shut up and freeze, hoping he wonít notice you.

On the other hand, men on the game trail want to come up on things that donít hear them. And they must sit around together and be quiet or the ducks wonít come in to the blind. The ability to sit still and be quiet is a virtue among hunters, unless they are in a social situation. Even then a nonstop talker, one who canít shut up, makes a lot of guys uneasy and annoyed. Itís because heís being womanish, talking just to hear the sound, sorta confirming his own existence, I guess. Being described as a "silent type" is not pejorative among men, itís more often associated with the phrase "he doesnít talk unless he has something to say." Two men can sit together for hours, never exchanging a word, then leave, each thinking he had a good time. Men, try that with a woman and she will give you no rest trying to start a conversation. If you donít respond sheíll think you must be mad, and if you are mad, well then, sheíll be mad too. The first thing you know, youíve gotten in trouble just by sitting there trying to be quiet, which, when you think about it, is what your mother used to tell you to do sometimes. Go figure.

It seemed I was on a sociological roll, so to speak. Things Iíd always wondered about were becoming clear, so I began to apply the hypothesis to other behavior patterns.

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Colors, for instance. Color is so important to women that they have names for colors that men canít even see. Now if I said "fuchsia" to a guy heíd either punch me immediately, or think I was leading in to telling him what I had for lunch at an Italian restaurant. If I said it to my wife though, sheíd want to know if it was light or dark fuchsia. And "puce" is a word that wouldn't have passed my lips while John Wayne was still alive.

A guy can get by with knowing the names of about six colors, and if he really wants to get precise he can modify them with "light" or "dark" or "sorta". To a guy, a deer is sorta gray or light brown, and a buffalo is dark brown, and fresh grass is green, and so on.

If you are a berry picker though, color is important 'cause the right color name tells you something about how ripe a berry is. You canít just call a berry "red" or "black" and say that itís ripe. For example, blackberries are sorta black for long time before they get to that real shiney black (Ladies, is that "ebony," or some other color we hunters don't know?) stage where juice runs down your chin when eat a mouthful. So if youíre in charge of berries you need all sorts of in-between words to cover the spread between red, which isn't ripe at all, and flat black which means you waited too long. If you doubt this is true, the next time youíre in a store go look at the lipstick rack and see how many of the colors are named after fruits and berries.

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Patterns, Textures, and Smells

The bride and I were walking through a store one day, and as we passed through the womenís clothing (I didnít need to say it wasnít a gun store, did I?) she stopped to look at some sweaters. By that time I had become somewhat of an amateur anthropological observer, so I stood back to take mental notes. Ahhh, patterns! First she looked at the color. I understood that: color attracts. But she passed up some that were colors I knew she liked. When I asked her what was wrong with them she told me that the pattern wasnít right. (Accompanied by one of those looks that manages to say "you idiot" without a word. Guys, you know the one I mean, right?). Then she picked up a likely-looking one and examined it. "What is she looking for?" I thought. As she peered closely at it, and rubbed the fabric between her fingers, it was suddenly clear. She was checking out the pattern and the feel. Patterns are important! One mushroom, for instance, that can kill you looks very much like another that tastes great. Berries that are ripe feel a certain way, and, God love Ďem, our little berry pickers have to fondle things before they pick them. (And you can take that thought wherever you want!) Then she checked further by sniffing it discreetly. She is nothing if not thorough, and smell can tell you if something is too ready. Even if itís not a berry, the habits of millennia die hard.

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Women Go Shopping; Men Go Buying

Do you understand what I want? Guys, has your woman ever told you, in infinite, painstaking detail (told you in such detail that your eyes finally glazed over) about an item that she wants? There is no doubt in your mind that she knows what she wants. Sheís described it Ďtil even you have the specifications engraved eternally in your mind.

So, youíre in the store. Sheís found the table or the rack, and there on it is the item sheís described to you. It meets every specification, out to the fourth decimal place. She picks it up, then tries it on, and it fits perfectly. If you are new to this game you view the action so far through the lens of your own male thought processes, and think "Hah! That was easy. She found what she was looking for, and now we can go." If you've been around a while though, you know what's coming.

What does she do then? She puts it back! She puts it back, and says she wants to look around a little more. She goes to two other tables and four other stores in the mall. She tries on three or four other things indistinguishable (to a guy) from the first. Then she drifts on back to the first place and buys the one she picked out two hours before. Why? Because she can! Berries donít go anywhere. You can look at them, walk off and see if there are any better ones around, then come back with the reasonably certain knowledge that the first ones will still be there. Try that with a pheasant and see what you have for supper - you'll get cold shoulder, more'n likely.

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Some Current Evidence

Every now and then you stumble across an item that stands by itself as proof of a proposition; it reduces all other evidence to near-irrelevance. In February, 2001 I read an article in the business section of the paper that is just such a thing.

Even when confronted with the convenience and ease of the modern on-line world, women will continue to manifest their berrypicking ways.


There was an outfit called Home Grocer a couple years ago that would let you buy your groceries over the Internet. I tried 'em out a couple times when my wife was out of town, and here's what I found.

You could let your fingers do the walking through their on-line store, filling up an electronic grocery cart as you went. Their website would let you pick out an item, say a box of Wheaties for instance, from the same range of items you'd find on a store shelf. You could read a little product blurb, look at a picture of it, and examine the nutrition facts label on the side of the box. In fact, you could do everything but handle it. They offered everything you'd find in a big supermarket, from T-bones to Tampax, and at prices at least as good as what you'd get at the store. Once you had your order made up on line you just pushed a button and you could schedule delivery during a two-hour window the next day, late into the evening, or several days hence, at your convenience. And, you could store a basic order on line, so that every time you went to get groceries you didn't have to reconstruct everything from scratch.

The two times I used it, I did in 20 minutes what would have taken two hours portal to portal if I'd had to go to the store, and I did it without the aggravation of other shoppers and dumb clerks.

The order was delivered on time in a nice, clean truck, in hard plastic boxes to protect it, by a polite young person who hauled each and every box into the kitchen and unloaded it for me. The packaged items were name brand, the fruit and vegetables were always fresh, and so was the meat. By the time it got to me, the stuff had only been handled twice at the warehouse, not half a dozen times by every passing shopper in the store. If something wasn't satisfactory, say the bananas weren't ripe enough, I just called a phone number and I got credit for those bananas on my next order, no questions asked. Or new bananas.

Well, the company started to flounder financially and got bought out by a similar outfit called Web Van, which provided service as good as Home Grocer. Web Van went public with stock some time back, and I gave some thought to buying into it (but didn't.). After all, it's a real timesaver, neat and clean, and women, who do most of the grocery shopping in the world, are forever complaining about there's not enough hours in the day. You'd think it was a pretty good deal, bound to take off like a rocket.

Well, not exactly. Web Van was trading at about $26 a share when it went public, but a year later (March of 2001) it was at 16 cents!!! a share. Anybody who has really studied this hunters & berrypickers thing coulda predicted it, right? And why is that?

There's a hint in the third paragraph, where it says "In fact, you could do everything but handle it." Therein lies the weakness of the whole shebang: women gotta handle stuff before they pick it. They gotta pick it up and squeeze it, look at it, sniff it, put it back and pick up another one, walk away and come back. Shopping on a computer, they can't do that, so it's just not gonna work for 'em.

They shoulda asked me first - it's all so clear.

UPDATE In an unfortunate turn of events, Web Van went belly up and filed for bankruptcy about a month after the paragraphs to the left were written. They just didn't understand that they were bucking millenia of background.

So, it seems clear to me that some of the fundamental behavioral differences between men and women, some of the things that drive us all crazy, have their origins in the traditional roles we have filled for millenia. If you are a hunter you have to act different than a berry picker, and she has to act different than you. That's just the way it is and we'd better get used to it.

If anyone out there has arguments to offer, or further explanations for differences between hunters and berry pickers, let me know.