Today is the first of the now monthly Feminist Fashion Bloggers events, and the theme is Finance, Fashion and Feminism. There are a million angles you could come at thing topic from – I have chosen to took at how gender and shopping overlap and a stereotope that is often used to describe female shoppers:
You know the kind of thing: an Imelda Marcos-style wardrobe full of designer clothes, handbags and shoes, and nothing to wear, going shopping every week, getting into debt, or at least spending every spare bit of money on buying things to the detriment of saving and financial security. Like the episode of Sex and the city when Carrie needs to buy her flat and doesn’t have a deposit, but does have 100 $500 shoes. The image of self-indulgent, reckless spending, more often than not described as a sort of moral failure.
I’ve been mulling this over, and it raised a few interesting thoughts:
- This stereotype is almost exclusively applied to women, when excessive spending affects both genders. To take a completely unrepresentative sample, in the people I know in real life, there are more men than women who regularly spend above their means, or just within the very edges their means. I am surpremely sensible with money (I have an almost pathological obsession with financial security), while Dave used to be a reckless spender when he was younger, and although he’s been doing much better in the last few years that streak is still there. He graduated from university with a lot of avoidable debt that he took forever to pay off, whereas his sister had actually saved up a little for a deposit on her flat. The term shopaholic seems to mainly apply to shopping for clothes, whereas men in general tend to spend on more expensive technological things like TVs, stereos and games consoles. I don’t know why that is somehow seen as less harmful. Its just the same really, isn’t it, so lets treat it the same.
- On the other hand, its not surprising that women in particular are feeling the pressure to shop. We are constantly bombarded with messages to reinvent our wardrobes and ourselves through them, to be newer and better and more fashionable. I can’t think of a product aimed exclusively at males that is nearly as aggressively marketed as women’s fashions. It may be changing, but by and large men are still seen as more defined by their personalities, experiences and abilities than their possessions.
- The idea that women’s best strategy for doing well in life is to marry someone really rich is also scarily pervasive, and probably becoming more so. You can see this with the status afforded to WAGs and the rise of the wannabe WAGs. Who needs savings when designer clothes will buy you entry into the clubs where the footballers hang out, and then one of them might fancy you and if you play your cards right, marry you. In 2008, the UK Advertising Standards Agency ruled against advertising material for a financial firm that warned that ‘Mr Right could be long gone’ if (women) shopper waited to save for that new outfit. At least it was banned, but the fact that this might have seemed to anyone like an acceptable piece of advertising in 2008 is hugely worrying.
- Like so many things, the shopaholic is the product of the contradictions inherent in contemporary capitalist society. Because on the one hand we are invited to give into our impulses and shop!shop!shop! to keep the economy going and to express our love for the people in our lives through things, on the other hand we are supposed to exhibit restraints and self control. The shopaholic goes all in for the shopping part, and in 1999, 3-8% of the UK population that displayed addictive shopping behaviours, and somehow I can’t see this having gone down much since. But equally the proliferation of bloggers doing complete shopping bans is the other end of the continuum. Some of us (myself included at some points) need an all out ban because the balancing act of buying stuff but not too much is hard, as this post on breaking shopping addiction by Ashe Mischief attests.
- Then again, for most of us, there’s nothing wrong with shopping. We might not be saving as much as we ideally want/should (I save 18% of my income every single month as an absolute minimum, and many months its more like 30%, and still my financial adviser tells me off), but as long as we are keeping up with our commitments and have something put aside, there really is nothing wrong with spending our money on shoes and dresses. Lets not forget the joy and satisfaction we get from clothes. As Sal said, its our money, and our choice, and we can do with it what we want. Clothes are as valid a thing to spend on as stereos. I’m studying economics at the moment, and we’ve been doing all these models involving rational, perfectly informed consumers buying things. And while of course these are ridiculously simplistic, and the thought that governments routinely develop policies on the basis of them worries me, there is something in the idea of utility maximisation. Lots of people obviously value the enjoyment of £200 spent on a pair of new boots more than the security of an extra £200 in the bank. And that’s fine.
- So maybe lets recognise our shopping behaviours and learn to manage them, but lets also stop worrying so much. Lets stop referring to every woman a bulging wardrobe as a shopaholic. Lets stop judging so much, ourselves and others and enjoy our lives. And that includes, but is not restriced to, our stuff.
I’m aware that that last bit could be read as a defense of consumerism, which was really not my intention. I think our consumer choices should be made mindfully, and and in line with our own values and ethics. I don’t shop in the high street, and I favour second hand and handmade. But if I’m being completely honest, I also favour quantity over quality to some extent. I’d rather have ten dresses of varying quality from a charity shop than one designer dress, however well made. But that’s just me and my choices. And all of this is consumption anyway, just different types of consumption. So I’m not anti-consumption per se.
What do you think?
Here’s the link to a roundup of the rest of this week’s FFB posts.