Stop shopping, you airhead! What will “the men” say?
Abby OReilly // 15 June 2008
Sorry, stop right there. Oi! I said STOP! Do you like shopping? Do you ever think about something you’ve seen, liked and want to buy? Do you ever, even if occasionally, look at clothes online, or browse catalogues even though a purchase, considering your financial situation, would not be a sensible decision? If yes, then please leave quietly madam. Feminist, you say, huh! We don’t want your type here, click off now, and don’t come back. Let’s not cause a scene
What do you think about that? Ridiculous really, isn’t it, but this is exactly the attitude espoused by another of the Mail’s misogynists in women’s clothing, Carol Sarler, who spat out an acerbic article this week claiming that if a woman likes shopping, then essentially she is not only impeding women’s movement towards equality, but that she is also unravelling the hard work and tireless sacrifice made by our feminist predecessors. Said female shopper is an “airhead.” Perhaps women are becoming increasingly preoccupied with material possessions, but this isn’t something exclusive to our gender. Surely Sarler cannot be that obtuse. I have a male friend who once spent £500 on a jumper, and while extravagant, I didn’t once accuse him of proactively emasculating his sex for the sake of “girly” fashion, nor of mindless consumerism. It’s his money, he can do what he wants with it, and I failed to interpret his buy as anything more than the result of his compulsive nature. So, is this not a hefty criticism to levy against a woman for doing nothing more than speculatively admiring a pair of kitten heels? And should we be surprised to read an article that damagingly invests an innocent act with such negativity and meaning from a woman who not so long ago produced an article claiming that women are responsible (yes, “responsible”) for the genesis of the metrosexual male, the premise being that we should try to tease out the “real man” from within to return to gender normality? Presumably for Sarler a man is not a “real man” unless he’s running round wearing nothing more than a loin cloth, beating his matted-with-hair chest, and tearing chunks of flesh from the sides of live cows with his teeth and bare hands. Lovely stuff.
Sarler’s depressing generalisation emanate from the results of a recent “study” (source, as far as I could see, was not provided, nor the sample of women analysed) claiming modern women:
use their minds, once in every minute, to think about shopping. That’s 960 times a day, 6,720 times a week, and damnably close to the once every 52 seconds that men are believed to think about sex. At least they can claim to have been programmed that way; the caveman had the propagation of a species to worry about. The modern woman with a fixation on shopping has nobody save herself to blame – and no, don’t drag up the old excuse that she’s under pressure from the fashion magazines.
So, if you want to truly show your gratitude for your “education, independence and income of which poor Miss [Emily] Davison could scarcely have dreamed” then you must abandon any thoughts of mindless materialism and instead do nothing but think abut how lucky you are to have the opportunity to work (and be paid for it), and how grateful you should be for having had an education that allows you to achieve professional success. Don’t worry that for men these have always been a given. You, little lady, have to show appreciation, and so is it too much to ask that your thoughts be policed, analysed, dissected and endowed with political meaning? That Sarler begins this article, discussing a frankly unimportant issue, with a reference to Emily Davison’s determination to advance women’s rights by throwing herself under the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby, does trivialise the sacrifice Davison made, her heroic actions now nothing more than something of legend that can be clumsily thrown into writing in a weak attempt to bolster a poor argument. Sarler’s claims are reminiscent of those rolled out during general elections, when women are reminded to vote out of “respect” for all the women who fought for the “privilege.” While it’s true that women did, in a time when they were discriminated against in all areas of life due to their gender, take on a strong patriarchy to ensure we had a political voice, I don’t think they did so for eternal gratitude, and I don’t think this means that whether we are politically minded or not that we HAVE to vote for this reason alone. Proponents of this argument fail to realise that these women weren’t fighting for us to be able to vote, but rather for us to have the choice. If we are politically apathetic, then so what? At least we are now recognised as making the active decision not to vote. The same principle can be applied to Sarler’s argument. Yes, Davison gave up her life so that women who proceeded her would not have to, but what Davison, and I assume the vast majority of feminists, hope for as we trundle towards parity is that we are permitted to make our own decisions without prejudice or discrimination, and can have independence of thought to think about what we want. Surely the fact that we now make our own money and can now, should we so wish, spend this frivolously (or at least think about spending it frivolously) without worrying about what the husband will have to say, means that Davison’s work has been appreciated.
What this “research” indicated was that we allegedly “think” about it, and not that we actually do it, whereas Sarler already has us strung-up by the drawstrings of our Juicy Couture tracksuit bottoms and is verbally beating us to death with our Louis Vuitton bags. So, working on the same principle that thinking equals doing, Sarlar must also believe that all men who allegedly think about sex every 52 seconds are perverts? Uh, no actually, because they can’t help that, it’s their “programming.” Fair enough, maybe cavemen did have the “propagation of the species to worry about,” but that’s because way back then there was actually nothing else to do! I don’t think that using prehistoric man as a template for the twenty-first century male is accurate or complimentary, nor do I think it can be used to justify man’s contemporary thought-processes. Prehistoric man also used to dig a hole in the corner to shit in, but I doubt anyone in the office would consider this a valid excuse if Joe from IT thought it appropriate to do the same thing. If men are thinking about sex every 52 seconds then it’s highly probable that they are spending the next 8 seconds to think about what impressively fast car they want to buy. Stereotypical assumption? Maybe, but what was this research but something emanating from the tired old assumption that women live for retail? How boring! Some women like shopping, some women do not. Some women like thinking about shopping, some do not. Some men like thinking about shopping, some do not. Some men like thinking about sex, some do not. Some men even like thinking about buying sex, some do not, but that’s for another post. Perhaps instead of funding projects designed to do nothing but consolidate tired old gender clichés it would be worth investigating something that would be of more interest? So, men think about sex every 52 seconds, how often do women think about sex? Probably more frequently than they think about shopping, but whereas it’s acceptable for men to be motivated by their sexuality for women it’s more appropriate to desire nothing more than the most fabulous pair of earrings.
If it’s acceptable, as Sarler suggests, for men to rightly call a woman an “airhead” for thinking about shopping, then it’s right for us to think men are sexually debauched for thinking about sex. But then this would be sexist. For some reason it’s now become fashionable for female writers to make sweeping and offensive generalisations about women, as if in doing so they are truly pushing towards equality, by critiquing their own kind. She says women should be prepared to take the “blame” for the perpetuation of redundant stereotypes, and that when asked again about the shopping habits they should “just lie.” But firstly, is the claim that men think us airheads considered a threat to make us change our wily ways? And why is it something eliciting a sense of accountability? A woman shops. She does it because she likes it. She does it because she has her own money. And she will continue to do it. While Sarler disregards the part placed by women’s magazines in propagating the I want I need culture, it’s fair to say that being presented by pages-upon-pages of attainable imitation high-fashion garments that promise to make us more attractive, more beautiful, is going to have an affect. It’s not unusual for me to read a magazine, see something I like and then decide I want to buy that, or at least something similar, and I make no apologies for that or feel that this lies at odds with my feminist sensibilities.
The inadequacy of Sarler’s assessment is perhaps best illustrated by her later admission that it is not shopping she detests, but rather shopping in the UK:
I should, I suppose, declare an interest. Or, rather, a lack of one. I don’t read the magazines as I don’t want to be told what to buy, because I cannot bear even the idea of stepping into a clothes shop. At least not in this country, I can’t; I might be seduced by the warmth of a Spanish smile on holiday, the heady scent of good leather in Italy or the genuine eagerness to serve that you find in America.
Is there not something hugely pretentious and hypocritical about this “declaration,” indicating that Sarler is not as in touch with the female population of the UK as she would have us believe.
To shop or not to shop, that is the question, and one you can answer at your own discretion.