This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.
It is the time of year. The weather's cooler. Bright colored lights fill our windows and there's a certain energy in the air. It can only mean one thing. The Christmas shopping season is upon us.
Maybe it's because Black Friday and Cyber Monday have just passed, or maybe it's because I'm moving so the fact that I own way too much is very relevant to me right now. In either case, I've been reflecting upon my own issues with consumerism. I've written before about how I feel that our society pushes consumption, not only of food, but also all goods. The worst of this mentality is highlighted during the Christmas season. It is inescapable, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Messages affirming the importance of material goods are everywhere: You NEED this deal! Your love is displayed through the giving of items. Buy, buy, buy.
The results are pretty heinous, year after year. Because of mad rushes at store openings, people were injured and trampled. A woman out for a half price XBOX 360 turned a can of pepper spray on her fellow shoppers. It is downright disgusting and it's very easy to become an armchair sociologist in situations like this. I'm better than that. I could never act that way. Those people are "crazy." I'll admit, these very thoughts go through my mind every Black Friday when I hear that shoppers get up earlier and earlier or sit outside during Thanksgiving day. I muse to myself about how I have never wanted anything that bad.
It really is very simple to point to the Black Friday shoppers as the "problem" with our consumerist mentality. However, a much more productive act is to examine how each of us, ourselves, play a role in this system.
In this spirit, I've been considering lately how I personally have an unhealthy relationship with things, shopping, and appearances. This relationship, as many things from our lives, hearkens back to my childhood. My grandmother, the most important adult figure in my upbringing, and I bonded over many a shopping trip. She was very firm that I always "look my best." She taught me how to apply makeup, do my hair, and pick outfits that matched. I have so many warm fuzzies associated with shopping and her. It was so frequently a respite from a less happy home life with my nuclear family.
But that wasn't all she was to me, so it's difficult to extract the many wonderful, empowering messages from the ones which are potentially negative and sexist. While she did think I should always be able to take care of myself and that I could be anything I wanted , she was also, at her core, a product of a time before the second wave. She fully believed that she couldn't leave with house without makeup (for example.)
The result on me has been that I engage in "retail therapy" out of both habit and a semi-subconscious effort to feel close to my grandmother again. I buy things I don't need and now own more shoes, clothes, nail polishes, and other frivolous items than any woman could possibly ever consume. The items themselves are not the problem. (I have been known to advocate for "girliness.") The issue is how very much of them I feel that I need. My disposable income is too often stretched thin in the name of the consumerist mentality.
For my own good, I must work on these behaviors. The solution for me is to find the same warm fuzzies from other sources and to be more mindful about the purchases I make. It sounds so simple, but just as systemic changes for our society, it is much easier said than done. However, if all of us who play a role in our consumerist culture take a moment to introspect and be more thoughtful about how and why we spend money, things will probably be a lot less violent on Black Friday. It would become extremely clear that when someone gets knocked down during a shopping rush, you don't walk over them. You help them up. And if it means that you miss out on a $90 TV, but a fellow human being gets to live another day, you've done the right thing.