I have been moving into my new apartment for three weeks. The unfinished project is not due to a lack of motivation, it’s just that I have so much stuff.
I think my personal obsession with material objects began when I was six years old. My family moved from Oregon to Virginia, leaving most of our belongings in a storage unit on the west coast. We had every intention of coming back for our stuff, but money got tight, and following company policy, all of our things were either sold or thrown away. Pictures, childhood memoirs, clothing, prized toys, my mom’s high school year books – everything was lost. The only things of mine that had gotten shoved into the van for the long trip home were two Cabbage Patch dolls, sisters named Sabrina and Stephanie. I still have them.
Even after moving to Virginia, my family never had a permanent home until I was fourteen. I only stuck around for three more years, then began my own legacy of apartments, split-level homes, and friend’s couches. I feel like I have been moving my entire life, and combined with the fact that I rarely throw anything away, moving has felt like a continuous and monumental task. My friend Sam has been with me through several of my last moves, and recently has become very concerned about my “preliminary hoarding.” With her help I have let some things go – clothes from high school, pens with no ink, outdated jewelry. However, when she urged me to get rid of two berets I have had since my west coast life, I refused. I don’t want to lose my stuff again, even though she keeps telling me that items and memories are not connected.
So I have a bit of a personal problem, admittedly. But the girls I know seem to have far more stuff then boys in general. I remember walking into a guy friend’s room and asking, “Where are all your belongings?” I thought he had been robbed, but it turns out that a bed, laundry basket, four books, and a TV was all he owned. I have a small library, an entire shelf of “arts and crafts,” and enough clothing to dress a small army of small women. My male co-workers have one or two pairs of shoes that get them through life, but myself and many other women I know have shoes for every occasion. I mean, how can you survive without rain-boots, sneakers (plural), clogs, flats, Toms, flip-flops in every color, Uggs, heels, platforms, gym sneakers, work shoes, and slippers?
Not only are girls seeking an American-feminine kind of pretty expected to posses a plethora of shoes, but a mass of clothing in general, in varying styles, cuts, and fashions. While our male counterparts are socially acceptable dressed in comfortable jeans and a tee-shirt, maybe a collared polo or button-up for a special day, women have to decide on what image that want to present in an androcentric culture. Do you choose the dress and heels that might be perceived as too sexy or the jeans, converse, and hoodie approach that may cause others to view you plain or ungroomed? Skinny jeans, skirts, push-up bras, shorts – they all come with their own set of stereotypes, as well as guidelines as to when is and is not a socially acceptable time to be wearing them. “How to dress to get noticed at a party”…”to impress your man”…”to get that big promotion.” It’s all quite exhausting.
When I add in the considerable amount of jewelry, bath supplies, makeup, and salon time that women work into their budgets, I am struck by how lopsided Western consumerism is. While there are still plenty of ways men can and do blow their money, they are not constantly pressured by advertising, gender roles, and social pressure to spend their earnings on making themselves look better. They are also not bombarded by in-store advertising the way women are. Every time I walk into Target I stop at the $1 rack at the front of the store, and almost always wind up with one or two (or three or four) unnecessary items in my cart. Almost everything there is pink or embossed with Hello Kitty – if I was a man I don’t think I would have a reason to stop there, unless I needed a lint roller or cheap trashcan.
A “shop ’til you drop” mentality has been portrayed to women has a way to gain power and status. There are even magazines dedicated to the concept.
And of course, don’t forget about Sex and the City, which besides being completely unsubstantial in every way, promotes shopping through the lead character Carrie Bradshaw, who has been known to look at a pair of shoes through a shop window and say, “Hello lover.”
Her words carry a deeper meaning that I doubt the Sex and the City writers were capable of recognizing. Lovers go away, but stuff doesn’t. Times change, you might loose your apartment and move to a new state, but if you still have your stuff, it’s not so lonely. Stuff is constant and that is comforting. It also gives it’s owner the perception of having something, of having control, even if they may not have it in their own life. For women living on the margins of a patriarchal society, there is little else that can match the feeling.
Unfortunately, businesses and manufacturers have long ago realized what a lucrative demographic women are and marketed appropriately, often to girls of a very young age. I’ve seen babies with “I love to shop” on their bibs and toddlers with plastic credit cards. The advertising on the master card Barbie box makes a point of saying that she is, “cool.”
We are still only making $.77 to the male $1 ladies. Are we going to keep feeding our money back into a cycle largely based around appropriating one’s self to suit the male gaze? Continue to buy products generally profiting white men, products often made at third world women’s expense? I’m not asking everyone to burn their bras and lipsticks, but maybe our second wave sisters (who we often disdain for earning us this stereotype) had a point after all. By radically changing consumerism practices, Western women could take a step up the ladder of equality, and have some extra change while they’re at it.