Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Feminism

Now, before anyone thinks that I am pro-recession, pro-depression, or anti-prosperity, let me squash those thoughts right now. As an American citizen and feminist, I recognize that the economy is run by consumers and the face of the global market largely depends on the flourishing of the US economy.

That being said, I offer this: Maybe this is an excellent time for US Americans to experience a financial crisis. Maybe there are some gains to be made in this difficult time which cannot be measured in the Dow Jones or home buying rates.

Black Friday is called Black Friday because it signifies when business companies are supposed to go into the black, showing surplus and profit. Notoriously, this is the day when US citizens open their wallet and begin the costly splurge of commercial gift-giving.

The less news I watch and the more observant I become of the people around me, the more I am convinced that this time of crisis can be an opportunity for many to deepen their lives and rethink the function of material goods in their homes. Perhaps a bit simplistic, but the concept of Americans re-evaluating what is necessary and what is superfluous in their homes sounds fabulous to me. It is common knowledge that US Americans are some of the most wasteful citizens on the planet, nonchalantly eating more than our share of the world's pie and throwing out any leftovers that weren't ours to begin with. We are all guilty of this. Our society thrives on convenience, comfort, and "if it's there, use it up" mentality.

What does this - consumerism, wastefulness, and intentionality - have to do with Feminism?


Jessica Hoffman wrote an excellent article that envisioned what a feminist liberation looks like and how systematic powers (racism, economic hierarchy, ableism, sexism) - particularly capitalism - function as a multi-systematic team of oppression. She writes that it is not enough to recognize "intersectionality," as a lens to view feminists themselves, but also how to analyze the existing oppressive forces around us. She argues, "I do think that resisting capitalism, globally, is integral to antiracist, progressive, social-justice feminisms — that is, the only kinds of feminism I think have a chance of liberating anyone/everyone, and the only kinds of feminism I want to have anything to do with."

(I'm not going to rehash her points, you really should just go and read yourself.)

I'm not going to go on a rant about capitalism, but I do want to apply a similar analysis to our daily lives, questionable (at best) practices of spending, and the connection to clear(er) feminist practices.

Recently, I viewed a short clip on Momversation which covered how to talk to your children about the financial crisis with your children. Now, don't get me wrong, it's a commendable act to to take the proverbial teachable moment to educate your child about good spending habits and helping them understand the power of a dollar.

However, if what it takes for the middle class US mothers to understand that borrowing a book from the local library fares better than purchasing one is a national crisis, then we are in more of a mental crisis than financial.

This crushing tragedy has devastated millions, leaving no redeeming hope in the gross squandering of millions of dollars that vanished the retirement and life-long savings of so many. And there is no delight in watching the belt tighten around those who are already economically anorexic either. However, for those of us who are in positions of power, for those of us who stand to gain by losing our laissez-faire attitudes, these times are an opportunity to sift out the unnecessary in our lives. We need to seize the clarity that comes with living deliberately by choosing what we most desire and transform ourselves into a YES culture. More specifically, we develop a culture that says YES when we truly desire something, not just to lukewarm likings.

There is an art to being selective. It requires forethought, work, and self-knowledge. Living simply is not about living bare. It is not about turning on money or frowning in the face of material goods. If US Americans took a radical moment to choose what they most want from their lives, and this holiday season, this Black Friday, they took this day to go into the surplus of life instead of adding to the profit of companies, our financial constraints would not be so newsworthy. What would we look like if, just for today, instead of Americans dining out, we'd have a few more meals in our homes. Instead of pacing the aisles of Best Buy to upgrade our gadgets, we stroll down our sideswalks and breathe. The "restraints" of a financial crisis can be easily opened into a national pause in our senseless habits of spending. That moment could offer infinite dividends.

It is not enough for feminists to recognize inequality and racism in consumer marketing. It is not enough for feminists to go to libraries instead of popular bookstores. It is not even enough to limit our spending. This is not just about frugality, but about being more vociferous. Being or becoming a thoughtful feminist means growing into somewhat of a prophet. As more and more women become educated, salaried, and employed, their consumeristic power is increasing, as is the advertising directed toward them.

Feminists are and should be the ones to innately sense where we are going when our practices do not match our future goals. A thoughtful feminist is a selective consumer, one who understands the complicated relationship between availability and accessibility, personal fulfillment and superficial enrichment. S/he is the one who most fiercely advocates for a spiritual retreat from the crowds and allows a discriminatory practice of her monied and life investments.

She knows when enough is enough.

Cross-posted at Bitch Magazine.


  1. I'm always taken aback by seeing articles now on mommyblogs (as opposed to Mamiblogs) about now talking to your kids about a lack of money and it's relationship to bigger concepts, cuz so many mami's didn't have to wait for the shit to get so bad, cuz it's always been bad and has been a part of the day to day survival.

  2. Ooh, I love this post. It really speaks to something I've been trying to grow more aware of in my own life; I'm fortunate enough not to have (thank the stars & knock on wood) a pressing economic need to cut back, but I'd been noticing a sort of sloppiness with regard to the way I was buying things that unsettled me as I thought about it. I love the idea of moving towards a YES culture, buying only what we really want instead of whatever's out there (I've been trying to move towards this in my personal spending habits, especially in terms of books; I still buy them sometimes, but I try to stick to books I have reason to believe I'll come back to over and over again instead of books I'm only going to read once). But this post is definitely motivation to think about this stuff even more deeply. Thank you!

  3. Anonymous4:18 PM

    I'm a library worker who rarely comments on blogs, but saw you mention libraries twice & felt the need to say:

    When people need libraries most, in tough economic times, are the times when libraries don't have enough funding to do what our communities need. (A great many libraries are funded SOLELY by your local city sales tax, and we share that pie with police, fire, and the like.)

    This is where the idea of vociferousness really strikes me as important: we must let "TPTB" know what we want, need, how we feel in large numbers or we risk being seen as a minority voice that can safely be dropped in favor of the more "popular" fare.


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