Shopping and weddings: Not just for the ladies

Men like spending, too!

Published October 2, 2006 3:34PM (EDT)

To kick off the week, the mainstream media brings us a couple of silly but welcome reminders that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Which is to say that certain stereotypically feminine activities may in fact be pursued by men and women alike. First such activity: Really, really excessive shopping. "Nearly as many men as women have 'compulsive buying disorder,' a condition in which people binge shop to the point of suffering financial hardship," ABC News reported Monday. A Stanford University Medical Center study, which will appear in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, surveyed about 2,500 adults and found that one in 20 people is a "spendaholic" who racks up debt and often lies to friends and family about his or her habits.

As for why women are pegged as problem shoppers when the affliction goes both ways, the Boston Globe offered a useful explanation: "Prior to this study, volunteers for clinical trials on impulse buying were primarily women, which led to the view that binge spending was almost exclusive to females." Discovering that some men overshop is a boon both because it helps dispel stereotypes and because it increases the chances that sufferers of both genders will get the help they need. Especially since the people who suffer from runaway spending habits often can't spare the cash: "People earning under $50,000 a year were more likely than higher-income earners to have the disorder, and younger people were more vulnerable," the Globe noted.

Faithful New York Times readers likely know what other girlie activity men are falling prey to: Wedding obsession. Sunday's "Modern Love" column saw writer Craig Bridger establishing his macho credentials ("I am not the type of guy who would want to plan a wedding. I would rather play Xbox than watch 'Queer Eye.' I don't know if I'm a 'fall' or a 'summer'"), and then confessing his, yes, wedding obsession ("I bought every champagne tie I liked, everywhere, and took them all home"). The piece is essentially a series of laughs at Bridger's expense, but it's interesting to see how his planning efforts are invisible to others: "After I created an e-mail account for our wedding and sent out a custom-made (and fabulous) Save the Date e-card, I was flooded with replies praising Tara -- who was in England with her mother -- for the delightful message," Bridger laments. "People just couldn't fathom that the groom, not the bride, might be leading our frantic march to 'I do.'"

And Bridger struggles, too, sometimes resenting his unmanly obsession ("Why was I stuck writing ooey-gooey wedding treacle? I'm a dude; it insulted my dignity, like training a cat to wear a mouse on his head") and sometimes defending it ("Real men, the logic goes, don't care about weddings. And that hurts Groomzilla -- that makes him cry. But only on the inside. He doesn't want to streak his self-tanning lotion"). Happily, he consults an expert. "I don't like that term," NYU sociology professor Kathleen Gerson tells Bridger when he mentions feelings of emasculation. "Emasculate implies that there's only one way to be a man." She suggests instead that Bridger is suffering the laudable discomforts of a pioneer. A gender pioneer!

It's always nice to see rigid ideas about masculinity and femininity being called into question. But it's a little discomfiting to note that, at least this week, gender-bending seems to be taking the form of rampant consumerism. Maybe next week we can throw open the doors to even more fun with gender, in ways that don't adversely impact the pocketbook.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

MORE FROM Page Rockwell

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Gender Love And Sex