Hell for the holidays

The American Psychological Association says the season is rough on women -- but news stories remind us that shopping is fun!

By Carol Lloyd
Published December 14, 2006 9:03PM (EST)

From the annals of jing-a-ling academy comes the astonishing revelation that women take on the greater burden of holiday shit work -- er, magic making. Today, ABC News trotted out a survey by the American Psychological Association as the scientific basis for one of those requisite holiday shopping stories, with video b-roll of women overloaded with shopping bags standing in endless department store lines. What's irritating is that the study was aimed at warning women that the increased stress of holidays is substantial enough to put their health at risk, and the network communicated the opposite message. After a cursory mention of the APA study, ABC interviewed a tiny sampling of female shoppers at a mall, and guess what? We gals wouldn't have it any other way!

"All of the stress goes away that morning when they open everything up and say, 'Mom, you rock,'" Helena Ridgeway told ABC. "You know, it makes it worth it." It's a prime example of the media's annual tradition of baking up dozens of saccharine pro-shopping stories. Another case in point: This week the Sacramento Bee reported on a new Gallup poll, which found that 60 percent of American women find shopping for Christmas gifts more of a joyful experience than a chore. (The study failed to specify what chore -- gardening? scrubbing toilets? -- but never mind.) Among the joyful shoppers interviewed were two single mothers who are buying for about 25 people, including not only the gifts they plan to give others but the gifts their boyfriends will give their children and the gifts their children will give back to their respective moms. The chortling conclusion of the article is that holiday shopping is widely used as an excuse to do a little self-gifting. And there may be something to the theory: According to 2006 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, commissioned by the National Retail Federation, the average consumer (male or female) will spend $99.22 on himself or herself -- more than the $85.60 she spends on gifts for friends (though less than the average of $451.34 spent on gifts for family members). And damn straight. With a 25-person shopping list, who wouldn't need a little retail therapy?

At the risk of sounding like a sanctimonious killjoy, this year I've vowed to avoid shopping for crap no one needs or even vaguely likes and try something new: Give and ask for gift certificates to Kiva.org, a new online lending platform for microfinance (like a virtual Grameen Bank). The new Web site lets individuals offer loans for as little as $25 to the small businesses of struggling developing-world entrepreneurs -- most of whom are women. (Yes, Kiva offers gift certificates. And when the loan is repaid, which 97 percent of microfinance loans are, your family member can always take the money out and buy that scarf she wishes you'd bought her.) For support in resisting consumer temptations, I'll be seeking solace in the Church of Stop Shopping, a sincerely satirical movement led by Bill Talen, aka the Rev. Billy, who travels the nation's malls with his Gospel chorus preaching to nonbelievers everywhere. Invoking environmental disaster and cultural implosion, Billy has declared that "the Consumerized End Times are at hand" -- which, after viewing a few department-store lines of glassy-eyed secret Santas, isn't too hard to believe.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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