Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Women and Black Friday

(this started out as a piece on the general sociology of Black Friday, but evolved into most an analysis of women who shop on Black Friday, mostly because the majority of Black Friday shoppers are women. if someone would like to post a comment discussing the male experience of Black Friday, be my guest)

Black Friday has gotten a reputation as being a day where hoards of Americans flock to the stores in the wee hours of the morning to snag some ridiculous deals on merchandise, and get a jump start to their holiday shopping. It has become a day associated with greed, violence, and recently worker exploitation as well. While those important elements should not be forsaken in people’s criticisms of Black Friday, it is important to look at the sociological side of it as well. Black Friday isn’t just a sale day; it is both a bonding experience and a time of great competition for women.

Watch the news on Black Friday; watch the interviews of those crazy people standing in line at 2am, freezing their tails off. Notice how a lot of the people are standing in groups. You’re likely to see a mother and daughter say that they do this every year, or sisters who say that waiting in line on Black Friday is a tradition for them. Think about it: shopping is a female bonding activity, and Thanksgiving is all about spending time with family. It’s a holiday that brings together family members who don’t often get to see each other.

When the day after Thanksgiving rolls around, families are looking for something to do. They want to keep up the momentum of spending time together and having fun. They can either sit around talking – which gets old after a lunch of cold turkey sandwiches – or they can go out and do something fun, perhaps something that family members from out of town want to do while they’re there. Shopping is one way to do this, as is going to a movie or go out to dinner. Family members visiting from out of town may want to take advantage of shopping opportunities unique to the area, visit stores they do not have where they live. It’s true that not everyone stands in line for the “door buster deals” to do this, but for some family members, especially women, even the experience of standing in line together can be fun and a good way to bond and catch up.

By now, American society seems to have split into two groups: those who wait in line for stores to open on Black Friday, and those who don’t. People who haven’t begun to do it probably won’t start this year or anytime soon, unless they just have to buy something they cannot normally afford, and those who have been doing so may not want to stop. It is not as though these people enjoy waking up at 2am after a feast of wine, turkey, and pie just to shop – surely, as the hours of Black Friday become more ridiculous, fewer people may begin to make Black Friday shopping a tradition, but for those who have already made it a tradition in their families, they may not want to give it up just because of the hours. To them, the hours might even make it more fun and exciting.

While Black Friday may be a way for some women to bond, it is also a time of great competitiveness among women. Black Friday advertisements, and in fact advertisements throughout the holiday season, urge women – who are still the main consumers in most households – to hurry to the malls and spend as much money as possible trying to make Christmas perfect for their families. There is an immense amount of pressure on women to buy the perfect gifts, and as many as possible, for everyone they know; purchase the perfect holiday outfits; throw the perfect holiday parties; transform their houses into Christmas wonderlands; and finally, cook the perfect feast. For women, the idea is not to enjoy Christmas but to make sure everyone around them does, giving even more of themselves than usual. It is true that Christmas is the season of giving, but there is more pressure on women to be the ones making the sacrifices, especially since many women still feel pressure to be self-sacrificing year-round.

As seen in recent years, this pressure to be perfect, and especially to buy as many presents as possible, has driven some women to hysterics on Black Friday. News stories show people camping out outside stores, storming the doors at 3am, shoving people out of the way and trampling others, even pepper-spraying their way to the discounted Xboxes. Yes, there are men in these crowds, but most of the “crazy” ones are women, and a lot of the violence is women harming other women. Are some of these women actually mentally unstable? Sure, some may be, but a good portion of them are simply women who have internalized the pressure to give, give, give and are trying desperately to do this in tough economic times. This is not to defend this woman-on-woman crime, but merely to explain that the causes of such behavior.

This is not to say that men do not go shopping on Black Friday, we all know that some do. However, it’s less common and in general, men – especially heterosexual men – do not use shopping as a chance to bond with others (unless the shopping is something sex-related, such as an outing to Victoria’s Secret or an adult toy store). This often creates the comical scenario of a man being dragged through the mall with his girlfriend, who sees it as a date, while he sees it as a chore. There are men who do enjoy shopping, there are men who enjoy shopping with others, but shopping as a bonding experience is still primarily a feminine activity.

While there are men present on Black Friday, Black Friday and much of the holiday season is still traditionally a season of women. Much of the work that goes into Christmas is feminine – shopping, decorating, cooking, baking, hosting, and making the day special for the children. The insane retail hours and shopping hysteria is merely the product of all this pressure women still face to make Christmas perfect for their friends and families. However, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone who shops on Black Friday does it for those above reasons, and many women do it simply because it is a way to bond with other female family members in the wake of a holiday where families get together and kick off the holiday season.

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