Tag Archives: shopping

A Season of Gratitude

 

I had these cards made recently by a local letterpress artist and I’ve been leaving them in stores and posting them on bulletin boards wherever I think the message might be appreciated as a reminder that “fourth quarter,” as the marketers say, is more than just a time of shopping frenzy. The message is also directed at our national political scene, where decisions are being made that benefit those who already have so much rather than showing compassion for the common good.

December can be depressing when gift-giving becomes a stressful burden rather than a way to show love, friendship, or appreciation of community. I know many people who bow out of giving gifts altogether, and I understand why they’d choose not to participate in the craziness that gift-giving has become. But for those of us who do give gifts, it is easy to forget why we’re doing it in the first place: to show gratitude to the people in our lives who care for us and make our lives better.

For me and many people I know, giving a gift means making a gift or giving a gift from the earth that they tend (like honey from bees or herbs grown in a garden). Making gifts takes more time than money, so often the “value” in that type of gift isn’t readily recognized. One year my daughter and I spent hours making hand-beaded candy canes to tie on the packages we sent out of state. When I asked later how the recipients had liked the beaded canes, the answer was, “Oh. We didn’t notice them. They must have gotten thrown out with the wrapping paper.” Not the right folks for that particular gift. Although it would have been nice for the candy canes to have been received with joy, the pleasure was in making and giving them, and we were the ones to receive that.

One year when my students organized the Why Shop? Week consumer awareness project I wrote about in my last post, several of them were interviewed on a national radio program, where they advocated giving handmade gifts as a way to avoid participation in dubious consumer practices. When they were asked by the radio host, “What if your friends don’t like homemade gifts?” the students happily answered, “Get new friends.”

At 18, that may be possible. At middle-age, we’ve made many of the friends we’ll have for the rest of our lives; some craft and some don’t. I am grateful to the people in my life who do make gifts. To me, a homemade gift or card always says, “I took this time to think about you and I enjoyed making this for you.” That doesn’t mean other gifts aren’t thoughtful or welcome, but as a handcrafter myself, I do appreciate the sentiment behind something homemade. I know that handmade gifts take time for planning and designing, gathering of materials, and the crafting itself, often in many different steps.

This year one of our friends referred to his wife as a “one-woman craft factory” in her making of beautiful photo cards and felted soaps for family and friends. I don’t think he meant that she didn’t enjoy it but rather that she had to be well organized. For me, that sounds more appealing than going to a mall in the hustle of cars and frenzied shoppers looking for deals on the season’s latest trends. The popularity of the handcraft web-shop etsy shows that many people agree with me and would rather support a handcrafter than plunk down money at a big-box store.

This year, I am grateful for the many wonderful gifts made for us, from the inspiring quotation handwritten on paper to the soaps and bath salts and confections we’ll use everyday to the adorable ornaments made with care that will decorate our home to the handcranked wool socks that will warm our feet. Let’s think of this time of year as the “Season of Gratitude” when gifts of all kinds show gratitude in both the giving and the receiving.  And let’s extend that practice of gratitude all year for the gifts we already receive every day: the gift of love from the special people in our lives and from the earth that sustains us.

1 Comment

Filed under sustainable agriculture, women's writing

Black Friday Sounds Like a Plague

The media hype surrounding Black Friday this year astounded me in its hijacking of the Thanksgiving holiday into something commercial and crass. As many commentators pointed out, a day that used to mean spending time with your family has become a competitive spectator sport. Stores opened at obscenely early hours for “specials” that had shoppers stealing out of each others’ carts. This scarcity tactic led to people mobbing shops and even pepper-spraying other shoppers to get something they certainly didn’t need in the first place.

In the mid to late 90s, my women’s studies students and I organized an event called Why Shop? Week to raise awareness about the connection between women producers of products—generally low-paid workers in underdeveloped and developing countries—and women consumers—the audience for fashion and beauty advertisements founded on the message that women are never good enough so buy, buy, buy, including products that are unsafe and unhealthy. Both of these groups of women should be natural allies because they face a common struggle for women’s rights. That is, women’s lives should not be limited and trivialized by sexist stereotypes of women as merely producers or consumers of products. When women consumers realize that the products they’re told to buy to improve themselves are often produced by other women in unsafe and exploitative working conditions, shopping can be seen in another light. By learning the story behind the product and asking “Who Made It?” Who Needs It?” and “Who Profits from It?,” we can start to free ourselves from a misogynistic consumerism that profits from women’s economic and social vulnerability. Women are more than what they buy and they deserve fair wages and working conditions for any job they undertake.

Sure, it’s not simple. Women all over the world need jobs, but low wages and dangerous conditions for some women should not be the necessary conditions upon which other women’s self-esteem is based.

These connections are not easy to make but my students came up with innovative ways to—at the very least—start questioning the link between US consumption practices and women’s labor exploitation. One year they staged an alternative fashion show called “Crimes of Fashion: Are They Worth It?” exposing the real world of fashion, especially the labor exploitation of sweatshop workers in the U.S. and overseas.  Here the students modeled “recycled” clothing from a second-hand store to suggest creating one’s own fashion sense rather than following trends found in magazines.

Another year they created an alternative beauty pageant called “Ms. Assembly Line” whose talent segment featured contestants from garment, athletic shoe, appliance, and agricultural businesses demonstrating their production skills, while a red, white, and blue-sequined Ms. Super Shopper displayed her talent running up a hefty credit card tab. The students’ even revised the lyrics to the famous pageant song: “She is the poorest of the poor/ Except in the U. S. where she has more and more.”

Another year, the skit, “Shop ‘Til They Drop,” included talk show host Sally “Dressy” Raphael interviewing guests with shopping addictions, including Cher, a teen shopper from Beverly Hills; “Grandma Claus,” an overly generous holiday shopper; Mikey Swoosh, a Nike fanatic; and Annie Smith, a high school student addicted to beauty products.  Experts helped guests face their addictions by educating them about their consumption habits.

For each of these events, the students decorated shopping bags highlighting the disparity between wages and profits for common women’s products while questioning the message that enough is never enough.

With Why Shop? Week, we tried to raise awareness about the role consumerism plays in limiting women’s rights. I hope when my former students hear about Black Friday, they reflect on the ideas we discussed years ago. I’m discouraged that shopping has been raised to a national holiday and that people are even harmed by manufactured scarcity and media hype. Black Friday sounds like a plague—and like a disease, it seems to have spread a terrible contagion: greed. I hope next year we say “Enough is Enough” to the stores, advertisers, and manufacturers that trivialize our freedoms and cheapen our lives with a shopping mania in service of profits for a few rather than rights for all.

2 Comments

Filed under memoir, women's writing