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When in doubt, look for a reason to blame the ladies

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, May 21, 2009 14:44 EDT
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In terms of fake science, this article about how frivolous, stupid women can’t be expected to rein in their spending during a recession may be hitting a new low. There is no sourcing that I can see for this claim:

This may come as little surprise to most people: In times of crisis, women are more likely to take a shopping spree than in normal times.

A new survey finds almost half of UK women are frightened or scared by the recession, and 45 percent felt their financial situation had taken a hit. A full 75 percent said they would be making cutbacks.

First of all, survey, not study. So already we’re on shaking ground classifying this in the science category. But who conducted the survey? Were men polled? (Seems not.) Was the sample size 10 women? Was a survey really conducted, or did someone just make some shit up? (Strong possibility.) We have no clues. The survey that supposedly happened was dispatched immediately, and the rest is a press release for a book called “Sheconomics”, that proposes that women spend money on frivolous items because they have a mental illness similar to addiction. It is not considered whether or not occasionally treating yourself is something that human beings do, because everyone knows that men, say, buy themselves video games or tickets to sporting events out of the sheer seriousness that is masculinity, and these cannot be considered indulgences like lipstick or a pair of shoes, neither of which, for instance, is something women might use in their day to day life to look more presentable for work or in social situations.

Put down that lipstick, ladies, or you’re like an alcoholic who just can’t say no! This article is damaging not just because it promotes vicious gender stereotypes, but also because it makes light of a genuine problem. Some people are in fact problem shoppers—especially those suffering from manic depression who go on shopping sprees during their mood swings. Manic depression is a serious mental illness that requires actual treatment, and is not afflicting half of the female population of the UK. Nor can it be addressed by buying some frivolous self-help book that treats women like they’re something other than your standard human beings.

This article/press release also does something despicable—scapegoating women for the recession. It’s not exactly blaming women, but they are exploiting people’s desire to shift the focus from the mistakes and behavior of those in power to those who aren’t in power. (That’s why you saw conservatives lamely trying to blame non-white mortgage borrowers for the entire crisis, instead of the captains of the banking industry—mostly white men—who actually concocted the schemes that got us into this position.) When it comes to gender, this is especially annoying, because it’s safe to say that the blame for the crisis is, in fact, gendered. After all, it was mostly men who caused it.

Matt replies:

What’s more, my understanding is that there’s actually quite a lot of research demonstrating that women are, on average, better at risk-assessment. For example, women are much less likely to get into car accidents and nobody has any plausible theory of what compensating benefits men are receiving in exchange for our riskier driving.

The one problem with assessments that take women’s much-evidenced tendency to be more risk-averse than men (on average, which means your anecdotal evidence about how your individual life bucks the trend doesn’t change this) is that these assessments toe the line and sometimes cross it into suggesting that men and women’s behavior is static and based in biology. It’s far more likely that women are risk-averse and men are, on average, more likely to be risk-takers for cultural reasons.

Take, for instance, the gender differences in investment circles. Women are more cautious for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that women are often made to feel like they’re on permanent probation, and any infraction means they get taken out of the game. Men have historical reasons to believe that the boys club will not suffer the consequences of risky behavior, and even if the government has to bail out your bank or insurance company, you’re still getting you enormous bonus. (See: What just happened.) And even if women generally will get the same soft treatment when they fuck up, they don’t generally have a life history inclining them to believe that, and are more likely to have a lifetime of feeling like they had to be twice as good to go half as far. Dana and Ann touch on this—it’s not men and women the biological beings so much, but that Wall Street inculcates this hyper-masculine culture where men are encourage to prove their masculinity by being huge risk-takers, but women feel they have to prove they even deserve to play by not fucking up ever. Should women get real equality, it’s entirely possible that the risk-taking culture will include them as well. But it’s also possible that removing gender binaries will mean that men have less to prove, and could instill a more cautious culture.

You see the same thing with driving. What motivates men to be bigger risk takers, Matt asks. Well, driving really fast is a lot of fun, which is its own reward. But men are more likely to indulge it, because it reaffirms that they’re Real Men who don’t give a shit and live on the edge and all that other cowboy nonsense. Women, on the flip side, don’t have a masculinity to prove. (Well, most of the time. Though, I can think of a number of exceptions. I’m sure there’s more than a few risky drivers amongst female anti-feminists who like to pretend they’re one of the boys, for instance.) But if you look at insurance rates, it’s really just young men who make the big difference, and so I’m inclined to think it’s because young, single men really are encouraged to think of themselves as responsible only for themselves. We know that men are much less likely, for instance, to speak with their parents and other family members on a regular basis. So, I suspect that young, single women think of their entire family when they take a risk. That’s why insurance rates level out for men once they get married and start thinking of themselves as responsible to more than themselves.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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