We’re all for budgeting. We’re all for tracking your spending. But how often do we evaluate the reasons we spend, the reasons we buy—beyond the necessities? Because we’re keeping up with the neighbors? Because we’re distracting ourselves from a stressful work week? Because sometimes a thing just happens to sparkle just the right way in the storefront lighting?
Turns out, according to a recent Forbes poll, a whopping “80% of consumer spending [is now] controlled by women.” Faced with such an overwhelming figure, author Kerry Cohen thought it was time to open up a dialogue about women’s relationships with spending.
And so she produced Spent: Exposing Our Complicated Relationship with Spending—a collection of humorous to heart-breaking personal essays from female writers that offer up insight into why we shop. Here, Cohen talks cultural assumptions, the self-worth/spending connection—and the whole “bitches gonna shop” thing.
Kerry Cohen: I’ve been aware of my own issues with shopping for a long time. In my case, I would say I have a sort of shopping addiction, albeit a mild one compared to some of what I hear. When I talked about it with other women, they all had similar stories or stories about how complicated shopping was in their lives. As with so many other things I write about, I’m interested in the truth beneath our cultural assumptions about women—the whole “bitches gonna shop” thing. I couldn’t have predicted the variety of stories I ended up receiving after I asked people to write for the anthology.
SC: How did you go about collecting the stories?
KC: I started by asking writers I knew would have interesting things to say. Then, to include some new voices, I put the request out on Facebook and Twitter. I mainly included stories with excellent writing, but I was also looking for a variety regarding how women relate to shopping.
SC: As you were reading through all of these accounts, did you notice any common themes about women’s relationships with money, and what it means to spend it?
KC: Absolutely. No question that many women feel less deserving. Most of the things they buy or want to buy are symbolic of something else: status, worth, desirability. I imagine that’s true with many men, too. I mean, I think this is part of how our capitalist society preys on us all. But, with women, it extends beyond an item of clothing and into the household. Also, I was surprised how many women really hate shopping.
SC: Did you find that there was one single most shocking revelation—either in general, or within a specific anecdote?
KC: Honestly, there were so many revelations. That grown women shoplift. That shopping is often more about the longing for the thing than having it. That shopping can feel like an antidote to despair. And that our spending of money is so often tied up with men.
SC: Would you say that our relationship with spending, as a nation, is unhealthy? Or simply complicated?
KC: Hmm. At this point I wouldn’t feel qualified to say our relationship is always outright unhealthy, although I think it certainly can be in particular instances. Like I noted above, I worry about how much our spending is tied up with our sense of worth and value. Yet, that also seems like an opportunity to me. Perhaps we can look at how we spend money and what we spend it on as a metaphor for something deeper we need to examine. Perhaps we can look at our relationship to things as a larger symbol of our relationship to ourselves.
SC: What do you hope readers will gain from experiencing this collection?
KC: I really just wanted to start a discussion on our assumptions about women and shopping. So many people I told about the anthology when I was curating it rolled their eyes. They thought I was compiling some kind of cotton candy book! Can I tell you that this is one of the first books I have done that has no pink on its cover? It’s not fluffy! It’s serious, thoughtful and literary. I hope mostly that people begin to examine their own relationships to consumerism and shopping.