On Shopping and Soccer

The close connection between femininity and shopping -- especially shopping for fashion, makeup and cosmetics -- is worthy of recognition and unbiased examination.

At first glance, SuperPharm's new advertising c ampaign is anachronistic and annoying. Women are supposed to get angry because of it. The campaign, appearing on billboards and in television commercials, has been running since the start of the broadcast of the World Cup soccer tournament and will end tomorrow. The ads reflect an outdated relationship between men and women, at the base of which is the woman's hostility toward her mate within the context of his watching the games. For example: "The Ecuador goalie can make your coffee for you. I'm at the SuperPharm. Gali."

Therefore, the advertising campaign's main idea is: Men love soccer, women love shopping (for cosmetics). It seems to me that it is only possible either to object to the message or laugh at it: After all, there certainly are many women today who like soccer; and certainly it's hard to accept the idea that shopping is a women's pastime and parallel to men's soccer-watching. But on second thought, perhaps, in fact, the advertisers for SuperPharm know what they're talking about. Perhaps shopping for women is what soccer-watching is for men, and even worse. Perhaps watching World Cup games is passive devotion to images of masculine activeness. And for women, by comparison, shopping is active devotion to images of feminine passivity.

The close connection between femininity and shopping -- especially shopping for fashion, makeup and cosmetics -- is worthy of recognition and unbiased examination. The hegemony of women among shoppers at pharmacy chains in particular, and at marketing chains and malls in general, is obvious. Women, for example, account for 80 percent of the LifeStyle card for the SuperPharm, McDonald's, Toys'R'Us, Blockbuster, and Office Depot chains. About 70 percent of the shoppers at malls in the United States and Europe are women, and the percentages are similar here. One out of every four car trips made by a woman in the United States is for shopping. For men it is a trip to work.

The vast majority of stores at large malls both in Israel and around the world are shops that address traditional areas of interest for women -- fashion, cosmetics, housewares, children's toys, and food. All activities at local malls -- aimed at attracting shoppers so they will stay as long as possible there -- target women and their children. Women are the absolute majority among purchasers of cosmetic products and makeup, and the absolute majority among clients of chains like SuperPharm (65 to 70 percent of visitors to the chain are women, according to management).

Prima facie, it could be expected that this close connection between women and shopping creates considerable influential power. Women, as consumers, can use their buying power to influence varied humanist, socialist and feminist issues: for example, they can influence cosmetics companies to stop conducting experiments on animals, other companies to cut down environmental pollution and the use of harmful chemicals, and the managements of chains like SuperPharm to improve the working conditions of their sisters -- cashiers and saleswomen (women are undoubtedly the absolute majority among employees of these chains).

Women, as a public with tremendous buying power, also could ostensibly bring about lower prices and improved service. Women are an enormous body of customers, upon which the culture of consumption thrives, and upon which the marketing chains thrive; and therefore, they can work together to bring about change. Marketers are more dependent on women than women are dependent on marketers. If women stopped buying for only one week, everything would collapse.

But apparently this is precisely the problem: Women cannot stop shopping. And just as men who watch the World Cup cannot kick a goal from their armchairs, so women's passivity -- which is expressed in consumption and grooming, and also is produced by consumption and grooming -- negates and delays their ability to act in the world.