Women and shopping - a complicated story

Nov 27, 2021

Black Friday has come and gone. The biggest shopping day of the year and you have probably found this newsletter buried among all the discount codes you have been getting spammed with.

So, let’s talk about women and shopping.

It’s a complicated story.

When department stores first emerged in the 1800s Émile Zola worried about that the nice ladies of Paris simply wouldn’t be able to HANDLE all of their TEMPTATIONS. Rows and rows of merchandise laid out for them to TOUCH, HOLD and ultimately BUY. .. this was sure to corrupt the sensitive female spirit.

Simultaneously, the department store was also hailed as a FEMINIST INNOVATION.


Because these new temples of consumption were actually one of the few public spaces where women could move freely without a male companion. Within the walls of the department store a woman could walk on her own without having to navigate the risk of sexual harassment that was a constant threat out on the street.

Entrepreneurs in the 1800s like Harry Gordon Selfridges were VERY aware of this.

And they made money because they understood it.

Brands and companies today are increasingly aware that women influence over 80 percent of all consumer decisions in the economy. The (slow) realisation that women are the world’s most powerful consumer will change the economy.

It is an important trend to be aware of.

HOWEVER this doesn’t mean that SHOPPING is FEMINISM.

The department store in the 1800s is actually a good metaphor for how female consumption power doesn’t equal female liberation.

YES when department stores were invented they gave SOME women more freedom. If you were white and had money the department store was a safe haven. A place where you were secure and treated well, even if you were unaccompanied by a man.

But it didn’t change what was happening on the streets outside.

Neither did it change the economic conditions of all women.

Happy Saturday!


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