New York Times, teh stupid

The New York Times is my (virtual) morning paper, usually reminding me of all things smart and carefully researched. When faced with certain student papers, that’s a good thing.

But when it comes to many things woman-centered, somehow the NYT manages to screw it up. Witness the recent article titled “To Buy Children’s Gifts, Mothers Do Without,” which details how “millions of mothers across the nation” are sacrificing their own desires (designer jeans, dontcha know) to be able to gift their children with the joy of the holiday season, i.e., lots of toys.

The data that is presented deals with the falling sales of women’s apparel (down 18.2 % in October vs. 8.3 % for men) and a “survey of shoppers’ intentions” by a consultant firm that suggests that 61% of mothers will shop less for themselves (as opposed to 56% of all women and 45% of men). This data is all that anchors a piece that brims with wiggly number words like “millions of mothers,” “nearly everyone,” “many fathers,” “typical woman,” “some are…others are…,” “that could translate into fewer presents…” etc. Until finally, we are left with the real take-home message: mothers are self-sacrificing.

And mothers are so self-sacrificing that

matriarchs of big families are bringing back the old practice of pulling names out of hats to decide who will buy a gift for whom. Some mothers have made pacts…not to buy gifts for anyone but the children.

Oh dear! Mothers are ruling the home in such a way that the retail industry might suffer! And heavens! Kids come first for many families! I’m sure no one else is making these kinds of choices, even if they don’t have kids. And certainly fathers have so little say in these matters…

Here’s what the story is really about: the retail industry is affected by the huge national/global economic downturn. And darn those mothers, they’re not helping because they’re too focused on their children.

As one commenter mentions, working-class women have always had to make choices that, yes, might privilege kids. Or they have even had to NOT buy gifts for their children. In other words, this is an article that laments the economic fall of the middle-class mother. It points to clothing and toy swaps and second-hand shopping as if they were strange activities from the planet Depression, rather than ongoing measures for anti-consumerism, frugality, and thrift that many folks practice. (Granted, this New York Times article appears to participate in a recent demonization of thrift/consumer choices. Look at the title of this recent article. Thriftiness is the new greed? What does that even mean?)

Once thriftiness of any sort is a problem, then clearly economizing mothers are the central economic problem. So. Let’s count on our fingers the problematic assumptions/assertions here:

  1. fathers don’t count in family spending decisions
  2. women’s purchases drive the economy
  3. mothers always privilege children; they’re naturally self-sacrificing (Corollary: apparently not buying designer jeans is a sacrifice. Second corollary: single men’s and women’s sacrifices do not count.)
  4. matriarchs determine gift-giving practices (and probably other things, those scary, scary dominant women!)
  5. thrift is bad (See #2)

p.s. related to #5, a web ad that I’ve seen recently for the Discover card has this hilarious (when thinking about thrift and anti-consumerism) tagline: “We are a nation of consumers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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