A Woman's Place is in the Mall and Other Lies; Karen O'Connor; Thomas Nelson Publishers; 1995; 219 pages; paperback; $12.99.
Born to shop.
Shop till you drop.
I'd rather be shopping at . . . .
A woman's place is in the mall.
The message of cute sayings like these is the same old crap: women can't handle money. And of course, this carries its own imbedded message: women shouldn't handle money. Karen O'Connor, author of "A Woman's Place is in the Mall and Other Lies," says we should be pretty mad about this "increasing trivialization of women around money." And shouldn't we be?
Traditionally, O'Connor says, "women have been the nurturers and the purchasers," but she points out that buying tons of stuff isn't supposed to be our life. Lots of us, however, have gotten the message--as with nurturing--that our worth as human beings lies in what we buy, for ourselves and for others. So, our relationship with money has become charged--with emotion, confusion, anxiety and ambivalence.
According to O'Connor, there are eight profiles of dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors around money: Overspenders, Shopaholics, Credit Card Abusers Compulsive Gamblers, Debt Enablers, Under-earners, Self-debtors, and Perpetual Paupers. The chapters that explore these behaviors are fascinating mainly because O'Connor transcribes the stories of many women, including the childhood lessons they learned about money. These profiles give the reader a sense of the economic forces which work to turn us all into spending robots who worship the god of money, hoping He may someday smile upon us with compassion, making us not only rich, but secure, loved, beautiful, and happy.
Though O'Connor spends considerable time showing us the damage our families' money attitudes can wreak upon us, she spends almost no time really examining the cultural forces behind all this. It's our family, it's merchants, it's Codependence, it's Catholicism; it doesn't seem to be capitalism or hostile ingrained cultural attitudes towards women. O'Connor includes in her book an interview with Sharene Garaman, a therapist writing a dissertation focusing on compulsive spending. A former compulsive spender, Garaman "feels that therapy and group recovery programs sometimes focus on the personal and emotional levels to the exclusion of the social and cultural influences. . . . I'm convinced that in this country we are at a stage of infancy when it comes to defining and understanding addictions."
Disappointingly, O'Connor completely ignores the concerned therapist's point, steering the focus, as she increasingly does, back to Christianity: "Exploring the cultural influences may also involve looking at a woman's spiritual issues." And so, "A Woman's Place is in the Mall," reads more like a Christian tract than a cultural critique or even a good old self-help book. The entire last part, "Discovering Joy," is unabashedly Christian, and packed with testimonials and quotes from the Bible. Any non-Christian reader will feel excluded by this testifying club of women for whom Christianity is central as a "cure" for overspending. Perhaps even the Christian reader will wonder at such Biblical affirmations for healing as, "You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth." Huh?
Nevertheless, "A Woman's Place is in the Mall," introduces the problem of compulsive overspending among women. It's also a good reference book--O'Connor includes a section called "Supplementary Resources" which lists support groups like Debtors Anonymous. It's hard to fault O'Connor's sincerity or the support groups she espouses--they give people strength, a community to turn to, and a place to discuss their fears, sadness, and strength. Still, do we have to unquestioningly trade in the Money God for the Christian God?