Trashing Boxing Day sales ignores structural poverty within the capitalist-patriarchy

My FB and twitter feed are full of people commenting that they wouldn’t dream of going to the Boxing Day sales – just as it was on Black Friday. I can understand the desire to comment on rampant consumerism that our capitalist-patriarchy is predicated on, but targeting the people buying in these sales is not appropriate because it completely ignores the issue of poverty.

I believe that the patriarchy will not be smashed unless we also destroy capitalism. There is no way to make capitalism ‘fair’ – it will always be predicated on the exploitation of the unwaged labour of women as carers for children and family and the the labour of people who live in “non-industrialised/non-Western” (or whatever othering term is being used this week).

Advertising makes us believe we are shit parents for not buying our kids the must-have toys of the season. We know it’s a scam to make rich men richer and that our kids won’t be scarred for life if we don’t buy them the toy, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t buy the toys because we don’t want our kid to be the one missing. As a single parent, I’ve always shopped in the sales. This is why we have the entire first edition of the Lego Harry Potter castle (75% off at Tescos), Playmobil school (50% off), pink micro-t scooter (25% off plus free delivery but only if you get the pink one) and numerous Barbies, Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies (both the branded and non-branded ones). Did I need to buy these for my daughters as a single parent? No. Did I still line up on Boxing Day, first day of the annual Playmobil sale at Toys’R’Us ( 40% off & if you spend £40, you get a ‘super’ set worth £20 free!) and Black Friday. You betcha.

They didn’t make me a better mother and they didn’t compensate for my eldest daughter’s father being a dick and either failing to even make contact at Christmas (having not paid child support all year) or sending her a puzzle for 18 month olds when she was 6. I still shopped on those big sales day because I didn’t want my kid to be the one at school who didn’t have a gazillion presents to talk about. And, I know most of these are made by people, including children, who are making less than a pound a day and frequently live without clean water and sanitation. It feels shit being in this position but I’m very lucky compared to many single parent households as I never lived under the poverty level.

So many women, and it almost always women, live in poverty because men refuse to financially support their children and the state colludes with these men by allowing them to perpetuate financial child abuse. The state, and increasingly NGOs, collude with multi-national corporations forcing huge swathes of the population of the planet into poverty with farm subsidies in ‘industrialised’ countries, commodifying water, running a “war on drugs” when we have a worldwide shortage of medicinal morphine & have destroyed the cash crops of indigenous famers, and denying workers a living wage (whether they be living in a slum in India or in London).

Capitalism requires people to live in poverty in order to continue. We need to challenge the corporations like Apple (I say typing on my new Apple computer bought on credit card as my old one was dying) who build their products in inhumane conditions or Nestle, who continues to promote their formula in areas with no access to clean water despite the fact that this actively kills babies, or any company who participate in the arms trade – all of whom are culpable in mass genocide.

Yes, there are many people buying in the sales who are ‘middle class’ but let’s talk about why they feel the need to line up at Next at 4 in the morning  for sales. Are they buying work clothes that they can’t afford at normal prices? Buying bags to make them look ‘professional’ at job interviews? Clothes for the kids to wear on weekends (since school uniforms are more expensive because it forces you to buy two sets of clothes)? School shoes which are grossly over-priced and completely impractical for girls to play in? Are they buying that TV because it’s the only form of entertainment they have?

Instead of denigrating people who buy at these sales, let’s talk about the capitalist-patriarchy, consumerism and poverty. Let’s examine why it’s considered acceptable to denigrate those who shop on Boxing Day but not those who line up in the week before Christmas spending thousands to have the Perfect Christmas. After all, spending hundreds on one toy the week before Christmas is as damaging to the planet as it is to spend 1/2 on the same toy on Boxing Day.

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