With the holiday season coming closer, there will be many among the ranks of the boyfriends and husbands who would be dreading an inescapable part of the preparations - shopping. Few things rouse as much fear in a man as the prospect of going shopping with a female partner. It is curious that men should feel so when they need to buy things for themselves and to gift others, much like women do. Here are a few thoughts on why men hate shopping so much and how they would much rather leave it to their girlfriends and wives.
Difference between shopping and buying
Shopping, especially with a female partner, comes off as a nightmarish experience for most men, essentially because it means entirely two different things for the two different sexes. While the men much prefer to go to their favorite store, pick up their stuff and head back home to enjoy their purchase with a bottle of chilled beer, to a woman shopping means something else altogether. It is a way to unwind, check out the latest trends of the season, compare rates for the same item across a dozen stores, decide that some women have no sense of style at all and eventually undergo some highly effective retail therapy herself. All this seems inexplicable to her boyfriend who cannot understand why she did not pick the dress she spent forty minutes trying out before the mirror. In short, shopping implies a whole complex of emotions and perceptions for women whereas for men, it is simply a fancy word for picking up a T-shirt, a smartphone or simply a case of beer.
Hunters vs. Gatherers
Like so many social and gender traits, men’s dislike of shopping can also be explained by evolutionary psychology. Daniel Kruger , an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan1 explains the difference in attitude towards shopping on the basis of the difference between two primary systems of acquiring food in primitive times – hunting and gathering. In the dawn of civilization, men were primarily hunters – when they spotted a deer or a fox, the primary instinct was to shoot it, before it got away. Apparently the same instinct survives in men even today which is why their main motivation of going to the mall is to zero in on an item, swipe their card and simply leave with the purchase. Our earliest female ancestors were on the other hand mainly gatherers – while in primitive times this meant that they needed to check every berry on the bush to make sure they were getting the ripest or tastiest ones, their modern-day descendents are likewise motivated by the desire to try out every pair of heels or every Cashmere sweater in the mall to know that they are getting the best deal.
Titled, "Evolved Foraging Psychology Underlies Sex Differences in Shopping Experiences and Behaviors," and published in the December issue of the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology, the research paper explaining the difference in male and female attitudes to shopping further elaborates that the earliest male hunters followed Euclidian navigation which means that they would plan their expedition in terms of directions so as to go quickly to the forests, kill the prey and return before sun went down – much like a man still picks up a gift for a partner. Primitive women on the other hand would go gathering, not so much by directions, but guided by prior knowledge or which berry patch was the most productive last season; more importantly they probably gathered food alongside other female members of the tribe – little wonder then that shopping today, like gathering in earlier times, is a social exercise, something over which women bond with each other.
Pull on Purse-strings
Then again men’s dislike of shopping could have more mundane reasons – like the impending tug on their purse-strings. Even now when women are earners, shopping for family stuff and holiday gift-giving is mainly paid for by the male partner who in a patriarchal set-up is also likely to be bringing home a bigger pay-check. Therefore as a wife looks through different wallpaper patterns or chooses presents for overseas cousins, a man knows that there goes his chances of buying that newest model of power-tools he has been eyeing for so long – so who can blame the poor guy for hating shopping so much. But even when his wife or girlfriend doesn’t mind paying for her own purchases, still a guy may be secretly wishing to get back home because he knows he is missing his favourite football team’s game or because he is tired of holding one baby and running after the toddler at the same time.
If wives and girlfriends are feeling rather prickly on reading this, they can take comfort from one research2 which suggests that men hate shopping primarily on account of pushy staff. Repeatedly being asked by overenthusiastic salespeople whether they can ‘help’ him with something or if he would like to try this and that out, is enough to make a guy turn on his heels and make for the exit. While women shoppers seem to enjoy the personal touch implied by solicitous salesgirls, men on the contrary feel bullied into buying things they don't want - even if the staff is simply trying to be helpful.
What are you shopping for?
Finally it remains to be pointed out that men do not hate all shopping – they merely ‘shop’ for different things. A guy browsing through a lawn and garden store looking for the perfect drill or checking out umpteen number of camera stores in order to find just the zoom lens he wants is little different from a woman trying out seven pairs of shoes before making up her mind. Even though men are not commonly seen spending an entire day at the malls, they are big spenders nevertheless. A research paper3 from the Deakin University, Australia, website points out that the personal care market for males has grown exponentially in recent years. In 2005 for example, L’Oreal reported that men’s skincare was its fastest growing sector. This further proves that while men may not shop like women, they do buy things and may not even be averse to shelling out big money for their favourite stuff. Thus different people value different things and how much time and effort a man and woman invests in looking for the perfect purchase simply depends on what he or she thinks special enough to go ‘shopping’ for.
ABC News - Why Women Love to Shop
Mail Online - Why do men hate to go shopping? Blame the pushy staff
Deakin University Australia - Men and Shopping [.pdf]