March is Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day marked on March 8th. As with, well, pretty much anything, there is much debate over whether this is justified, what or whose agenda it furthers, who it seeks to celebrate, and so forth. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder of the contributions of daily and historical importance women have made, and our importance in the fabric of society.
This period of discourse has reminded me of a thought that often works its way into my head surrounding the fact that, while I'm not aspiring to minimalism, I am seeking to minimize my footprint of consumption.
As women, we are taught from a young age to minimize the space we occupy, minimize our voices, minimize our bodies. The space we are permitted to grown in, however, is in our consumption. Since the beginning of the retail explosion of the early 20th century, if not sooner, the power of a woman was found in her purchasing power. As much as 85% of purchases in the US today are made by women, for numerous noteable reasons, yet society has somehow perpetuated a degrading troupe of women with armfuls of shopping bags filled with frivolous purchases. It’s as if we’ve been told our worth is in our utility, not our creativity, aspirations, or interests.
So what about women, like myself, that take a stand to effectively take up less space? Those who strive to use fewer things, live in smaller homes, or shrink our physical footprints?
Though I would not describe myself as especially defiant, I would say I am willful and a bit stubborn. By choosing to consume less, I wonder: am I playing right into the hands of the entities and expectations that tell me that, as a woman, I am less? What does it say about me that I would voluntarily “shrink” myself?
Though this is my choice, and not a path I seek to prescribe, does it implicate a deprivation of a means of expression? Does this introduce yet another form of divisiveness among our sex? Does it develop contest of who can go without, who has what skills, what time, and what interests?
I say all this because, reasonable or not, it poses an internal conflict for myself.
Surrendering space can be a bit scary or frustrating. It reminds me of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons which effectively says that, if I don’t use a resource, someone else will, and my efforts of conservation will be for naught.
But perhaps this can be reconciled if we recognize that, through limiting consumption, we are in essence promoting others, not diminishing ourselves. When we tactfully shrink our personal footprints, we enable and enlarge those of others in a beneficial way – our local farmers, shop owners, makers, neighbors. We are using that aforementioned purchasing power to indicate what it is we truly care about, where our interests lie. By using less, we can be giving more of ourselves.
To my like-minded ladies: we aren’t surrendering the park bench to the sweaty manspreading gym dude (or anyone for that matter, nothing against sweaty gym dudes), we’re just scooting over to fit five more friends.
So the question remains: how do I tangibly reconcile my demand to take less, but live big?
Fortunately, I find the efforts to be quite compatible. Working to consume less does not necessitate a retreat from public or corporate expression, but a shift in the way one could impact their sphere. Conscious consumption & general awareness facilitate:
- The growth of healthy local communities
- Celebration of the true value of material goods
- Support of local businesses
- Voicing concerns and opinions to legislators
- Making your space shared space – community gardens, parks, libraries, community centers, restaurants
So yes, I may be making a decision to live small in a way that is threatening to those who rely on my consumption to support themselves. That’s not the point, but I suppose it is a consequence.
The bigger point is that an effort to consume less is not one that represents retreat, acquiescence, or some kind of forfeiture of existence. It’s a way of taking ownership of our decisions and using our influence to leverage the change we want to see.
Additionally, here’s a compilation of Women’s History Month events in NC from the Division of Natural and Cultural Resources