Is Gift Shopping Really That Hard For Dudes?

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The ad at left, along with a wealth of anecdotal evidence, has us wondering if holiday gift shopping — traditionally women's work, if Cathy is any guide — is especially burdensome for guys.


Here's the ad's text, courtesy of Sociological Images,


Once a generous sir, beset by a gift list of frightful aspect, vanquished the beast with one fell stroke of genuis in a quest triumphant at The Forum Shops.

As SI's Lisa Wade points out, the ad "draws attention to what many of us feel, few of us say, and very, very few advertisers would emphasize: the gift giving mandate associated with Christmas (and, to a lesser degree, other U.S. holidays) can be an incredible emotional and financial burden, as well as a time suck." Its solution is to go to Vegas, which is kind of an awesome idea, if out of reach for most of us. And its target audience is definitely dudes.

The "stress" of holiday shopping — again, cf. Cathy, and pretty much any publication aimed at moms — is usually portrayed as the province of women. But feeling clueless and/or put-upon by the necessity of gift-buying: totally a guy thing. Much as men's magazines make a sport of bemoaning Valentine's Day obligations, ads like this one make male gift-buying seem like an impossible task — unless of course you go to Caesar's Palace.

Part of this almost certainly has to do with the fact that American women have a much stronger tradition of giving each other presents than men do. Junior high school boys don't usually buy pencil cases for all their buddies the day before winter break; twenty-something guys don't give their roommates chocolates to apologize for breaking their favorite mugs. For better or for worse, girls get initiated into gift-giving way earlier than boys, and by the time they grow up, they have much more practice. It also doesn't help that gifts remain so gendered — maybe if retailers weren't always telling us that pink things are for girls and fun things are for boys, then shopping in general might be a lot easier (dinosaurs for everyone!).


But a lot of the thrust of the Forum ad comes, as Wade says, from the fact that "expressing dissatisfaction regarding gift giving is more acceptable, in general, for men than women (despite the fact that women do the majority of holiday-related chores)." In fact, expressing dissatisfaction may even be expected of men. Gift-giving is often figured as feminine (those pencil cases), and, as Wade wrote last year (and Kate Harding quoted), "Femininity is just for chicks. When men do feminine things, they are debasing themselves." And so in order to counteract the lady-ness of gift-giving, men need to claim to suck at it, or claim their girlfriend makes them do it, or actually suck at it, like the guy who bought his wife anti-snoring nose strips.

Of course, there's also real gift-ambivalence at work here. I'm of the opinion that if you really like someone, you have a good idea of what to get him/her, and you have enough money to purchase it, gift-giving can be really fun. If any of these three conditions are not met, however, it sucks. And while women are sort of encouraged to be all lovey-dovey and holiday-spirity, maybe we should all acknowledge a little more freely that the party who benefits most in many gift exchanges is the store where we bought those fucking nose strips in the first place.


Gender, Gift Giving, And Advertising [Sociological Images]
Boys Get Cool Stuff, Girls Get Pink Stuff [Broadsheet]
Oh, Honey, You Shouldn't Have: When Well-Intentioned Gifts Go Bad [Wall Street Journal]


Zombie Ms. Skittles

I hate other people shopping for me. I really do. I always feel bad for Christmas because you need to be all happy and surprised and it's never anything I'd have chosen for myself. I can't remember the last gift I was really happy that I got since I was in single digit ages.

(well, okay, an unsolicited gift of two books from a friend this year was pretty cool. But in general, my point still stands).