Vol 1, No 8, 16 August 1999
T H E I S S U E (#8):
The Convenience Revolution
Several articles in this week's Central Europe Review examine the expansion of the consumer society in post-Communist Europe over the past decade. It is fair to say that, on balance, they all highlight the negative aspects of consumerism.
In his article on consumerism in Hungary, Gusztav Kosztolanyi highlights the growing differences between the haves and the have-nots. Vaclav Pinkava and Andreas Beckmann focus on the loss of everyday skills and environmental damage wrought by societies based on consumption. Indeed, these problems are critical, and efforts at their resolution are something that brings East and West closer together. Again, we see that the acceptance of the Western lifestyle brings with it all of the associated difficulties that have plagued the West for half a century.
But the other side of this coin is also significant: consumerism has its positive effects. Paramount among these is the improvement of women's lives and, ultimately, of their standing in society.
As in most other parts of the world, in Central and Eastern Europe, a woman runs the household. In the overwhelming majority of homes, it is the wife/mother who does the shopping and the cooking, not to mention the ironing, sewing, cleaning and caring for the kids. This traditional role has not changed with the end of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, and there is little on the horizon to suggest it will change anytime soon.
Sentimentality for the corner store aside, larger shops offering a greater variety of food save women time. Sunday openings benefit working women. Cheaper and more widely available mixers, microwaves, washing machines and dishwashers save additional time. A bigger refrigerator means fewer trips to the shops, and a second family car brings even further relief on cramped muscles and cramped schedules.
Put bluntly, the convenience of Western consumerism is revolutionising women's lives in Central and Eastern Europe more than Western feminism has ever done.
Of course, it would be better to see women relieving themselves of their double burden of formal work and housework through a pro-active change in gender relations, but a profound social change of that magnitude will take time to say the least. Meanwhile, the consumer revolution can go some way to relieving the strains of women's present-day reality.
The consumer society does not just magically appear; it is driven into existence by public demand, most importantly by the demand of those who actually make the purchasing decisions: women. Convenience is clearly one of their aims, as they need to save time to relieve their double burden.
The real question is whether the convenience of high consumerism will save society the time needed to solve the problems high consumerism creates.
Andrew Stroehlein, Editor-in-Chief, 9 August 1999
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