Ok, let’s start with a joke. A woman was in town on a shopping trip.

She began her day finding the most perfect shoes in the first shop and a beautiful dress on sale in the second. In the third everything had just been reduced by 50% when her mobile phone rang.

It was a female doctor notifying her that her husband had just been in a terrible accident and was in critical condition and in intensive care. The woman told the doctor to inform her husband where she was and that she’d be there as soon as possible.

As she hung up she realised she was leaving what was shaping up to be her best day ever in the shops. She decided to get in a couple of more shoe shops before heading to the hospital.


Beth Shak, a poker player with a shoe collection in the $1,000,000 range. Her former husband is suing her for 35% of the collection in their divorce

She ended up shopping the rest of the morning, finishing her trip with a cup of coffee and a beautiful coffee slice complimentary from the last shop.

She was jubilant.

Then she remembered her husband. Feeling guilty, she dashed to the hospital. She saw the doctor in the corridor and asked about her Husband’s condition.

The lady doctor glared at her and shouted, “You went ahead and finished your shopping trip didn’t you! I hope you’re proud of yourself! While you were out for the past four hours enjoying yourself in town, your husband has been languishing in the intensive care unit!

It’s just as well you went ahead and finished, because it will be more than likely the last shopping trip you ever take! For the rest of his life he will require round the clock care. And you’ll now be his carer!”

The woman was feeling so guilty she broke down and sobbed………..

The lady doctor then chuckled and said, “Nah don’t worry, I’m just pulling your leg. He’s already dead. What did you buy?!”

Ok so I admit I didn’t write this joke but it illustrates a noticeable and prevalent female only quirk – the obsession with buying shoes and handbags. This does not apply to all women by any means but we all know a female friend who, no matter if you give them $1,000, $100,000 or even $1,000,000 will somehow find a way to spend it all on shoes and handbags.

This is a subject that is not only massively puzzling to men (for whom shopping is mostly an unpleasant chore) but asking a woman to explain it does not produce at great enlightenment either.

You will hear comments about how they “need to have the perfect pair of shoes to match an outfit” or “it’s easier for men because there is less variety in male footwear” but this does not really get to the psychological root cause of why women engage in shopping as a form of therapy; as a source of feel-good emotions.

Retail-therapy is well understood to be shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer’s mood; the buyers engage in “comfort purchases” where the act of buying gives them a “buzz” or emotional high. The technical name for it is oniomania.


What is not so well understood is why this is such a female thing and I will put forward my own theory here as researching it has not left me with any answers that I buy 100%.

As I say in my book – Sex 3.0 – much of human behaviour can be easier to understand if you understand human history and genetic imperatives. In fact I already explained why women wear high heels in this post here and how those reasons are rooted in the genetic imperatives.

During the Sex 1.0 era (which is practically all of human history), human beings were hunter gathers with the men bearing the brunt of the hunting duties due to men’s greater size, physical strength and speed and women bearing the brunt of the gathering duties; collecting fruits and vegetables.

When people are evolved to struggle against nature some strange things happen when the struggle to survive in this sense is removed from them.  They lose their sense of purpose and identity.

During the Sex 1.0 era, after a good day of hunting and gathering, food would be shared around the small tribe (tribes mostly consisted of perhaps 10, 20 or 30 people) with everybody eating equally.

The tribe was the family unit during the Sex 1.0 era and women felt good about be a skilled gatherer.  Not only did gathering give them a sense of purpose in life but it satisfied their desire to be a nurturer towards those people that they loved; their fellow tribe members.

The removal of the tribe as the family unit compounded by the removal of the need for fruit and vegetable gathers that came with the arrival of modern convenience stores and supermarkets was a double whammy for women.

They lost both a source of the alleviation of loneliness and the feeling of a bond to a greater good – the tribe – but they also lost a sense of purpose in life.  Losing a sense of purpose makes people indulgent, lacking in restraint and reckless.  This effects men differently and can manifest itself in other ways like compulsive gambling or risk taking.

For women, gathering morphed into modern day shopping. Something they could indulge themselves in as a reliable pastime; a sure fire way of getting the reward centre of their brains fired up and getting the dopamine fix that they so badly need; the neurotransmitter induced feel-good high.  Sadly it’s a fix that wears off within 24 hours and indulgent and unnecessary spending produces feelings of guilt, shame and low self-esteem.

Feelings which are often cured by…well, by another bout of comfort shopping.