Exploring The Philosophy Behind Women Shitting In Supermarkets
If Foucault was right, this cannot be a rational thing to do.
This article first appeared on VICE Netherlands
There comes a point where something undeniably becomes a trend. A few weeks ago, when a video of a woman shitting in a supermarket was posted online, we reached this point with people defecting in shops. There was a woman, squatting besides some beer crates, using the polished floor as a lavatory.
It's not an uncommon trait of modernity to classify all norm-deviating behaviour as "crazy", banished to the outskirts of society. But in this case, as a journalist, I felt it was my moral duty to investigate. I put "people shitting in supermarkets" into Google and no fewer than 10 videos came up. In eight of them, the perpetrators were women – an overwhelming majority, worthy of exploration. I realised, however, that as these are anonymous women captured in grainy footage, they are impossible to trace. So I took an anthropological and philosophical approach, placing myself in the shoes of the shitters to systematically analyse their hypothetical motivations...
A women in a branch of Albert Heijn supermarket in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands, last month
When you gotta go, you gotta go
The simplest explanation for supermarket shitting seems to be that maybe all these people just just couldn't hold it in any longer. I'm highly skeptical of this. Supermarkets have toilets. And in the video above of a girl backing one out in a branch of Holland's biggest supermarket chain, she actually shows her friend the final results. If you were really so desperate you had to squat in the vegetable aisle, you definitely would not show your mate afterwards.
The turd is a strong symbol of revenge. It's an institutionalised symbol of hatred – like when the band The Levellers send an actual dog turd to a journalist at the NME. Shitexpress.com will even post a poo to someone you hate if you pay them. So perhaps these women were just really fucking angry about something. So perhaps these women were just really fucking angry about something. Maybe their Dr. Oetker pizza didn't have enough cheese on it. Or they'd paid two quid for some out of date sausage rolls, or their chicken salad had a hair in it? But it does beg the question – why this particular form of revenge. A complaint on Dr. Oetker's Facebook page would probably get you some free pizza. But maybe nothing is sweeter than Montezuma's Revenge.
Hurken naast de kratjes Jupiler (een soort viezere variant op 'Knielen naast een bed violen')
A political statement
In our capitalist society, supermarket chains have replaced the milkman and the grocer. The CEO of Ahold makes almost four million euros a year, while a nineteen year old shelf-stacker makes 5,96 an hour. Karl Marx predicted that the proletariat will revolt if there is enough class-consciousness. The brilliance of this theory is that it cannot be falsified: that the revolution hasn't occurred yet doesn't mean it will never happen, it only means that here is not enough class-consciousness yet. So this could well be the start of the revolution.
A practical joke
Maybe we're overthinking things here, trying to make it fraught with symbolic or political value. What if it's just an old fashioned joke, an innocent prankster trying to freak out local shelf-stackers. If they're lucky, a customer might tread in it on their way to the milk aisle – imagine the chaos! But if you'd gone to such efforts to be an idiot, wouldn't you stick around to watch it unfurl? All the women do a runner afterwards.
A feminist deed
Since most of the culprits are female, feminism cannot be excluded as a motive. But how is leaving an unexploded package in the dairy aisle really a statement about gender inequality? Is the supermarket truly a symbol of poisonous patriarchy? Is it the place where gender roles are cast in iron by brochures and television adverts aimed at women? Did Simone de Beauvoir mean: "One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one in a supermarket?"
A lack of discipline
You can imagine the reasoning like this: I need to go, I can't be bothered to find a toilet, nobody is watching, I could just do it here. But this implies not only a total lack of empathy for the employees who have to sweep the place clean, but a complete denunciation of societal norms. Human beings do not turn to beasts the moment they're alone. Because of constant surveillance, or rather the idea of the possibility of constant surveillance – like the Panopticon, people are disciplined. No, if Foucault was right, this cannot be the cause.
A rational choice
If you could stretch pragmatism ad infinitu, you could argue that a pile of poo on the floor of the shop isn't that different from a can of spilled beans. Both look messy and need to be cleaned up by someone. With a can of beans everyone loses – at least now one person gets to leave the supermarket happy and relieved.
A breaching experiment
Social reality is made up of a million little rules, such as "be respectful to the elderly" and "do not shit in a supermarket". To unveil the finer parts of our social exchanges, sociologist Harold Garfinkel came up with so-called "breaching experiments", in which social rules are broken in order to research people's reactions. It is possible that supermarket shitters work in service of social science.
Supermarkets without toilet facilities can be said to violate human rights – especially since the UN accepted resolution 64/292 for "The human right to water and sanitation". To have to follow an under-aged employee to the staff toilet can be a humiliating experience, unworthy of a human being. And so, thinking a little creatively, you might conclude that it's better just do it discreetly between the pet food and cleaning aisle. If you can't find a bike rack you put your bike against a tree, right?
Somnambulism, or sleepwalking, makes you do regular things in irregular places. We've all heard stories about people pissing in fridges at 2AM and waking up in bins. But actually getting dressed and walking to the supermarket because you are dreaming that is where the toilet is is a bit far fetched. Also, look closely at the women in these videos and you can see they look before squatting, or show the turd to a mate, which debunks this hypothesis.
It's clear that there is plethora of alternative hypotheses for why women are increasingly shitting in supermarkets. For instance: a need for attention, saving money on water and toilet paper, lost bets. The possibilities are endless. However, this article should be seen as a first attempt at explaining a peculiar type of human behaviour we cannot afford to ignore any longer.
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