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Jewish World Review April 6, 2000 /1 Nissan, 5760

Joan Ryan

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Consumer Reports



What Do Women
really Want? -- THE ANSWER HIT ME in the paper-products aisle of Costco the other day. I was loading a 16-pack of Scott's toilet paper into a shopping cart big enough to haul circus animals. In the cart already: double-boxes of cereal, tons of Scotch tape and batteries, a jumbo jar of minced garlic and a dozen pork chops.

I suddenly knew the answer to Freud's oft-repeated question: What do women want? Those who say love, intimacy or security aren't paying close enough attention. Dig deep into the female psyche. Observe her in her native surroundings, especially when she thinks no one's watching. Notice those times in which she feels true inner calm and a genuine sense of competence.

You'll figure out, as I suddenly did at Costco, that women want two things:

Supplies and order.

Talk to a woman who has just purchased new make-up and received the free make-up bag and samplers inside. Something shifts inside her. The world seems a more hopeful place. She has fresh new supplies that are gloriously organized in a clean new pouch in bright yellow or pink. She feels On Top of Things, as if she were capable of negotiating peace in the Middle East. (Really, I think the government is missing a bet here. Confident, optimistic Jimmy Carter has nothing on a woman with a purse full of new lipstick and wrinkle concealer.)

Perhaps all women don't find spiritual calm at the Estee Lauder counter. But I have yet to meet the woman who isn't profoundly inspired by the sight of her freezer stocked with clearly marked bags of meat, or her kitchen cabinets as neat as a jeweler's tool case.

I imagine this is because most of the time we feel like Forrest Gump on bad meds. We barely get the lunches made, tossing peanut butter and crackers into the lunch box because we've run out of bread again. We remember to water the plants only when they're hunched in their pots like drunks. The thought occurs at least once on most days that we should never have been entrusted with a home, much less a child.

So the slightest sign of order and competence lifts our spirits: Flowers blooming along the front walk. A drawer filled with enough light bulbs to meet any lighting need in the house. A refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables in it. Made beds. Paid bills. Folded clothes. A laundry shelf lined with all the products one could want: detergent, softener, stain remover, Woolite, Clorox.

A woman's secret to a happy life?
If you want to get a busy woman to relax, forget the martinis and fancy dinner. Clean her house. Guide her through rooms fragrant with Lysol and Pledge and free of clutter. She'll sink into a chair as if at church. Show her a cabinet newly stocked with dry goods and she might start speaking in tongues.

This, I think, is why stores like Costco are so popular. It's not the prices but the portions. These places are the modern version of the cave woman's woods and fields, a place where we gather food and supplies, where we can, literally and figuratively, meet our most basic needs.

And if, somehow, supplies and order stop working: money and power.

JWR periodic contributor Joan Ryan is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Send your comments by clicking here.


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