Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Feminization of Consumption

It recently struck me that the act of consumption is considered to be inherently feminine. I mean, obviously the archetypal woman loves going to the mall and shopping. But I started to notice how, in movies and tv shows and advertisements, men don't even know how to shop. They don't need to buy things. They are content with what they have. Unless Father's Day is approaching, in which case they need new tools. But if they need to pick out a ring or something, god help them.

I started to think more about this as I viewed this advertisement. In a subtle way, the ad implies that knowing how to shop well is a feminine trait.

This idea may have germinated in the post-WW2 era, when the necessities of capitalist expansion brought women more deeply into the productive and consumptive spheres. Once women started to work outside of the home (providing their conveniently cheap labor) they provided a ready market for time-saving domestic devices (washing machines, microwaves, etc.). This was a boon to the economy.

It seems that this felicitous trend was further exploited by capitalist forces, which have insisted that women need to be beautiful and well-dressed to be successful. So women spend their paychecks on tanning, hair dye, mani/pedis, jewelry, handbags, shoes, make-up, age-defying moisturizers, and on and on.

Of course, as the natural homemakers and interior designers, women have a knack for picking out the kitchenware, the decor, the linens, and the furniture. And, when kids are involved, they are the most concerned about choosing the right baby formulas, diapers, toys, food, and clothes.

So it appears that capitalist interests have been able to use gender to drive consumption. They helped to create the narrative that women have a lot of needs (pertaining to their outward appearance and domestic well-being). And then women, who already, as a group, make less money than men, are supposed to sustain the levels of consumption required by the capitalist system.

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