THE POWER OF THE FEMALE CONSUMER
KATIE FRITZ | March 8, 2017
AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF OPPRESSION - AND HOW YOU CAN FIGHT BACK
Hi. Did you know that large corporations are literally selling women’s oppression back to us? Buckle up kids, because we’re about to go for a ride on the patriarchy express. Next stop: 1960, which certainly wasn’t the first time that an organization duped women using systemic structures of shame and gaslighting. It was however, when Virgina Slims used the empowering slogan “We Make Virginia Slims for Women Because they are Biologically Superior to Men” in an effort to get more women to pick up smoking. Ladies, gentlemen, gender and nicety-non-conformists, I present to you my first example of corporate structure using feminism to sell products to women.
If we can go back even further for just a moment, I’d like to take you on a tour of what I will call “the abridged origins of insecurity.”
Marxist writer Maria Mies suggests that women were the early agriculturists: plotting crops, building tools, and noting to the rhythms of the earth in order to feed their communities. While they were busy feeding people and ensuring the propagation of the human species and otherwise being the boss, men were spending their time experimenting with hunting and the fashioning of weapons. Interestingly, it is in their expressions of violence that we see the first threads of oppression: hunting quickly turned into a means of obtaining surplus supplies and property. Have and have-not was established, and on its back, bartering gave way to sale. As soon as the notion that land was property, and property wealth, the labour that women had been involved in for years became a by-product of the person whose land they were producing it on. Suddenly, there was a dichotomy between “productive” work (the kind that makes money and gets land) and “unproductive” work–the kind that cares for people and communities. Sound familiar? Fast forward a few hundred years, and suddenly we’re faced with a system that assumes that dudes are in charge of all the money and all the power. And if we want to have some of that power too? Sure. But we have to buy it.
That was a bumpy part of this ride. Thanks for hanging in there. We’re now passing through the meadow of gendered marketing, in which men own all the things that women need in order to assert autonomy in this capitalist world: money, status, and property. Because men control all those things, they also control the messaging as to how one gets them – you can have status if you purchase this lipstick. Nothing feels more powerful than a 24 inch waistline. Everyone will like you better if you have dinner on the table by 6, and a microwave oven can help. High heels are sexy and accentuate your womanly figure.
Of course, most of the tactics for women to feel good about themselves were really unpleasant, unsafe, and or expensive. You’re on week 2 of a Melba-cracker diet, caring for your family, maintaining picture-perfect poise, yet in spite of all these efforts and rituals you have no independent financial security.
The first and second waves of feminism challenged these attitudes: women began to question the traditional notions of “productive work,” and reclaim their bodies and self-hood back from the control of men, and men’s business. It also explored the notion that women are people, and have varied experiences that defy the simplistic categorization of (male-run) media. This article is already getting really long, so I want to fast-forward without explaining all the shit our predecessors had to wade through to get to where we are now: 2017, a world that is a little bit better for some women sometimes.
It’s also a world that women are shaping in a more public way: since 2007, women-owned firms have increased by 68%. This stat would have made our first-wave sisters pumped: numbers! Growth! More representation! Also we can vote! But assuming that women’s lives are bettered by some women succeeding is just another trick of the patriarchy. The idea that a few women “making it” in our current cultural make-up will benefit women everywhere is as hopeful and as false as the promise of “trickle down economics” being a tide that would lift all ships.
So how can we as women exercise our power? What power do we have?
Buying power, motherfuckers. According to Forbes, women make up between 70% and 80% of all consumer purchasing–either by buying power or influence. “Influence” in this case meaning that even when a woman isn’t paying, she is the influence or veto vote behind the purchase in question. Excuse me? It’s true: women are suddenly in a position to re-draw world economics within the very parameters set out for us by our oppressors. It all feels very Trojan Horse of us. So how can we women take advantage of this opportunity, and leverage our sweet sweet buying power into an–as NPR likes to say–more just and verdant world?
Consume culture made by women. You’ll learn so damn much, and the more money we can circulate to different voices, the better everyone is. Listen to a podcast that deals with race issues, go to an LGBTQ film fest with your cis-het boyfriend, donate to your queer astrologists’ GoFundMe campaign. They get the financial support they need to continue making divergent art, and you get perspective. ART FTW.
Confront and challenge your own entrenched homophobia, racism, and classist assumptions. Just a casual Tuesday, right? Understanding the ways you normalize hatred and oppression with your purchasing choices (and in your everyday life, this is a multi-use exercise!) is definitely going to make the people trying to sell you stuff sit up and listen. If you decide that you ain’t going to Coachella because the guy that runs it is an anti-gay climate change denier, you’re voting with your dollars.
Contribute to women’s financial independence. Whether it’s supporting a woman’s shop, contributing to an NGO that educates girls on navigating the financial world, or lobbying lawmakers to ensure that women have access to healthcare and contraception–do your part to help women get (AND KEEP) money.
Take responsibility for your purchasing choices. You have the whole internet at your disposal: there is no longer any reason to ignore the impacts that your purchases have on women and the environment. You(clap) vote(clap) with(clap) your(clap) dollars(clap)! Make sure that you are not implicitly supporting unfair labour/corporate/environmental practices.
Upcycle, recycle, cycle. Perhaps the best way to support the earth and offer a subtle “fuck you” to the ever-changing roster of trends (set out by the PATRIARCHY) is to buy second-hand, thrift, or consign your clothes. Buying used also helps to neutralize the product’s carbon footprint.
We’re in an era where the venn diagram of “good for me” and “good for society” has a relatively high overlap, we have a responsibility to aim for the middle. The road is riddled with bumps: smaller runs of products are more expensive, elaborate marketing campaigns that endeavor to sell us “feminism,” the product, just being tired and wondering if the universe will even notice if we buy ourselves the non-organic mass-produced Vanilla candle from HomeSense. But the bumps are what make us ride or die. The patriarchy express stops here: women may now proceed to the spaceship.
Image by Britney Gill Photography