How does feminism influence products for women?

By Charlotte

  Feminism in the Age of Consumption

Product designers, Economists and marketers are turning to women as the consumers who can enhance capitalist growth in this post-economic crisis period. A group of women researchers, The FemmeDen, who specialize on the gendered effects of product design, site in one of their online publications, identify two factors that have led to a great business opening in the consumer product industry which are-the gradual and consistent change of women as well as their increasing purchase capacity. They then highlight that women in the United States, though once “powerless,” are now “powerful,” in that they influence or buy 80% of consumer purchases (FemmeDen 2009a).

This increased attention to women’s buying power comes at a time when discussions that associate women’s independence to consumption thrive in popular culture. Nowadays, women products and feminist items record the highest sales while the beauty industry is booming. The line-up of today’s TV, concentrated in “reality” shows and programs focused on wealthy women and celebrities advocates this relationship to millions of viewers on a regular basis. The ability to consume and Wealth are usually renowned and assisted as representations of the most current expression of the American Dream, which today is demonstrated as a display of lifestyle rather than a particular set of accomplishments. Shows such as Helen Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, MTV’s The Hills and The City and E! Entertainment’s Kourtney & Khloé Take Miami and keeping up with the Kardashians focus on a celebrity lifestyle and all the consumer allurement that come with it. Their flashy lifestyle particularly enhances feminist advertisement to the advantage of the beauty industry.

These programs are not particularly new or unique. This pattern has increased over the last decade, and has included programs such as The Gastineau Girls, Rich Girls, The Osbournes, Newly Weds, My Super Sweet Sixteen, Runs House, MTV Cribs, Princes of Malibu, and Life in the Fast Lane. Even though popular entertainment media has in the past focused and represented on the lives of men, today women’s lives can be found at the forefront as stars of a narrative in which they are today’s “heroes of consumption” ( Lowenthal 1961).

In a time in which the achievement of women and their freedom are often  seen by consumer practices and discourses, what does this represent for the future of feminist identities and feminism? We think about such effects particularly because the consumer lifestyle, the cultural justification of capitalism, is fundamentally  a non-feminist thing. The basic knowledge of feminist identity and feminism historically has been the obliteration of inequalities. Thus, feminism is on the other hand opposed to consumer practices which advocate the sovereignty of global capitalism: a system which operates on the theft of resources, exploitation of labor, and fosters vast gathering of wealth among a small percentage of global elite, while at the same time impoverishing the majority of the population of the world. Furthermore, since consumption is a singular act of expression and identity formation, we ask ourselves whether women’s empowerment via consumption at the individual level snobs the possibility of gendered social transformation at the collective level. The notion of women’s independence in the US has long been tied to discussion about the accumulation of material wealth and goods, and wealth, principally due to the sovereignty of patriarchal hierarchy in the society.


Feminine beauty ideal and feminist adverts

The feminine beauty ideal is the socially created concept that physical attractiveness is one of women's most vital assets, and something every woman should strive to maintain and achieve. Feminine beauty ideals are founded on beliefs, and strongly influence women of all sexual orientations. Beauty ideals vary from culture to culture. Pressure to adapt to a certain meaning of "beautiful" can have d psychological effects. These ideals have been correlated with eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem, beginning from an adolescent age and continuing into adulthood.

Mass media and feminist advertisement are the most powerful channels for women and young to learn and also understand feminine beauty ideals. As mass media evolves, the way individuals see feminine beauty ideals changes as well as how females see themselves. There is thus, a high demand for feminist items and women products. Today, a high number of music videos use “video vixens”-principally beautiful ladies, flaunting their body parts and flashy cloths on TV. This has also been spotted as an effective strategy for marketing women products. This explains why the beauty industry is experiencing a boom. Renee Hobbs (EdD, associate professor of communications at Temple University) says that on average, an adolescent girl spends only about 10 minutes of daily communication with their parents and about 180 minutes of daily media exposure and that nowadays, girls are inundated by beliefs not only in the form of dolls but also in cartoons, comics, TV, and advertising together with all the related merchandises. Furthermore, technology influences the feminine beauty ideal in the mass media. Pictures of women can be virtually controlled creating an ideal that is not only unique but also inexistent. The Encyclopedia of Gender in the Media notes that "the postproduction strategies of computer-generated modifications and airbrushing 'perfect' the notion of beauty by removing any remaining imperfections or blemishes that can be seen by the eye." Adverts for commodities "such as cosmetics, diets, and exercise gear aid the media create a dream world of high standards and hopes that takes into consideration the glorification of weight loss and slenderness."

With a focal point on an ideal physique, the feminine beauty ideal differs from female competency by valuing and prioritizing shallow characteristics related to appearance and beauty. When physical beauty is featured and idealized in the media, it likens women to sexual objects.


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