Feminine Consumerism and Power

Feminine consumerism and power: Women drive 70-80% of consumer purchasing (as reported by Forbes, Bloomberg, and Inc. magazines) — through a combination of buying power and influence. This sort of seems like women have all the power and hold all the cards. Not so fast! There is a velvety black curtain to pull back which reveals another truth.

In 1929, during the Easter Day parade in New York, a group of attractive, fashionably dressed young women marched in a staged bogus protest. They were all boldly smoking cigarettes, branding them “torches of freedom”; the press unwittingly went to task, glamorizing cigarettes for all the newly emancipated women who took up the vice as an expression of gender equality. It was an advertising stunt to destigmatize cigarettes for women so the tobacco companies could gain more consumers; all engineered by the brilliant Edward Bernays.

Feminine Consumerism and Power: Torches of Freedom

Feminine Consumerism and Power: Torches of Freedom

Bernays figured out that selling people an idea or feeling was intensely more powerful than listing the product’s qualities or pitching its objective superiority over the competitor’s. Bernays called this technique the “engineering of consent” and wrote many books on the topic. A quote from his seminal 1928 text, Propaganda:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.”

Thus, consumerism is unleashed, pacifying and distracting the masses with obfuscation between illusion and reality. To be more concise, pacifying and distracting women with obfuscation between illusion and reality; as it is women who constitute 70- 80% of consumer purchasing. Feminine consumerism and power from illusory sources.

Betty Friedan wrote this in her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique: “With increasing skill, the ads glorify her ‘role’ as an American housewife-knowing that her very lack of identity in that role will make her fall for whatever they are selling.

“Why is it never said that the really crucial function, the really important role that women serve as housewives is to buy more things for the house.”

A woman’s intrinsic value depreciated significantly once she agreed to stay in the home although her buying influence increased.

Evelyn Reed wrote in her 1970 essay called: “Women: Caste, Class or Oppressed Sex”: “Despite the hypocritical homage paid to womankind as the ‘sacred mother’ and devoted homemaker, the worth of women sank to its lowest point under capitalism. Since housewives do not produce commodities for the market nor create any surplus value for the profiteers, they are not central to the operations of capitalism. Only three justifications for their existence remain under this system: as breeders, as household janitors, and as buyers of consumer goods for the family.”

Freedom is an illusion. It is the blue pill – The Matrix movie reference – in a capitalistic patriarchal society. Men are slaves to their bosses as their dependent wives and families are enslaved by them. Our minds are numbed and placated through continual addictive dopamine rushes achieved from buying new things. The power belongs to those who manipulate the masses for profit. As consumers, we are bestowed the power of buying. Power is never given; it can only be taken. Therefore, we really have no power, only the illusion of it.

Women in the workforce are not immune to this manipulation even though they may think they have escaped the shackled status of the housewife. The focus moves from her domesticity to her body. Her appearance is her currency; therefore, it is prioritized and enforced by society. The beauty, fashion, and fitness industries are multibillion-dollar businesses that decimate women’s self-esteem to keep them consuming products and services. Naomi Wolf states, in her book, The Beauty Myth

“The real issue has nothing to do with whether women wear makeup or don’t, gain weight or lose it, have surgery or shun it, dress up or down, make our clothing and faces and bodies into works of art or ignore adornment altogether. The real problem is our lack of choice.”

Transformation Through Art

My work expresses a love/loathe relationship with the modern beauty paradigm which is neither natural nor attainable. My eyes delight in its vision as my mind fills with derision. With my brush, I delicately disfigure and warp the flawless. I ridiculously enlarge discreet jeweled rings that imply societal hierarchy, relationship status, as well as an expression of the financial power of the wearer’s mate. With my brush and pigments, I reclaim control.

I am painfully aware that I am caught up in the system, a bondage of my own overconsumption. I have been assessing the tentacles wrapped around me and found that they are self-attached. I have found that I have a choice. Choice is power. The power to break out, to escape, to be free of the self-induced compulsion to over-consume.

I am responding with my art. I am recovering lost power by reprocessing the media. I am enjoying the beauty and detaching the toxic propaganda. I am empowering myself to ask: Do I “need” it or do I “want” it? A clear yes to a “need” gets the green light. Not a “need” but rather a cloudy, insubstantial “want”? I am empowered when I walk away.

My response has produced results. I enjoy the benefits of consuming less and connecting more. Everything is ephemeral. Inanimate objects lack the value of positive interpersonal relationships. Objects are forgotten over time. Relationships are remembered and valued. I am cognizant of the human experience. I engage in positive interpersonal connections with my heart, mind and body. I disengage from the empty compulsions of unbridled consumerism.

I have broken free of the self-attached tentacles of the consumer industry. I have excised the cancer of superficiality to find genuine satisfaction in human connectedness. I have advanced out of the void, into a substantial existence saturated with vibrant color and light. I am transformed though art.