Until recently, scholars have taken an overwhelmingly “shop ’till you drop” take on women, viewing them as dupes of the advertisers and merchandisers who prey upon them. In such a reading, women waste their husbands’ or their own hard earned money because they aren’t smart enough about finances to see through the hoodwinking of consumer culture’s invitations. Challenging that narrative, this talk explores the work of early 20th-century advertisers, who often asked women questions about their lives and desires that the culture at large failed to ask. They gathered information and then made promises to women, promises they couldn’t possibly deliver on but promises that actually related to women’s longings. Women responded, contemplating mixed messages and their own divided emotions, purchasing the products that might provide at best an improved standard of living and at least a moment or two of therapeutic release. As they became shoppers, American women looked not for salvation but for inclusion, for some measure of beauty in their lives, and for respect. This talk explores the give-and-take of one of our significant gendered, economic and social practices.
TAGS: capitalism, women, social and cultural topic