Society Turned Women into Shoppers
Feb. 16, 2005
By Lindsay Hitz
LEWISBURG, Pa. - With Madonna's "Material Girl" setting the stage, Mona Domosh, Dartmouth College professor of geography, said 19th-century society's feminization of shopping gave rise to the notion that women are born to shop.
Domosh, in the latest of Bucknell's Social Science Colloquium series, gave the talk, "A Feminine City? Women, Shopping Spaces, and the Creation of the late-19th Century Downtown."
It was the industrial revolution that led to changes in consumption, said Domosh. That, in turn, gave birth to a fashion industry aimed at women. With the introduction of "ready-to-wear" clothing, fashion became the measure of a woman's status in society.
As a result, society began to mold women into consumers or shoppers by "aligning production with men and consumption with women," said Domosh. As that consumption became more wide-spread, the commercial spaces for consumption became more important.
"Under the ideas of gender at the time, consumption would have to take place in a feminine environment," said Domosh. Shopping environments were meant to be "safe and protected" and were modeled to complement the moral and feminine character of women.
Showing slides of ornamental department stores, Domosh underscored the intent of store owners to create feminine shopping spaces.
Given the feminine stigma associated with shopping spaces during that time, Domosh said, "If men went in an ornamental shopping store of their own accord, they would be considered emasculate."
"In order to make the values of consumption accessible, retailers targeted women as their customers and to maintain appropriate gender roles these spaces of consumption had to appear feminized," said Domosh. "They had to be seen as cultural and civic spaces not completely taken by commercialism."
Domosh concluded that women were targeted by social and cultural contexts of society to be consumers and were not, as the notion goes, born to shop.
Lindsay Hitz, a first-year student majoring in political science, is a Presidential Fellow in the Communications Office at Bucknell.
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