Feminism for Sale: Commodity Feminism, Femininity, and Subjectivity
Dowsett, Julie Elizabeth
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Today it is commonplace for the female consumer to be targeted using appropriated feminist discourses. This dissertation theorizes commodity feminism, a play on Marxs conception of commodity fetishism, at the intersections of Marx/Marxism, feminist theory, and Freud/Freudianism. My method involves exploring a series of relationships through reading canonical and contemporary works of political theory and feminist theory. These relationships build upon one another in each chapter: the first relationship is between women and commodities, and to this relationship I add femininity, social control, and subject formation in sequence. In thinking through these relationships, I critique a variety of trade and scholarly marketing publications and marketing campaigns. I argue that the theory of commodity feminism provides a crucial, and as of yet unearthed, understanding of the contemporary relationship between women and commodities. I define commodity feminism as the commodification of feminist critique and praxis. In its cultural sense, commodity feminism is the broad phenomenon in which women are encouraged to express their empowerment by purchasing commodities. The politics of commodity feminism are both liberal and conservative. Commodity feminism is liberal in that it offers a type of resolution (however commodified) to the feminism/femininity tension and endorses liberal feminist politics of independence and self-determination. However, I argue that the view of society underpinning commodity feminism is conservative in that the masses are understood to be a problem in need of control. Therefore, commodity feminism, in addition to resolving the feminism/femininity tension by revaluing feminized commodities and the women who use them, transforms commodities into a form of social control. In other words, commodity feminism makes women entirely unthreatening to the status quo, yet allows them to feel like feminists through their consumption of feminized commodities and production of femininity. This social control is accomplished in part through the role played by commodities and corporations in the production of subjectivity. As this dissertation shows, commodity feminism today constitutes several hegemonic feminine/feminist subjectivities in the Global North and increasingly the Global South.