National Association for the Practice of Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Advertising has long emphasized patriarchal images of women in certain roles such as mothers, beauty objects and sex symbols. Studies of gender and consumption, however, show that women paradoxically both resist such messages but also adapt and utilize them to reveal alternate forms of agency in consumption practices. This paper examines asymmetrical relations in consumption interactions and seeks to address apparent contradictions and ways women both strongly contest marketing messages that cast them in traditional roles as mothers, objects of beauty or sexual symbols, and yet also subscribe to such messages and even extend practices to others. In tracing the message development of two advertising campaigns directed to women, I show that ethnographic research in two consumption categories of women’s activities - home cooking and makeup application- revealed alternative practices of agency for women. Nevertheless, while our research revealed one set of insights that gave agency to women’s practices, the companies developing the ad messages adapted alternate messages that gave agency to their products, reinforcing traditional images of women. This paper theorizes the dialectical-dialogical nature of asymmetrical interaction in consumption. I show that in dialectical interaction between consumer-object and consumption practices, companies seek closure in object relations with consumers; but in discourse between consumers and brands, alternative styles of communication driven by consumers informs dialogical interactions that are open-ended and ambiguous, which extend relations in ongoing ways. Analyzing this entanglement helps explain the paradoxical nature of women’s consumption practices.