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Gender, Consumption and

Christine Williams and Laura Sauceda

Subject Gender Studies
Sociology » Consumption, Sociology of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The history of consumerism has been shaped by gender inequality. During the colonial period, when families produced most of what they consumed, a gender division of labor prevailed in which men supplied the raw materials (e.g., wheat, flax, animals) and women transformed them into commodities for consumption (e.g., bread, cloth, meals). During industrialization, the period characterized by historians as bringing about the “separation of spheres,” productive activity moved outside the household and eventually became seen as an appropriately masculine endeavor. Consumption became privatized, a range of activities under the purview of women consigned to the domestic arena. Although the separation of spheres was more cultural ideal than historical practice for many marginalized social groups (African Americans, the poor, immigrants), the association of women with consumption, and men with production, prevails today and shapes research and theory on consumerism. Four major themes characterize research on gender and consumption. The first theme analyzes women's consumer practices as an extension of their primary domestic responsibilities. Sometimes referred to in the literature as “housework” or more recently “carework,” this consumer activity centers on shopping as a means to acquire the goods to sustain members of a household (e.g., to cook meals, clean the house, organize family get-togethers ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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