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Consumer culture

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Lecture: Gender and the Rise of Consumer Culture in the 1920s

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Consumer culture

  1. 1. Gender and the Rise of Consumer Culture in the 1920s HIUS157/Prof. Rebecca Jo Plant
  2. 2. Consumer culture • Historians debate how to interpret the rise of mass culture – Conspiracy of mass producers? – Mass producers and advertisers as “apostles of modernity” • People at the time were ambivalent – Feared decline in values – Welcomed material wealth
  3. 3. Consumer culture and women • Women as the “purchasing agent” – By 1920s, ad men constantly stressing that women made 80% of all purchases • Fostered women’s increasing presence in the public realm – Prior to 1870s, good restaurants generally did not serve women – New forms of leisure and consumption allowed “respectable” women to escape the house
  4. 4. Rise of the department store • Took shopping off the street, into a protected area • Feminized spaces • Very visible public institution that catered to women consumers • Leveling effect in terms of class – Clerks instructed to call all female shoppers “ladies”
  5. 5. A.T. Stewart’s “Marble Palace,” 1862
  6. 6. Dry goods store, Scranton, PA
  7. 7. Department Store, Gackle, ND, 1920s
  8. 8. Women shoppers in Chicago, outside Marshall Fields, 1904
  9. 9. “Industrial revolution” in the home • 1920: Roughly half of all homes electrified • Many tasks became much easier – Ironing; washing • But did not reduce time spent on domestic labor
  10. 10. Changing role of the housewife • Workforce became less differentiated – Housewife increasingly the only one performing domestic work • Work becomes less specialized • Emotional meaning of the labor enhanced • Middle-class women lose their managerial function – Decline in “domestics”
  11. 11. Ad for SOS cleaner “…women today don’t need to spend their lives keeping house if they use the quick, easy shortcuts that actually do work better than the old- fashioned methods.”
  12. 12. Rise of scientific motherhood • Idea that mother doesn’t know best • Sources: – Growing prestige of science – Persistent fear of child mortality – Rise of a commercial market devoted to infant products/advice • Change in tone – 19th century: Presented as useful information to aid mothers – 20th century: More punitive tone in tone
  13. 13. 1929 American Journal of Nursing
  14. 14. Ad for Fletcher’s Castoria, a laxative ca. 1927
  15. 15. Lifebuoy ad, 1920s
  16. 16. John B. Watson (1878-1954) • Behaviorist – Idea of “conditioned reflexes” – Infant as tabula rasa – Strict schedules; regularity – Focus on making children independent as quickly as possible • Extremely negative view of mothers – Belief that coddling produced “invalidism” • “Mother love is a dangerous instrument” – Regarded women as more “adolescent” than men
  17. 17. Advertisement John B. Watson’s Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928)
  18. 18. Medicalization of Infant Feeding • Increase in bottle feeding – No evidence of benefits – Some commercial formulas were actually harmful • Contributing factors – Rise of pediatrics • Idea that infant feeding required supervision • Strict schedules – Changing roles of women • MC women most likely to adopt bottle feeding – Opposite of today
  19. 19. Trends in Infant Feeding
  20. 20. Gerber’s ad, 1933 “Is your baby enjoying the results of progress?
  21. 21. Weight Loss Quackery, 1920s
  22. 22. Diet manuels • Lulu Hunt Peters – Popular writer and columnist – Diet and Health was a bestseller from 1922- 26 – Helped popularize new concept of “calorie counting”
  23. 23. First Miss America pagent, 1921
  24. 24. Athleticism
  25. 25. “Thirty years of progress,1896-1926” Life Magazine, 1926
  26. 26. Flappers
  27. 27. Howard University students at a football game
  28. 28. Mexican American flappers in SoCal
  29. 29. Rise of the movies • In virtually every community by the 1920s – 100,000 viewers every week • Movie palaces – designed to allow viewers to live out fantasies • “Stars” were the most admired role models for young Americans • Fan magazines • People modeling their behavior after what they see on screen
  30. 30. Heroines of silent screen • Modified Victorians – Mary Pickford – Lillian Gish
  31. 31. “Vamps” of the talkies
  32. 32. Movie stars and magazines
  33. 33. Learning how to be romantic
  34. 34. Feminizing Smoking • Traditionally associated with masculinity • 1920s: Tobacco companies seek to expand market share • “For a slender figure, reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”
  35. 35. Chesterfield Cigarette Ad, SEP, 1933 “Women began to smoke, so they tell me, just about the time they began to vote, but that’s hardly a reason for women smoking. I guess I just like to smoke, that’s all.”
  36. 36. Liberating for women? • Rise of consumerism took place before women begin to gain economic equality • Allowed for more open expression of desire – Including sexual desires – Overwhelmed emphasis on self-sacrifice • BUT, women themselves were increasingly commodified – Unrealistic expectations – Glamour/wealth v. equality/power

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