Men and Women

The New American Matriarchy

By Dani Pettas

“”Women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending… account for 85% of all consumer purchases… control more than 60% of all personal wealth in the U.S.” On top of this, 2011 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed women comprising 51.8 percent of employees in advertising and related services. In the 2006 update to Backlash, Susan Faludi wrote, “Hanes even persuaded a NOW official to endorse its ‘liberating’ pantyhose.”

‘A remarkable piece of apparatus’

Next year is the 100th anniversary of Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.” We were introduced to someone identified only as “the officer,” who zealously outlined the workings of a torture device.

Forty nine years later, “The Sexual Sell” from The Feminine Mystique referred to the manipulator: “a man who is paid approximately a million dollars a year for his professional services in manipulating the emotions of American women to serve the needs of business.” An actual person, he personified the targeting of women in marketing and the advertising industry.

Advertising fabricated artificial gender constructs, to make women more perfect consumers. Like in Kafka’s multifaceted torture, they were assailed in all aspects of their identity.

Marriage was promoted as “product centric.” Women were encouraged to marry young, so they would be “less independent, easier to sell [to]” Desire for achievement was channeled into the pursuit of “sexual phantasies” surrounding cosmetics, clothing and the standards of “X Magazine.” Guilt and pressure to be a “better wife or mother” was manufactured.

A homemaker role was advanced for the sake of consumption. Different brands gave the appearance of being a creative specialist: “one product for washing clothes, a second for dishes, a third for walls, a fourth for floors, a fifth for venetian blinds, etc.” Essentially, marketers were making up reasons for women to buy stuff.

Consumerism also offered an escape from the futility and entrapment of housewifery. The department store itself was a way to interface with the outside world. Shopping served as a cultural experience, and women were indoctrinated as teenagers to covet “what ‘the others’ want” and “learn the embarrassment.”

In February 10th’s Sunday edition, NPR asked, “At 50, Does ‘Feminine Mystique’ Still Roar?” Jessica Valenti is quoted saying “anger is justified… useful and energizing.”

Last year, a piece on The Next Web informed: “Women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending… account for 85% of all consumer purchases… control more than 60% of all personal wealth in the U.S.” On top of this, 2011 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed women comprising 51.8 percent of employees in advertising and related services. In the 2006 update to Backlash, Susan Faludi wrote, “Hanes even persuaded a NOW official to endorse its ‘liberating’ pantyhose.”

At what point can women’s anger be self-directed, as purveyors of the feminine mystique?

Given that only three percent of ad agency creative directors are women, maybe unmasking the manipulator’s female face can’t happen just yet. Ad Age recently highlighted the cross-promotion of HBO’s Girls with certain brand names. Season one of Girls had a majority male audience.

In 2013, in light of Hanna Rosin’s writing about “The New American Matriarchy” in The End of Men, it could be that men are now like the officer, victimized by their apparatus.

Categories: Men and Women

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