« Student Loans: A Modern-day Form of Slavery? | Main | Small Business Financing »

Today's Feminism, Consumption-Style: The Perspective of a Young Feminist

posted by Debb Thorne

Two blogs ago, I wrote about a young woman, Bthan Eynon; she and I are working together this quarter as she completes her Honor's thesis for her Bachelor's degree at Ohio University. She is examining the relationship between Third Wave Feminism and capitalism/consumerism. She is such a good writer and thinker, that I asked her to write a short summary of her work that I could share with the readers of our blog. I hope you enjoy her thoughts as much as I do.

In the early 1990s, an underground feminist movement called Riot Grrrl jumpstarted the idea of female empowerment. Shortly after, marketers began latching onto the catchphrase “girl power.” The most memorable example of “girl power” is the Spice Girls, a popular girl music group consisting of five women celebrating girlhood by singing songs about friendship while visually presenting a message of blatant sexuality. But unlike the women’s rock bands involved in Riot Grrrl, the Spice Girls were not about the music at all. With easily sold identities like Baby Spice, Posh Spice, Sporty Spice, Scary Spice, and Ginger Spice, the band became a merchandising phenomenon to the pre-teen demographic. Dolls, games, movies, CDs, and clothes were sold under the guise of girl power. Consuming the Spice Girls was easy—what little girl could resist proving her independence and confidence, plus getting a doll for it?

The Spice Girls craze has long since ended, but the fusion of girl power and consumption persists. Significantly, a small percentage of women who remember the Spice Girls remember the Riot Grrrl movement. The way corporations have hijacked and commodified the feminist ideology of empowerment to sell products indicates how important empowerment is to the modern woman’s identity. However, by severing empowerment from the feminist movement, corporations have severed empowerment from its significance within the women’s rights movement. The original idea of empowerment was specifically collective empowerment, meaning that women as a group should feel empowered to own and continue the movement. Today, marketers teach women that they do not need each other for empowerment; they only need their own active consumption.

The concept of identity through consumption is not unique to women, but women are in a unique position. Consumption of the signs of empowerment—such as any number of products advertised to women that espouse control and choice—assures a woman of her status as a modern woman. Women’s consumption should not be dismissed as a trivial female ritual. A “girls’ day out at the mall” has serious implications for the progress of women in society. When the idea of an empowered woman is valued, and empowerment seems easily accessible through consumption, women rely on consumption for empowerment. As long as this happens, true empowerment will not be sought, and women will not feel the need to combat the aspects of society that actually limit empowerment—such as the persistence of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and the lack of women’s voices within politics. Consumption acts as a sedative for the feminist movement.


This sounds fascinating; I would love to read the thesis (or an excerpt, at least) when it is completed!

This reminds me of the argument in Dudley Randall's "Booker T and W.E.B." It seems that those who find empowerment through consumerism are choosing Booker T's side of the argument, to whick W.E.B. Du Bois responds:
For what can property avail
If dignity and justice fail?
Unless you help to make the laws,
They'll steal your house with trumped-up clause.

Which is why this consumerism empowerment does not provide real power.

With all due respect to an author who has doubtless labored long and hard on her thesis, the underlying facts given - that the Spice Girls were somehow a succesor or in any way a replacement for the Riot Grrl movement is untrue. While the Spice Girls did come along after the movement splintered, their relationship with it was facile at most, and that is most likely overstating it. The Spice Girls were a europop confection designed to appeal to a decidedly different demographic than the riot grrls, and were designed for the sole purpose of marketing. Girl Power was not a movement they sprung from - it was actually a catchphrase the group used to refer to a phantasm of empowerment.
Meanwhile, the Riot Grrl movement never died, and its true descendants are doing quite well as a subculture, which is what it always was.

Partial Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riot_Grrl

As I'm researching the Spice Girls for a paper in my Politics course, I came across this blog. I wish I could read the entire thesis on this summary, because I find the implications much more provacative than the Spice Girls ever were. I find it interesting to look at how much consumerism consumed my own life as a young, vulnerable pre-teen....I was OBSESSED with the Spice Girls. If only we could teach the youth of our world the dangers of consumerism at a young age...before it possibly sabotages their intellect. Sigh.

Anyways, I would be interested in emailing Ms. Eynon about her honors thesis, is there any way I could receive her contact information?

Thank you so much for posting the summary.

Hope this isn't an inappropriate comment. I'm a journalist and trend forecaster erseraching what Girl Power was in the days of the Spice Girls (circa 1997) and what is is now. I'd welcome any comments, ideas, expert analysis that will feed into my research, which will become a media report on Girl Power Now & Then as well as a feature I am writing on neo-feminism. Hope to hear from people soon - I'll be researching this for the next 1-3 weeks (ends mid-June).

Consumerism is the backbone of the womens movement. It started during the great depression when economists realized that women were more likely to kick start an economic recovery. PR was born (the empowerment process or spin). This accelerated after the war. Now days, prime retail position is reserved for high return impulse purchasers by women. A good doco to watch is "Century of the Self". We're currently filming "Women. Wake Up!"

The comments to this entry are closed.


Current Guests

Follow Us On Twitter

Like Us on Facebook

  • Like Us on Facebook

    By "Liking" us on Facebook, you will receive excerpts of our posts in your Facebook news feed. (If you change your mind, you can undo it later.) Note that this is different than "Liking" our Facebook page, although a "Like" in either place will get you Credit Slips post on your Facebook news feed.



  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless ([email protected]) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.