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Gender and consumption

Published on August 26, 2013 Reviewed on February 28, 2019   38 min

Other Talks in the Series: Why We Buy: Understanding Consumer Behavior

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Hello, I'm Linda Scott and I am the DP World Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Said Business School at the University of Oxford. My area of interest is the women's economy and in my research, I tried to do a complete 360-degree take of women's engagement in economic behavior, whether that's investment, employment, consumption, or charity. Today, we're going to talk about gender and consumption. But what I will end up with is a little bit of a foregrounding and future prognostication about what gender and consumption will have to deal with those other areas as well.
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The interaction of gender with consumption begins from birth. Sometimes these days, it even happens before birth. Because the response of parents to knowing the sex of a child is normally to select a certain color of clothing or blankets or sheets or to paint a room of particular color. Once the child is born, they often purchase toys, for example, or even feeding items in order to match the sex of the child. So it's manifest actually in a very wide range of consumer goods what the sex of each of us is upon birth or shortly thereafter. This is something that continues throughout life that, as long as you live, there's a particular way that you're expected to dress whether you're male or female and it will change as you age, but there will always be a distinction. Now, this has a really profound effect on who we are as persons is how we develop as creatures because in the first place it changes how a person is treated. If people can tell by the fact that you're wearing a little pink jamas that you're a girl baby and not a boy baby, you're likely to be talked to in a different tone of voice, you're likely to be held at a little bit different way, perhaps responded to perhaps more quickly or less quickly. This kind of treatment will be gender-specific to you for the rest of your life, and the way people will know what your gender is, is for the most part, how you present yourself through consumer goods. So obviously, if it changes so much about how you're treated, eventually it also has an impact on how a person sees themselves. This is not only a matter of the social feedback that they get, but even has an effect on a person's own perception of, for example, how tall they are if they wear high heels or not, how much their range of movement is according to how constrained they are by their clothing, how large or small their private spaces depending on how close people feel that they can get to you according to your gender, and then obviously in reverse, it also changes how a person interacts with others. By being gendered ourselves according to the clothes we wear, the toys we are given, the food were given to eat, we also learn how we're supposed to read the signs that are presented by other human beings according to gender. So really there's a very, very major impact on social life and even on internal subjectivity according to the goods that we're handed beginning from birth to where to eat and to live in that reflect expectations of gender. This is something that fundamentally structures life experience for everyone.