Session Overview the Feminine Imagination and Social Change: Four Feminist Approaches to Social Problems

Julie L. Ozanne, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University
[ to cite ]:
Julie L. Ozanne and Barbara B. Stern (1993) ,"Session Overview the Feminine Imagination and Social Change: Four Feminist Approaches to Social Problems", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 35.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Page 35



Julie L. Ozanne, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University

Feminist approaches to consumer behavior have recently emerged as a potentially fruitful research direction. In 1991, the first conference on gender and consumer behavior was held (Costa 1991), and in March, 1993, three papers based on feminist theory will be published as a special section of the Journal of Consumer Research. However, despite the flurry of activity in this area, most existing research has focused on presenting feminist theory and method but has stopped short of showing how such theory can be applied in consumer research. The purpose of this session is to move the theoretical contribution forward by demonstrating its usefulness in four applications of different feminist approaches.

Feminist theory's goal is to provoke social change by providing analyses and critiques of the status quo. Toward this end, feminism offers an innovative agenda for those researchers interested in social issues. While most other research approaches within the positivist and the interpretivist traditions aim at explaining or understanding society, they do not necessarily challenge the status quo (Murray and Ozanne 1991). The feminist research agenda, on the other hand, does so, for social change is an integral component.

Each paper in this session advances change as an outcome of a feminist approach to a social problem. First, Dobscha offers ecofeminism as an alternative way to study environmentally-safe consumption. She contends that ecofeminism offers a more useful research approach than earlier ones based on rational decision-making, for it emphasizes the interdependency between humans and their environment, demonstrating the value of researching environmentalism within the web of the consumer's life. Because ecofeminism rejects the nature/human dichotomy, alternative avenues of social change are possible.

Next, Bristor and Fischer use postmodern feminism to deconstruct another dichotomy, one basic to the marketing concept-the dominant (masculine) marketer versus the submissive (feminine) consumer. They demonstrate the power of feminist theory by using it to deconstruct the contradictions that pervade our discipline. Their paper points out that by challenging the overarching dichotomies, the consumer is empowered to become more socially responsible.

Hirschman's paper explores female empowerment by using semiotics to analyze feminine heroism in three films-Aliens, Terminator 2 and Thelma and Louise. Her paper presents a rich semiotic analysis of the heroines' product consumption that reveals the image of women in American culture. This approach vivifies the feminist precept that awareness of the nature of the "other"-the gynocentric as contrasted to the androcentric heroine-is a necessary prerequisite for the social change process.

Last, Larsen's paper presents a sociolinguistic analysis of "feminine" and "masculine" communication styles. Because men view society as hierarchical, male conversations function as competitive opportunities to assert status. Women stress community and social interdependency and view conversations as opportunities to build trust and intimacy. His paper suggests that the "feminine" style may be a better approach within personal selling, for it helps to develop long-term customer-seller relationships. However, he suggests that we are better off being bilingual, able to switch to the best communication mode as the setting dictates.

Thus, the papers in this session contribute applications of feminist theory that offer alternative ways of gaining knowledge to post-positivist researchers and suggest new ways to study societal problems.