Women, Consumption, and the Management of Rites of Passage Special Session Summary

Cele Otnes, The University of Illinois
[ to cite ]:
Cele Otnes (1993) ,"Women, Consumption, and the Management of Rites of Passage Special Session Summary", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 319.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Page 319



Cele Otnes, The University of Illinois

This session explored women's roles in managing rites of passage in American culture. Specifically, the rites of birth, marriage and death were explored in the three papers.

Margaret Rucker (The University of California, Davis) chaired the session. Eileen Fischer and Brenda Gainer (York University) co-authored the first paper, titled "Baby Showers: A Rite of Passage in Transition." This presentation focused upon understanding the thematic elements that emerged in baby showers for first-time mothers. These themes included: a women's initiation into her new role as a mother, the emphasis upon female bonding at these events and the tension felt by the mother-to-be as she experiences a loss of self-individuation. Furthermore, ritual practices - such as gift exchange and the creation of a bonnet made of the ribbons and bows - were discussed, as well as "alternative" forms of showers (e.g., the work shower, the group shower and the feminist baby shower).

The second paper presented was "'Til Debt Do Us Part': The Selection and Meaning of Artifacts in the American Wedding," by Cele Otnes (University of Illinois) and Tina M. Lowrey (Rider College). This paper examined how brides distinguished between sacred and profane artifacts, when selecting goods and services for use in their weddings. This paper supported the analysis of sacred items described in Belk, Sherry and Wallendorf (1989). For example, brides clearly experience a sense of hierophany when selecting their wedding dresses. Furthermore, many sacred items helped the bride realize her identity and fulfill her fantasy wedding. In contrast, profane items could not or would not be elevated beyond the world of ordinary goods, or actually de-sacralized the wedding ritual.

The final paper was "An Examination of Gift Exchange at Funerals," by Kina Mallard (Union University). Mallard interviewed women who had recently planned funerals, with respect to the types of gifts they appreciated and retained. Not surprisingly, flowers and cards were retained most often. Furthermore, they were often incorporated into the lives of the bereaved (e.g., through the creation of wreaths). Mallard also offered two metaphors that appear to be salient for the funeral planner - the "funeral as drama" and the "funeral as party."

The discussant for this session was Elizabeth Hirschman (Rutgers University), who offered many insightful comments to the presenters, with respect to ways to expand their research. She noted that one can examine what values are being imparted through particular baby gifts, that it would be valuable to study the meaning of artifacts at nontraditional weddings and that one should examine why particular types of gifts are so prevalent at funerals. A spirited question and answer/discussion period followed.

In summary, modern rites of passage have tended to be neglected by social scientists. This session represents one attempt to correct that oversight, by focusing upon women's roles in the creation and management of these rites of passage.