Special Session: Women’S Empowerment and the Positive Role of the Market


In the last twenty years of Consumer Culture Theory scholarship, consumer researchers have been actively inquiring about consumers’ desire, need, ability and implication to resist, escape and emancipate themselves from the market and from dogmatic capitalistic discourses (Arnould and Thompson 2005; Thompson and Troester 2002; Holt 2002; Kozinets 2002; Firat and Venkatesh 1995; Murray and Ozanne 1991). While acknowledging the value and the importance of understanding this phenomenon, we believe that the field of consumer research would benefit greatly from a more balanced perspective. That is, there is a gap in scholarly understanding of how consumers may seek individuality and power via activity in the market.

We have observed through our dissertation fieldwork that, for some women, participation in the market has the potential to liberate them in varying ways and to varying extents from certain forms of restraint: class, political, bodily and gender. At the same time, the literature overstates women’s vulnerability and characterizes women’s experiences in the market as passive, unambiguous, and singularly oppressive. Thus, it tends to exclude the possibility that women could experience market activity as freeing and precludes approaching women as creating meaning, status, power and identity in the market (Scott 2005). To redress this situation, we propose this special session “Women’s Empowerment and the Positive Role of the Market” to share our ideas and research with other scholars at the 8th Conference on Gender, Consumer Behavior and Marketing.

In this session, we will present research on thus-far unexplored market phenomena, particularly relevant to gender studies: the history of the fashion modeling industry and the emergence of East European models; the consumption of beauty in times of health crisis; and the construction of women’s socalled vulnerability in advertising. We will examine situations in which meeting their goals brings women up against discourses of class, nation, consumption and gender, and will develop theoretical insights regarding emancipation via the market versus from the market.

The presenters in this session will bring unique perspectives to this issue. Catherine Coleman (PhD Student, Advertising Dept. University of Illinois) has been critically investigating the discourse(s) of women as marketed images in advertising. She has professional experience in political consulting, advertising and marketing and as a community educator for a Rape Crisis Center to decrease violence against and to help empower women. She has been applied this experience to her study of gender issues in advertising, conceptions of vulnerable audiences, advertising ethics and communication regulation.

Marie-Agnès Parmentier (PhD Student, Marketing Dept. Schulich School of Business, York University) has been studying the role of the fashion model in consumer culture since 2004 and has conducted in depth interviews with several protagonists of this networked milieu: female fashion models, fashion photographers, stylists, fashion models’ agents, and corporate clients. She has also worked as a professional model and holds a postsecondary degree in fashion marketing.

Katherine Sredl (PhD Candidate, Advertising Dept. University of Illinois) has spent nearly two years in Croatia conducting ethnographic fieldwork in advertising agencies, focusing on women’s experiences of postsocialist transformations, especially class and consumption of beauty products and communications technology. In addition to advertising and consumer behavior, her area of scholarly expertise is Balkan Studies. She also has three years of professional experience in international political communications with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia.

Doctor Linda Scott (University of Illinois) has recently taken on the long-standing feminist orthodoxy on dress, capitalism, and commercial imagery in her deeply documented book, Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism, by recasting and extending the history of fashion and women’s movement in America (2005). Dr. Scott will put forward her expertise and unconventional ideas as chair of the session.

The purpose of this special session is to expand the views on discourses of women’s involvement in the market. The research in this session not only crosses boundaries of geography and state, but also explores diverse social roles of women. Indeed, the papers describe the cases of very sociodemographically different women who seek well-being, empowerment and emancipation by actively participating in consumer culture, both as consumers and producers in their very own and unique way. Presenters aim to sensitize the audience to the repressive effects of some popular and intellectual discourses toward women’s implication in the marketplace.


Linda Scott, Marie-Agnès Parmentier, Katherine Sredl, and Catherine A. Coleman (2006) ,"Special Session: Women’S Empowerment and the Positive Role of the Market", in GCB - Gender and Consumer Behavior Volume 8, eds. Lorna Stevens and Janet Borgerson, Edinburgh, Scottland : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 9.


Linda Scott, University of Illinois
Marie-Agnès Parmentier, Schulich School of Business, York University
Katherine Sredl, Department of Advertising, University of Illinois
Catherine A. Coleman, University of Illinois


GCB - Gender and Consumer Behavior Volume 8 | 2006

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