To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States

By Neala Schleuning | Go to book overview

are a major obsession with males in the United States in particular and serve to reinforce the expectation of abundance and plenitude.

This iconography of dependence penalizes both men and women. Men are infantilized by this distortion of the iconography of woman, but women are doubly penalized. The so-called "reward" for male dependency is power over the female. Wendell Bradley called the representation of power and control over women in pornography "transcendence secularized."86 In both pornography and advertising, women are denied any iconic expression of their own transcendence.

The elemental aspect of the archetypal mother represents only one facet of the feminine--a non-transcendent one. It reflects the ethos of the consumer society exceedingly well, however. The imperative of the consumer society is the incomplete transcendence, transcendence without closure. Consumers, after all, must never reach closure, they must never be satisfied. Through the selective representation of women's bodies, they are inspired to participate in an infinite series of purchases of goods in the search for ultimate satisfaction. Through the appropriation of the representations of women's bodies, the enclosure of sexuality and desire, the gendering of power, and the enclosure of reproduction as transcendence, consumer capitalism has harnessed the iconography of gender to the engine of profit.

Since the 1970s the women's movement in the United States has attempted to reclaim and redefine the iconography of women--with little success. Some groups have sought to revitalize the ancient reproductive images of woman as source of power and transcendence. The various expressions of this new respect for female energy have found inspiration in many new iterations of the Great Mother. The desire to reclaim the enclosed space of women and create positive images of women as powerful and transcendent, appears to resonate across a broadly representative group of women. The ability of the movement to resist cooptation and to impact entrenched religious and commercial iconography with an alternative vision of transcendence remains to be seen, for to transcend consumer society will require a revolution in the social construction of woman and the economic structure of capitalism and private property both.


NOTES
1.
Sut Jhally, The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society ( New York, 1987), 136.
2.
Jean Baudrillard, Seduction, translated by Brian Singer ( New York, 1990), 176.
3.
Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women ( New York, 1981), 19.
4.
Richard Blake, "Porn in Flames," Love and Rage 2, 10 ( December 1991):
5.
A singular exception to this imperative of linking consumption to women's images is advertising for political candidates in the United States. Whether this is a function of the political impulse, good taste, or whatever, is uncertain. What remains to be seen is whether political advertising will also eventually succumb to the imperative of sexual iconography and the stimulation of desire.
6.
Mark Bracher, "Writing and Imaging the Body in Pornography: The Desire of the Other and Its Implications for Feminism", The American Journal of Semiotics 8, 4 ( 1991): 107.

-177-

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To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - What is Property? 1
  • Notes 31
  • 2 - Who Owns the Land? 35
  • Notes 55
  • 3 - Who Owns the United States? Part I 59
  • Notes 80
  • 4 - Who Owns the United States? Part II 83
  • Notes 100
  • 5 - The Meaning of Ownership 103
  • Notes 124
  • 6 - Consuming as Owning 127
  • Notes 149
  • 7 - Woman as Possession: Images of Owning 153
  • Notes 177
  • 8 - Beyond Consumerism: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness 181
  • Notes 209
  • Selected Bibliography 213
  • Index 235
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