The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980

By John Benson | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
THE EMANCIPATION OF WOMEN?

The relationship between consumption and women's (so-called) emancipation has received an enormous amount of attention -- some of it scholarly, some of it popular, and most of it highly polemical. 1 It is argued by those on the right that consumption helped to liberate women, empowering them in unprecedented, and often unforeseen ways. Thus according to Conservative MP Teresa Gorman'Women actually have enormous political power in this country because they're the people who do the shopping, who spend most of the household budget'. 2 Feminists and those on the left tend to disagree most profoundly. They regard consumption as a patriarchal-cum-capitalist device which, deliberately or not, tends to confine women to the home, enslave them to fashion, and keep them subservient to men. Thus, according to feminist historian Elizabeth Wilson, it is absurd to claim that the spread of Hoovers, refrigerators and other consumer durables in the years following the Second World War afforded women anything approaching equality. For, 'Quite apart from the fact that only a minority of women had access to these aids . . . even where electricity did replace muscle power, most of the burdens and responsibilities of domesticity remained untouched.' 3

It is clear, then, that the relationship between consumption and emancipation remains complex and contentious, and raises ideological and empirical difficulties of the most intractable kind. It is not easy to agree upon a definition of women's emancipation, it is more difficult still to measure it empirically, and it seems almost impossible to determine the extent to which such emancipation as did occur was brought about by changes in consumption, as opposed to changes, say, in the economy, in technology, in contraception or in the legal and social security systems.

It is because of -- and in spite of -- such complexity and uncertainty, that the purpose of this chapter is to clarify the relationship, if any, that existed between consumption and women's emancipation. It

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The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vi
  • LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS viii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One CONTEXT 9
  • Chapter 1: CHANGES IN DEMAND 11
  • Chapter 2: CHANGES IN SUPPLY 35
  • Part Two CHANGES 57
  • Chapter 3: SHOPPING 59
  • Chapter 4: TOURISM 82
  • Chapter 5: SPORT 110
  • Part Three CONSEQUENCES 141
  • Chapter 6: THE CONSOLIDATION OF NATIONAL IDENTITY? 143
  • Chapter 7 the Creation of Youth Culture? 164
  • Chapter 8: THE EMANCIPATION OF WOMEN? 180
  • Chapter 9: THE DEFUSION OF CLASS TENSION? 204
  • Conclusion 233
  • NOTES AND REFERENCES 235
  • GUIDE TO FURTHER READING 236
  • Index 240
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