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  • Market Feminism: The Case for a Paradigm Shift
  • Linda M. Scott (bio)

Scott, Linda M. “Market Feminism: The Case for a Paradigm Shift.” In Marketing and Feminism: Current Issues and Research, edited by Miriam Catteral, Pauline MacLaran, and Lorna Stevens, 16–38. London: Routledge, 2000. Reprinted with permission from Routledge.


The most salient aspect of this moment in human history is the globalization of the market economy. Because human economic interaction inevitably involves an exchange of technology, culture and politics, as well as goods, the moment might be propitious for the globalization of feminism, too. The feminist movements that have typified political life in the post-industrial Western nations during the twentieth century have left women with unprecedented power to influence world events. The potential for females in relatively advantaged positions to assist those who remain under truly crippling forms of patriarchy is more palpable than it has ever been. Certainly the need is great: the new world information systems horrify us with stories of honor killings, genital mutilations and other brutalities visited upon women in the developing nations. In the wake of the break-up of the former Soviet Union, women from the former Eastern bloc countries are dislocated, disempowered and, too often, forced into prostitution.

In contrast, the achievements of feminism in Western Europe and North America—in government and academia, but particularly in the private sector—have been impressive. Over the past twenty-five years, the number of women holding responsible positions in business, especially in market-related areas, has mushroomed. Finding a woman at the helm of a major corporation is still newsworthy, but happens more frequently. Though women still get neither the pay nor the prestige that men do, the progress made in a single generation has been dramatic. Women in the private sector of the global economy are now positioned to effect change in important ways.

The tragedy is that, for many, feminist thought remains chained to an anti-market prejudice. Numerous writers have asserted the fundamental incompatibility between market economics and feminism. Yet, as surveys of global feminism clearly demonstrate, the movement has had a wider, more lasting impact in those very societies where capitalism and consumer culture are most fully developed.1 In truth, between the abysmal conditions for women in the developing nations and emerging accounts of women under the Soviets, it is less clear than ever that capitalism and the market offer the worst socio-economic conditions for the advancement of feminism. This obvious contradiction between theory and data should cause questions to be raised, but so far it has not. In the present political environment, therefore, using momentum provided by the market to spread the acceptance of feminist values remains unthinkable.

Indeed, the prejudice against the marketplace in contemporary feminist thought, rather than empowering feminists in the private sector, thrusts upon them a dilemma. How is one to act as a feminist while working for an ad agency? Or while managing a line of toys? Today’s feminism is so unbendingly negative in its approach to market activity that steps taken to present positive imagery in ads or make progressive toys for girls are sweepingly dismissed: women who try to act on their feminism through marketing activities are often seen as merely co-opting feminism for private profit. While such an attitude may give abstract comfort to academics, it does legions of working women a disservice—and shuts off an avenue for the advancement of feminism already shown to be broadly effective. We are thus ill-equipped to rise to the opportunity before us.

The purpose of this chapter is to help create an intellectual environment where the unthinkable may be considered and the unspeakable may be articulated: Can the market be used to advance feminism? And, if so, how? I will approach the issue with a two-pronged argument. First, I will raise questions about whether feminism itself is (or has ever been) ‘outside the market’ by unmasking the ways that leading feminists have advanced their cause as well as their own financial interests through the shrewd use of marketing. By doing this, I hope to inspire a little healthy skepticism in my readers and to give...