Tag Archives: commodification

The White Woman’s Burden

Flashback Friday.

Below is a remarkable commercial in which a white woman is told that if she buys Pampers, the company will donate vaccines to children in other countries.   Thanks to Kenjus W. for the submission.

It is an example of “activism by purchase,” which we have discussed at length on this blog. Apparently Pampers will only help keep babies alive if you buy their product.  How nice of them.

It’s also a fascinating example of the way in which white Westerners are seen as rescuing the rest of the world. This white mother with her white baby represent the West (erasing the diversity of people who live there). And she and her baby are counterposed to all the other mothers and their babies representing different racial groups (which are assumed to be coherent categories, even continents).

In the narrative of this commercial, all women are bonded by virtue of being natural nurturers of babies (and I could take issue with that, too), but the white Western woman is the ultra-mother. They may be sisters, but there are big and little sisters in this narrative. The babies run to her as if drawn to her ultra-motherhood and she treats them all, just for a moment, as if they were her very own.

Pampers wants you to think, of course, that when you buy a pack of Pampers, you are “helping” Other mothers and can save those Other babies.

This is just another manfestation of an old colonial belief, the white man’s burden, or the belief that white men had to take care of the rest of the world’s people because they were incapable of taking care of themselves.

Great find, Kenjus!

This post originally appeared in 2008.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Commodification of Easter Festivities

Flashback Friday.

The word commodification refers to the process by which something that is not bought and sold becomes something that is.  As capitalism has progressed, more and more parts of our lives have become commodified.  Restaurants are the commodification of preparing and cleaning up meals; day care and nannying is the commodification of child raising; nursing homes is the commodification of caring for elders.

We sometimes post instances of commodification that tickle us.  Previously I posted about a company that will now put together and deliver a care package to your child at camp.  A parent just goes to the site, chooses the items they want included, and charge their credit card.  As I wrote in that post: “The ‘care’ in ‘care package’ has been, well, outsourced.”

I was equally tickled by a photograph, taken by sociologist Tristan Bridges, of pre-dyed Easter eggs:

This is a delicious example of commodification.  If you don’t have the time or inclination to dye eggs as part of your Easter celebration, the market will do it for you.  No matter that this is one of those things (e.g., a supposedly enjoyable holiday activity that promotes family togetherness) that is supposed to be immune to capitalist imperatives.

While we might raise our eyebrows at this example, newly commodified goods and services often elicit this reaction.  We usually get used to the idea and, later, have a hard time imagining life any other way.

For more on commodification, peruse our tag by that name. This post originally appeared in 2012.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Breakfast of Stereotypes

Adrienne K., who blogs at Native Appropriations, recently put together a post about food products that feature stereotypical images of Native Americans. I’m reposting some of them here, but check out her original post for more.

It started out with Calumet baking powder:

Adrienne explains,

In my head, I thought “I could make some stereotype biscuits for breakfast!” Which got me thinking. How many products with stereotypical imagery could I fit in one imaginary breakfast?

Excluding vintage products and items that weren’t easily available, she still found an awful lot. Indian Head corn meal, anyone?

Land-O-Lakes butter:

The Sue Bee Honey logo:

Umpqua ice cream:

Pemmican beef jerky:

And you can top off your meal with Cherikee Red soda:

Adrienne explains,

In isolation, each of these would seem like no big deal–these are the “good” stereotypical images. The “noble savage.” No wild eyes or big noses, just headdresses and Indian maidens. But when taken as a collective, is it any wonder that most people in the world think of Native peoples as headdress-wearing Plains chiefs or buckskin-clad Indian women? I’m not saying there isn’t stereotypical imagery of other racial/ethnic groups in branding, but the ubiquity of Native imagery is striking.

Check out her blog for her full discussion of the problems with the repetition of these limited, anachronistic images of Native Americans.

Black People: “Let Your New Life Begin”

My Occidental College colleague, politics professor Caroline Heldman, snapped this photograph of a billboard on an L.A. freeway.  It suggests that one may celebrate Black History Month by calling 1-800-GET-THIN.  The billboard is another stunning example of the trivialization of black history by companies using it only as an excuse to market their product or service.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Commodification of the Ghetto

In this minute-and-a-half, sociologist Nikki Jones talks about the way that the idea of the ghetto has been commodified — especially in rap and hip hop — in ways that informs Americans who don’t live in inner-city urban areas, but potentially mystifies the reality of that life as well:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Judging Inner Beauty: Models and Emotional Labor

Bare Escentuals, a cosmetics company specializing in mineral makeup, has a new ad campaign that hinges upon how it found “the world’s most beautiful women…without ever seeing their faces.” Models and actresses showed up at the casting call and filled out questionnaires about themselves, which were given to Bare Escentuals. The company then cast the campaign solely on the basis of the questionnaires, choosing models not for their looks but for their “inner beauty,” posting a series of videos about the women on their website:

The campaign uses its selection process as a touchstone for all its taglines, pitting “pretty” against “beauty”: “Pretty can turn heads…beauty can change the whole world.” The commercials and print ads showcase the selected models in their daily lives: We see Lauren, a volunteer firefighter, hoisting a water hose from the ladder truck; we learn that Keri enjoys skateboarding and learned Farsi to communicate with her in-laws. This is meant to let us see the model meeting the company’s definition of beautiful by being themselves.

On its face this seems a logical, even praise-worthy, response to the constant barrage of unrealistic messages hurled at women every day about what appearance they should aspire to. But in so doing, the campaign commodifies women’s inner lives in addition to their beauty. Viewers are asked to reward the company for putting the models’ personalities on display; we’re expected to judge the models, albeit positively, for going above and beyond the model call of duty — she’s a volunteer firefigher! she has a sword collection! she blogs! By parading the inner (and formerly private) lives of the models for profit, the company appears to be showing us “real” women instead of the professional beauties that they are.

The customer takeaway is supposed to be that Bare Escentuals, more than other companies, recognizes that beauty comes from within. But the net effect is that we are shown how “being oneself” is now subject to standards of beauty. The same labor that has always gone into looking attractive — the labor that models have professionalized and monetized (smiling, appearing natural in front of the camera, speaking the company line) — is now applied to “being yourself,” which has been turned into a field of commodified emotional labor.


Autumn Whitefield-Madrano writes at The Beheld, a blog exploring the role of beauty and personal appearance in our lives through essays, cultural analysis, long-form interviews, and more.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

Commodifying the Care Package

The start of the Fall semester has inspired me to re-post this fascinating phenomenon we covered last year.


Rigby B. sent a link to the Just4Camp website to show us how care package products were gendered for “only” girls and boys. And, indeed, they were (screen shots below). But what is even more fascinating to me about this is the commodification of care.

The term “commodification” refers to the process by which something done for free becomes something done for money. Ever since the institutionalization of the wage, more and more things have become commodified. One particularly interesting category is care or what sociologists like to call “care work.”

Care work includes all of those tasks that involve nurturing and maintaining others: nursing, parenting, teaching, tending a home, etc. At one time in history, none of these things were paid jobs, but we have increasingly commodified them so that now paid nurses staff hospitals, home care workers take care of ailing elders, children spend the day in day care, professional teachers educate them, and housecleaners and gardeners can be paid to tend our homes and yards.

The care package is an example of care work.  I still remember getting care packages in college with my favorite home made cookies and other things my parents thought I would like or needed.  They take a lot of effort: thoughtfulness, shopping, baking, packaging, and mailing.  And, here, we have an example of the commodification of that effort.  The “care” in “care package” has been, well, outsourced.

Gendered care package ingredients:

For more on commodification, peruse our tag by that name.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Did Married Mothers Go To Work?

Claude Fischer, at Made in America, argues that the biggest change of the last 50 years is the increase in the number of mothers in the workforce.  From the beginning of last century till now, that rate has accelerated precipitously:

While some women have always worked (at unpaid housework and childcare, selling goods made at home, or in paid jobs), most women now work outside of the home for pay.  So long “traditional” family.  Why the change?  Fischer explains:

First, work changed to offer more jobs to women. Farming declined sharply; industrial jobs peaked and then declined. Brawn became less important; precise skills, learning, and personal service became more important. The new economy generated millions of white-collar and “pink-collar” jobs that seemed “suited” to women. That cannot be the full story, of course; women also took over many jobs that had once been men’s, such as teaching and secretarial work.

Second, mothers responded to those job opportunities. Some took jobs because the extra income could help families buy cars, homes, furnishings, and so on. Some took jobs because the family needed their income to make up for husbands’ stagnating wages (a noteworthy trend after the 1970s). And some took jobs because they sought personal fulfillment in the world of work.

And married working mothers changed the economy as well.  Once it became commonplace for families to have two incomes, houses, cars, and other goods could be more expensive.  Things women had done for free — everything from making soap and clothes, to growing and preparing food, and cleaning one’s own home — could be commodified.  Commodification, the process of newly buying and selling something that had not previously been bought and sold, made for even more jobs, and more workers, and so the story continues…

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.