Women, Religion and Consumption By Amy Levin

While my last post focused on the similarities between the social and collective experience (perhaps qua Durkheim?) of the occupy movement and the feminist movement in religion, I’d like to continue thinking about themes by taking a different path towards the more direct relationship between religion, women, and capitalism. There are two contemporary studies that are just as useful as they are fascinating on this triadic dynamic: Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free-Enterprise, and Kathryn Lofton’s Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon. Both of these authors pay attention to the nuanced ways in which patriarchy, capitalism, and religion can reinforce each other, and that women are at once victims and creative agents of these processes.

Though Wal-Mart currently stands as world’s largest multi-national corporation, it began in the mind of Sam Walton in a small Ozark town of the Sunbelt. Bethany Moreton’s book calls attention to the particular rural, Southern, agrarian, and Christian family values that helped construct the spirit of free enterprise so representative of Wal-Mart, and women had a particular role to play in the rise of this capital, helping to negotiate and construct Wal-Mart as an icon of good Christian family values. Conflating the store and the family served to bolster both the virtuous ideals of Wal-Mart culture, as well as calm anxieties of men who were threatened by female workers and the potential emasculation of working in the service economy. In this gendered economy, women – mainly white, middle-class, middle- aged mothers – helped structure a unique dynamic in the Wal-Mart industry, helping to restore Protestant family ideals in the workplace. While women held the majority of jobs, chain managers received decision-making power and sturdy salaries. Moreover, through an ethos of service and virtuous buying, women produced a “. . .victory of sanctifying capitalism and consumption under Christianity.” Wal-Mart acted as an agent of mass consumption by making mass service work an honorable endeavor.   Continue reading “Women, Religion and Consumption By Amy Levin”

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