A commoditized society is instrumental in transforming and creating images of identity and interpretation. The commoditized image projected through the set images forms the hyper-reality that becomes more real for us. Lauren Langman (1993) points out that various objects, images, and events attaches a new symbolic value to our perceptions. Gendered capitalism dominated the process of globalization and consumerist culture (Acker, 2004).
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Intuitively, it can be suggested that gender roles have often been defined through tools and objects of capitalism. There is a discourse of gender roles and identity through every sphere of life, be it globalization, capitalism, or commoditization. Gender roles are barraged upon us through various spheres of life. This became evident as we move through the geographic space of a shopping mall. Present-day gender roles are diverse and play a varied role in the identification and nurturing of gender identity. Today gender identity is not only based on role or concept but also on an image that may include one’s own body.
Therefore, through the discoursed images, there is a gendered concept of an ideal that influences one’s perception. This paper aims to understand the gendered images and projections displayed in the architecture, plan, merchandising, advertising, and exhibits in a shopping mall.
Goss (1993) believes that planned retail spaces such as shopping malls have become a predominant space in public life: “shopping has become the dominant mode of contemporary public life.” (1993:18) Shopping malls have a deep-rooted role in the civic life of the people (Staeheli and Mitchell 2006). Shopping malls have been accused of adopting such schemes through which human needs can be distorted by manipulating human desire. It is believed that malls and their architectural forms undertake a gendered and elitist discourse by use of tropes, stimulants, physical manipulation, and seduction (Goss 1993).
Therefore, it is believed that due to popular gender discourse and the established “women’s insecurities,” most of the shoppers in malls are women (Goss 1993). In the present day, the discourse of self has become synonymous with what you buy, and therefore, ultimately, self-image and identity are created as we walk and shop through the various shops in the mall. Therefore, commoditization results in the creation of “self-concept” and identity (Goss 1993).
Mall in unison with advertisements creates a plethora of cultural symbols and gendered images that are etched in the human mind and create the present day gender roles. As has been observed through the study in the shopping mall we undertook, it was observed that the shopping space was distinctly divided between the male and the female space, with the male space having fewer clothes than the female space. Therefore, this simple display of clothes demonstrated the division of the shopping space and the gendered self-concept that female shoppers are more frequent and numerous than male shoppers.
Further to re-emphasize that female shoppers are more frequent in malls, most of the malls have female sections closest to the entrance, and window displays are more for women’s fashion. The idea behind the displays and architectural plan of the malls are such that the displays and outplay attracts maximum footfall and can keep the customers in the store for maximum possible time: “the center operates as a whole to maximize “foot traffic” by attracting the target consumers and keeping them on the premises for as long as possible” (Goss 1993:22). Therefore, the first idea is to put up a display or signage to attract the maximum number of people. Consequently, as most shoppers are women, therefore it is logically deducible that the display or signage would be such that would allure female shoppers to the store.
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Shopping malls are considered to be a space that inculcates liminality. Goss observes that the “marketplace is a liminoid zone, a place where potentiality and transgression are engendered by the exciting diversity of humanity, the mystique of exotic objects, the intoxicating energy of the crowd channeled within the confined public space” (1993:27). Ideally, shopping malls are spaces that are flaunted with modern architecture, colorful themes, and carnivalistic atmosphere to deal with gender stereotypes, the gendered division of labor, and on social insecurity of women (that too has predominantly discoursed) in gaining greater effect.
Gender roles and identity have dominantly discoursed. The differential between men and women and the stereotypical image of the feminine has been developed through the contemporary discourse of gender (Carrigan, Connell, and Lee 1985). Through this discourse developed the image of femininity and masculinity. With time, the masculine image became harsher and harsher. This point has been demonstrated through the images of aggressive male images used in advertisements in shopping malls.
Further, as portrayed through these advertisements, the body image of females was that of beautiful women with a lean and fragile body that demonstrated the new construct of the gendered body. The images in advertisements in the mall, like all other advertisements (Myers and Biocca 1992), helped in the development of gendered ideal body image.
Shopping malls are considered to be predominantly capitalist sphere (Langman 1993). It is believed to be a bourgeois interaction style that plays on hegemonic control over self-identity and perception for consumerist reasons (Langman 1993). Malls sell, display, and promote commodities with master precision to attract maximum footfall. People feel happy while being in malls, and personal life is manipulated through various tropes, light, and signage to inculcate a feel-happy factor in individuals. This manipulation of the person through the public sphere display is characteristic of capitalism (Langman 1993). Modern capitalism seduces the assent of people to create a space for commoditization (Langman 1993).
Consequently, reaching true selfhood in a public consumerist sphere is not possible. Therefore, the image of the self, thus created through the interaction of such social structure, presents a distorted discourse. Therefore, the creation of gender identity and role in malls are expected to be manipulated.
The present study of the literature shows that malls are a public space where capitalism and consumerist culture manipulated and discourses gender identity in individuals. Gender role and difference is displayed through the very architecture, plan, display, and signage of the malls that eventually creates a discoursed sense of self.
Acker, Joan. 2004. “Gender, Capitalism and Globalization.” Critical Sociology 30(1):17-41.
Carrigan, Tim, Bob Connell, and John Lee. 1985. “Toward a new sociology of masculinity.” Theaory and Society 14(5):551-604.
Goss, Jon. 1993. “The “Magic of the Mall”: An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83(1):18-47.
Langman, Lauren. 1993. “Alienation And Everyday Life: Goffman Meets Marx At The Shopping Mall.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 11(6/7/8):107-124.
Myers, Philip N. and Frank A. Biocca. 1992. “The Elastic Body Image: The Effect of Television Advertising and Programming on Body Image Distortions in Young Women.” Journal of Communication 42(3):108-133.
Staeheli, Lynn A. and Don Mitchell. 2006. “USA’s Destiny? Regulating Space and Creating Community in American Shopping Malls.” Urban Studies 43(5/6):977–992.