Saturday, November 3, 2007

McArdle on The Postwar Consumer as Feminized Legal Subject

Andrea L. McArdle, CUNY School of Law, has posted an essay, The Postwar Consumer as Feminized Legal Subject. The essay opens with a discussion of the 1950s television show "Queen for A Day." It appeared in the Legal Studies Forum. Here's the abstract:

This article offers a cultural-narrative analysis of key texts in postwar consumer protection law. It posits that reform-minded courts, treating the consumer as feminized and in need of protection, offered an alternative (or augmentation) to the standard analysis, which attributes the heightened consumer protection of the postwar era as a functionalist response to changing manufacturing and marketing conditions. The premise of the article is that gendered nuances emerged in consumer protection doctrine based on the stereotypical postwar image of the consumer as a suburban-stay-at-home-mother-nurturer, who, though disempowered in the larger culture in relation to men, nonetheless managed the consumption for the family. With the mass production and mass advertising that intensified in the postwar era, the theory of caveat emptor shifted to an ideology that saw the feminized consumer as too susceptible to advertising and helplessly unable to have command of the complexities of modern products to buy intelligently, and thus, in need of protection within the marketplace. The article tracks this shift from knowledgeable buyer to disempowered and feminized consumer as seen through three early 1960s New Jersey Supreme Court decisions that spearheaded a substantial expansion of legal protection for consumers nationally - Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Schipper v. Levitt & Sons, Inc., and Santor v. A & M Karagheusian. This legal shift, the article argues, reflected and reinforced ideas about women and gender roles that were circulating in postwar culture.