In what ways does gender act as a patterning variable on the activities of production and consumption

Both production and consumption will be examined to ascertain in what ways gender can act as a patterning variable in these two processes. This will involve looking at how Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory has been challenged (1979, quoted in Negus, 1997, P. 105). They proposed that in the ‘production of culture’ goods are ‘standardised’ and ‘mass-produced’, resulting in consumers being passive recipients (ibid). First, the discourse of ‘corporate culture’ (Peters and Waterman, 1982, quoted in Salaman, 1997, P. 240) will be outlined.

Next how it is used in the service industry will be discussed with reference to flight attendants, the retail trade and hotel industry to see the ways gender works in the activities of production. Also, the system of production, place, age and Foucault’s theory (1982, quoted in du Gay, 1997, P. 296) on the governing of organisations, will be considered to show how other factors can influence production. Second, consumption will be discussed with reference to Miller’s (1988) research on kitchens, followed by the case study of Coca-Cola.

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Also, ‘technological determinism’ (Mackenzie and Wajcman, 1985, quoted in Mackay, 1997, P. P. 298-299) will be outlined and how McKenzie et al ((1985, ibid) claim it ignores the ‘social processes’ in relation to technology. The use of technology in the home, with reference to television and the computer will then examined to determine how technological determinism can be challenged. Further, the ways gender can act as a patterning variable will be identified, besides the role played by place, age and ethnicity.

First, Du Gay (1997, quoted in du Gay, 1997, P. 7) points out that in ‘cultures of production’ the processes involved are ‘cultural phenomena’ themselves due to the way businesses are organised. This means it is considered there are particular kinds of ways for people to manage themselves at work and add culture to the processes of production which can be considered an active practice. Therefore by looking at how the discourse of ‘corporate culture’ is used in organisations it will be possible to see in what ways gender acts as a patterning variable. Corporate culture’ aims to change how employees ‘think and feel’ and not just how they ‘behave’ in their working environment (Peters and Waterman, 1982, quoted in Salaman, 1997, P. 240). Also, ‘consensus’ and ‘harmony’ are important for this to work effectively (ibid). According to Hochschild (1983, P. 313) ‘flight attendants’ learn what is known as ’emotional labour’ which means they have to be taught to deal with their emotions so they can give ‘quality service’. Also, employees have to imagine where they work is like their ‘home’ and the customers are their ‘guests’.

This suggests gender may play a significant role in this process because such tasks, like looking after people, was traditionally perceived as a female’s job when women were more economically dependent on their husbands before the 1980s and 1990s (Pateman, 1989, P. 290). Females may therefore find it easier than males to learn the necessary skills when training as flight attendants. Second, it can be seen how ‘hybrid work identities’ are created in the service industry by employees being encouraged to adopt the role of both the worker and customer (du Guy, 1997, P. 87). This means there is a blurring of the boundaries between the part played by the employee and customer. (du Guy, 1997, P. 287).

This is apparent in the retail trade where ‘transactional analysis’ is used, which involves tasks like learning how to undertake ‘a transaction with a customer’ efficiently, besides trying to make the staff and company more ‘customer driven’ (du Guy, 1994, quoted in du Gay, 1996, P. 342). Also, ‘quality team programmes’ (QTs) are used which aim to get all employees engaged in a more meaningful way (ibid P. 343). Self-regulation’ and ‘self-monitoring’ are emphasised, besides the importance of ‘staying close to the customer’ (ibid). It can be argued that gender can play a part in achieving quality service in the retail trade through the use of these techniques as females are more likely be able to consider customers needs more than males, as the former are traditionally perceived as more caring. On the other hand males, if they are managers, may adopt a more dominant attitude when trying to get employees to identify with the organisation’s culture as males are sometimes perceived as traditionally having this characteristic.

Third, the hotel industry demonstrates some of the ways gender can play a part in the activities involved in the production of giving quality service and also how hybrid identities are created in this type of work. For an example the ‘Hilton International Hotel’ group stresses the importance of ‘the smile’ to employees when interacting with guests (TV 05, The Open University, 2005). Also, at the Hilton in London the aim is to never “no”‘ and all the staff have to follow ‘eleven rules’ (ibid).

The fact that both genders did extra activities in their own time at the Hilton hotel illustrates that gender can play a part in the quality of service given by the organisation. For example one of the ‘engineering staff’ who was a man, acquired a particular type of ‘electrical adapter’ that a guest required for some medical equipment, while a female member of staff cleaned ‘thirteen rooms’ on one of her ‘off days’ (ibid). This example further shows that the jobs undertaken by the two individuals are associated with traditional male and female roles.

Other factors though can play a part in the activities of production besides gender. Gendron (1986, quoted in Negus, 1997, P. 115) draws attention to how in the system of production the standardisation of parts for an ‘automobile’ is ‘qualitatively’ different from that required to produce a song. A car requires standard components to enable it to be constantly produced and maintained. The technology used in the production of ‘recorded music’ though can greatly increase the opportunities for the ‘variations’ of ‘musical sounds’ (ibid. ).

For example the ‘electric guitar’ has not replaced ‘the acoustic guitar’, but has enabled a much greater range of ‘timbres’ to be played. Age too has been shown to have a role in the activities of production. This is evident by the fact that Sony ‘lifestyled’ the Walkman, which meant cultural intermediaries, designed it with ‘young children’ in mind (du Gay et al, 1997, pp. 66-67). Also, this example illustrates how production, consumption and representation are related. Additionally, another factor that has some bearing on the activities of production is place.

For example at the ‘Hilton International hotels’ (TV05, The Open University, 2005) in different places of location, like the ‘Hurghada resort’, different facilities are provided which are not available in ‘city hotels’, like London. At the former hotel advantage is taken of the ‘local conditions’ like the ‘sea’, ‘warm weather’ and ‘water sports’ (ibid). Also, as Hurghada is ‘500 kilometres’ from Cairo, it means measures are taken to ensure stocks do not get too low (ibid). Further, if Foucault’s (1972, quoted in du Gay, 1997, P. 99) theory regarding ‘discursive formation’ is utilised it is possible to see how the activities involved in production work and how employees can be constrained. This means a discourse comprising of ‘several statements’ work together in relation to a particular subject, like how organisations are governed.

Foucault (1982, ibid P. 296) believed individuals are offered ‘a field of possibilities’ of how they can ‘behave’, which suggests employees can be restricted by having to comply with the corporate culture of the organisation they work for as ‘governing operates through subjects’ (Miller and Rose, 1990, cited in du Gay, 1997, P. 27). This means employees cannot always be as autonomous and creative as they wish in the processes of production, no matter what their gender. Also, such techniques as ‘customer feedback’ and ‘customer surveys’ can be used by organisations to get an idea of how their employees are performing. This suggests employees are restricted by what customers say because such information allows employers to use it as a means for controlling and disciplining employees. However, production is not the only area where gender can act as a patterning variable so consumption will be examined.

According to ‘postmodernist approaches’ (Mackay, 1997, quoted in Mackay, 1997, P. 6) like de Certeau (1984) and Fiske, (1989, ibid) the ‘pleasures of consumption’ is an active and meaningful process which consumers enjoy. This contrasts with Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory (1979, quoted in Negus, 1997, P. 105) which depicted consumers as being passive and influenced into being ‘mindless dupes’ (Du Guy 1997, quoted in Mackay, 1997, P. 3). Nevertheless, research has identified that consumption is an active process and one where gender can play a part.

For example Miller (1988, quoted in Miller, 1997, pp 14-18) found in his research that tenants in council flats ‘appropriated’ their kitchens and made them meaningful by undertaking a variety of ‘decorative changes’ (Miller, 1997, P. 16). The tenants then felt their kitchens were more like their own home. Where kitchens were seen as being the ‘female’ area of the home (ibid P. 17) the wife usually decided how she would like it done and her husband or son undertook the work. The male frequently saw it as a gift to the female.

Males though living alone did not always change their kitchens. Miller’s research illustrates how certain tasks can be perceived as being either male, like DIY, or female, such as deciding on the consumption of alterations to the kitchen. Nonetheless, the case of ‘Coca-Cola’ illustrates how it is not only gender that can act as a patterning variable on the activities of consumption. In Trinidad place can be considered to play a part because ‘Coke’ can be appropriated to be a particularly ‘Trinidadian beverage’ by adding it to ‘rum’ (Miller, 1997, P. 35).

It is then very expensive having connotations associated with a ‘black’ soft drink, such as ‘sophistication’ and a more ‘urban’ drink’ that can be related to ‘African’ or ‘white’ people (ibid). Also, this shows how ethnicity can play a part in the activities of consumption as well as place. Further, Gillespie (1994, quoted in Miller, 1997, P. 55) draws attention to the fact that in ‘Southall’ age and gender plays a part in the consumption of Coca-Cola. It is seen as a drink for ‘young people’ as they associate the advertisements for Coke with an American ‘lifestyle’, that of being ‘happy’, ‘free’ and with ‘all races getting on’ (ibid P. 6). As the ‘girls’ purchase ‘Coke’ because they have been influenced by the advertisements and they connote it with ‘love’ and ‘popularity’, besides the other connotations already mentioned, it suggests gender can act as a patterning variable in the consumption of Coca-Cola in Southall.

Moreover, it shows how production, consumption and how products are represented and people identity with them are all related. Additionally, by looking at technology it can be seen in what ways gender acts as a patterning variable on consumption in this area. First though the two different approaches to technology and society will be outlined. Technological determinism’ believes technology is developed ‘outside society’, but the type of technology in existence determines the kind of culture our society has (McKenzie and Wajcman 1985, quoted in Mackay, 1997, pp 298-299). However, McKenzie and Wajcman argue that ‘technological determinism’ overlooks the ‘social processes’ relating to technology (Mackay, 1997, quoted in Mackay, 1997, P. 266). The consumption of television in the home shows how technological determinism can be challenged because research demonstrates that social processes play a part in how it is consumed, besides the ways gender can play a role.

Further, ideas have been put forward regarding how television programmes are consumed. Hall (1973, ibid. P. 229) claims TV programmes are encoded so as to give a ‘preferred meaning’ of ‘social events’, but these can interpreted differently by viewers depending on their ‘class positions and cultural knowledges’. Morley (1981, ibid. P. 230) though considered whether an individual liked or disliked a programme depended on the genre. Also, Gledhill (1997, quoted in Moores, P. 231) pointed out that soap operas required the ‘skills’ culturally associated with females to decode them.

For instance she highlighted ‘sensitivity, perception, intuition’ and the matters relating to ‘personal life’ which females can identify with and are incorporated into the soap operas genre. From research that has been undertaken it is apparent that it supports some of the ideas mentioned. For example Dorothy Hobson (1982, quoted in Moores, P. 231) found women considered ‘Crossroads’ was their favourite programme because it was ‘sentimental’ at times. The females pointed out that ‘men’ thought it was ‘stupid’ and’ unrealistic’ (ibid). Also, they believed males had not been brought up to deal with the sentimental issues in it.

Additionally, Ien Ang (1985, ibid P. 232) concluded from her research involving Dutch viewers of the American serial ‘Dallas’ that women considered the characters in it reflected what happened in reality in the ‘daily life of the family’. She believed women enjoyed the programme because of its ’emotional realism’ and the fact they were able to ’empathise’ with the characters as well as the situations they experienced. However, Morley (1986, quoted in Moores, P. 231) considers men are more interested in the ‘news, current affairs and sport’.

These studies illustrate that the consumption of TV programmes is not just a passive matter, but they are decoded differently by males and females, depending on the genre, like whether it is a soap opera. Also, the studies mentioned suggest that males prefer more serious programmes like current affairs and the news, whereas women can identify with the emotional aspects of soap operas better. These ‘gendered identifications’, that is how males and females decode programmes differently, are nevertheless ‘socially constructed and historically contingent’ (Moores, 1997, P. 231).

Furthermore, Lull (1990, quoted in Moores, 1997, pp. 234-235) draws attention to the various ‘relational uses’ that a television can function as. By this he means it can be used as a means for members of a family to view the same programme together, or it can be used as a reason for members to isolate themselves from one another. Also, Lull believed who decides what programmes will be watched in the home is a sign of ‘power relations’ within that family. His findings revealed ‘fathers’ appear to have the greatest ‘control’ involving such decisions, while ‘mothers’ were the ones who had the ‘least’ power.

In addition, Morley (1988, cited in Moores, 1997, pp 251) concluded from his research that ‘masculine power’ was apparent in a lot of homes when there is disagreement over which TV programme should be viewed. Where a ‘remote-control device’ was used he found it was usually the ‘father’ that took ‘possession’ of it, or if he was away, ‘the son’, and women were reported as never using a remote-control on a regular basis (ibid). Also, Morley concluded males prefer to watch TV programmes ‘in silence’, although women prefer to talk and generally do something else like ‘ironing’ while watching television (ibid P. 52). He found women can feel guilty about watching TV programmes, like ‘dramas and soap operas’, which they enjoy, and often video them to watch while the men are out. These findings suggest that males have more control over what programmes are viewed than females. Also, they illustrate one of the ways that gender plays a part in the consumption of television programmes. Additionally, Moores (1996, quoted in Mackay, 1997, P. 243) findings on the consumption of satellite television revealed that gender, age and place acted as patterning variables.

For example a male, aged 19 years, reported having ‘positive feelings’ about satellite televised programmes, but considered the traditional ‘terrestrial programming’ uninteresting and out of date (Moores, 1996, cited in Moores, 1997, P. 255). In contrast his parents preferred ‘British television’ like BBC or ITV which they viewed downstairs in the ‘living-room’ (ibid). The son though viewed the television in his bedroom, which he saw as his own space. Also, a young couple in their ‘late twenties’ considered satellite television gave them a greater choice of viewing and the male believed it gave him a sense of being ‘European’ (ibid).

The male saw ‘Britishness’ as being restrictive, while ‘Europeanness’ allowed him to ‘travel to new places’ and ‘reimagine the boundaries of community’ (ibid). This latter finding supports Anderson’s theory (1983, quoted in Moores, 1997, P. 241) in relation to ‘imagined communities’, which in this case means people can consider they are a member of the European community as opposed to say British. However, such a community is a ‘fictional reality’ (ibid). The female found satellite television gave her the opportunity to show her ‘younger sister’ some of the ‘French language programmes’ (ibid).

These findings suggest younger people identify with ‘Europeanness’ through the consumption of television programmes, which again shows age plays a part in the consumption of television programmes. Also, these findings do not support technological determinism, but illustrate the consumption of television programmes is an active process. They therefore do not support Adorno and Horkheimer’s idea of consumption being a passive process. My own findings involving ten families revealed that the majority of participants had more than one television in their home and one family had eight, where there was three generations living.

Also, the research showed family members can use television as a means to isolate themselves from other family members. The children usually had a TV in their bedroom, showing that place and age plays a part in the consumption of the television. Women seemed to prefer soap operas and romantic films as they can identify with the everyday happenings in them as well as the characters. Also, females liked cooking programmes and those relating to home decoration, indicating they give them ‘ideas to try’. However, the males preferred sport, politics and current affairs.

They also took control of the remote-control device in all but two homes, which supports Morley findings (1988, cited in Moores, 1997, pp 251). Both genders enjoyed gardening programmes and use them as a means for redesigning their own gardens. These findings suggest gender plays a part in consumption. None of the participants believed any special cultural knowledge was required to understand the programmes they viewed which does not support Hall (1973, ibid. P. 229) claims regarding ‘cultural knowledges’.

Only one participant, who was middle-aged, reported a feeling of belonging to a national culture thus not supporting Moores findings (1996, quoted in Mackay, 1997, P. 243). The overall findings of my research do not totally support the findings of the studies already discussed, but they identify ways gender, place and age play a part in consumption. To obtain a more realistic picture of such matters I consider a larger number of participants would be required of both genders and from all age groups (see appendix 1 for list of questions asked).

In addition the research undertaken in connection with the computer illustrates how gender can act as a patterning variable on the activities of consumption. For example Mintel (1994, cited in Mackay, 1995, P. 307) found more males (‘37%’) than females (‘27%’) owned computers in 1992. Also, his findings indicated that other factors like social class and age can play a part where computers are concerned. This is apparent as the ownership of computers by the ‘professional class’ (’52 %’) was the highest (Mackay,1995, cited in Mackay, 1997, P. 305).

The age of those owning computers was highest in those aged ’15-19 years’ (‘59%’) and ’35-44 years’ (‘54%’) while those in other age brackets up to 54 years averaged 34%, with a significant fall in the those aged ’55+’ (ibid ). Also, the data revealed that playing ‘computer games’ is what motivates ‘children and young adults’ to use a computer, while parents see it as useful for educational purposes (ibid P. 306). Further, Silverstone and Morley (1990, cited in MacKay, 1997, pp. 301-305) findings also supported there was a gender and age difference with regard to the use of the computer.

The father used it for ‘business purposes’, while his son saw it as a ‘tool’ and neither the mother nor daughter were particularly interested in technology (ibid). Silverstone et al’s (ibid) findings also identified that place can be a variable that plays a part in consumption. For example the father’s computer was in his ‘front room’ which acted as an office, whereas the son’s computer was in his ‘bedroom’ (ibid). The research undertaken in relation to the consumption of the computer illustrates that besides gender, age and place, a person’s social class can play a part in the ownership of computers and how they are consumed.

Nonetheless, the findings do not entirely support Bourdieu’s (1984, quoted in Mackay, 1997, P. 4) theory on consumption and social class. Bourdieu argued that ‘symbolic goods’ like technological devices, work as ‘signs’ and people use them to signify what social group they belong to (ibid). His theory can therefore be considered very limited as other factors like gender, age, and place have been shown to play a part in consumption as already mentioned.

From the discussion it is apparent that neither the research on production or consumption support Adorno and Horkheimer’s (1979) theory that goods are ‘mass-produced’ and ‘standardised’, resulting in consumers being passive recipients of the goods and services. Also, the research on production has revealed that the techniques used in ‘corporate culture’ like ’emotional labour’ and getting employees to consider customer’s needs are active processes. ‘Hybrid work identities can also be created, as discussed, and this can result in the blurring of the boundaries between the role of an employee and that of the customer.

Gender appeared to play a part in this role as females are probably more likely to understand customer’s needs due to their traditional role associated with the home and caring for their family. On the other hand males are more likely to be more dominant, and if managers, get employees to identify with the culture of the organisation. Foucault’s (1972) theory on discursive formation shows the governing of an organisation works through subjects and only allows certain possibilities for autonomy. Also, the research discussed illustrated that the system of production, place and age act as variables in production, besides gender.

Further, consumption was shown to be an active process where gender can play a part in several ways. Miller’s research on kitchens showed females appropriate them to make them like their own home. How technology was consumed in the home illustrated that females required the social skills associated with females to decode soap operas (Gledhill, 1997) and males rarely watched them thinking they are ‘unrealistic’ (Hobson, 1982). Males appear to prefer programmes featuring sport, current affairs and politics.

Also, they usually took control of the remote-control device, suggesting they have more power in the home and females. Additionally, the consumption of the computer showed that more males than females owned computers and the former were more conversant with the technology. Other factors though besides gender were found to affect the activities of consumption like place, age and ethnicity as identified in the discussion on Coca-Cola and the consumption of technology in the home. Boudieu’s theory of social class and consumption too was shown to be very limited.

The findings discussed suggest that more extensive research could be undertaken to identify the extent to which gender plays a role in the modern world in both production and consumption so that a more up-to-date theory is formed. This should also show how consumption and production are related. It can be concluded therefore that gender acts as an acting patterning variable in the activities of production and consumption in the ways mentioned, but other factors like system of production, place, age and ethnicity also contribute to the processes. Also, it is evident that consumption and production are related.