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The Postwar Consumer as Feminized Legal Subject

Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 27, No. 1, p. 221, 2003

44 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2007  

Andrea L. McArdle

CUNY School of Law


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.

Keywords: consumer, postwar, consumer protection, feminized consumer

Suggested Citation

McArdle, Andrea L., The Postwar Consumer as Feminized Legal Subject. Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 27, No. 1, p. 221, 2003. Available at SSRN:

Andrea L. McArdle (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

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Room 4/309
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(718) 340-4348 (Phone)

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