Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Capitalism, Economic Development, Gender Roles and The Story of Stuff

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In a 1998 PBS interview with sociologist Michael Kimmel, No Safe Place, Violence Against Women, Michael outlines views on masculinity in the United States. Kimmel discusses that traditional models of masculinity have been around for a long time and that men are expected to follow traditional rules of manhood by stating that one, “You can never do anything that even remotely hints of femininity.” (PBS, No Safe Place, Violence Against Women). Michael continues to describe male roles within society in three points to follow. 

One, a male is expected to be a “big wheel” meaning measuring masculinity by a paycheck, wealth and power, that a male is expected to be a “sturdy oak” meaning never showing emotion, and three, a male is to always “Give “Em Hell” meaning being forthright and aggressive, showing power and control. These are examples of how capitalism and economic development have differential effects on women due to outdated gender models within society that affect gender relations within all areas of the workforce and global development.

As a sociologist, Kimmel continues to explain that not everyone can be a “big wheel” and that having to keep one’s emotions in check affects male relationships with women and that the idea that being consistently aggressive is an immense pressure on men. This is where the "Women’s Movement” challenges the traditional male models of society. Although Kimmel outlines difficulties with male gender roles, a rise in men that support feminism and violence against women has risen, simultaneously. However, there is a split within Western society. 

One, there are more men that support equality presently due to recognizing that outdated models do not work, in part due to the Women’s Movement that teaches respect, that men can recognize their emotions, and that violence and aggression must end in order to create equality within society and the workplace. For example, Kimmel states, “We're sitting in a studio right now where there's a woman who's interviewing me, a woman sound person, a woman producer. I mean this was unthinkable 30 years ago in the work place. So it's completely different. And I think that more and more men are supporting that.” (PBS, No Safe Place, Violence Against Women).

In addition, there are men that refuse to let go of traditional models of masculinity and view change as erosion. The male gender then feels compromised and needs to fight back that results in a rise in violence towards women. Kimmel includes the importance of the era. For example, what sexual harassment meant in the 1960’s compared to harassment today is different. In the 1960’s, men were taught to keep trying, to go for it, to succeed and to not stop trying. Today, that is stalking and harassment. 

The importance lies in women that are reporting these instances. In this vein, men are responsible for their behavior and women are protected by laws that did not previously exist. This split in the West, in addition to outdated models, specifically in regards to development, are examples of how women are victimized and empowered as well as the differences in relationship between gender, sexual ideology, economic development, and civil and human rights.

The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute short film released in 2007, outlines production and consumption patterns in the United States. The premise of the short is based upon the question, “Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy comes from and where it goes when we throw it out?” (The Story of Stuff, 0:24).  

Annie Leonard, one of the writers, spent 10 years traveling the world and what she found is a system in crisis. In the West, our economic development and capitalist governance affects the entire world.  This nation does business with diverse cultures, economies and environments and the shortsightedness of the government affects the balance of all people, some more so than others.

For example, out of the 100 largest economies on Earth, 51 are corporations. Where is economic equality for all people? The government pays more attention to corporations as they grow larger and more powerful, thus all attention paid to the corporation, not the people. Extraction, or natural resource exploitation, causes the government to look to other nations for natural resources. “We [The U.S.] have 5% of the world’s population but we’re consuming 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste.” (The Story of Stuff, 3:38). 

Furthermore, the consumption and production in the U.S not only takes resources from other nations, but the production of synthetic chemicals produces toxins. This affects breast milk, a breastfeeding mother and her newborn infant, the most safe and natural form of nurturing and nutrition.

As this nation attempts to get rid of toxic chemicals it produces, it looks to other nations to aid it. Dirty factories are moved overseas. In addition to polluting this land and people, the United States government, along with corporations, is polluting other nations, their workers and their people via air pollution, land waste and dirty factories. 

Annie Leonard used buying a radio as an example of how consumption in the US connects to the experiences of women in developing countries. “The metal was probably mined in South Africa, the petroleum was probably drilled in Iraq, the plastics were probably produced in China, and maybe the whole thing was assembled by some 15 year old in a maquiladora.” (The Story of Stuff, 8:50).

Typically, women and children hold menial labor jobs in other nations and are most affected by economic development in the West. Furthermore, people in other nations pay for these developments with natural resources. 

These people paid with the loss of their clean air, with increasing asthma and cancer rates. Kids in the Congo paid with their future—30% of the kids in parts of the Congo now have had to drop out of school to mine coltan, a metal we need for our disposable electronics. These people even paid, by having to cover their own health insurance. All along this system, people pitched in so I could get this radio for $4.99.” (The Story of Stuff, 9:34). 

All of these situations are examples of how women and children are victimized in other nations by the economic development and capitalist governance of America.

The Story of Stuff exposes connections between environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable world. This film short explores U.S. capitalist development and global economy and the detrimental effects that has on all people, specifically women and children in other nations. 

The PBS interview focuses on male power and aggression in traditional gender roles in American society that further affects global societies due to economic development in the U.S.  The more consumers buy into a capitalist world economy, the more adverse results occur in regards to women and children in other cultures and nations, as well as our own. The result, if current developments continue, is dependency, westernization and acculturation.


No Safe Place, Violence Against Women. (1998). Michael Kimmel interviewed by PBS.  [Radio series episode]. PBS. Retrieved from:

Leonard, Annie, Fox, Lewis, Sachs, Jonah. (2007). The Story of Stuff Project. Free Range Studios. [Video file]. Retrieved from:


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