As you might remember from my previous posts, I watch a lot of TV. From time to time, as I scroll through channel options, I come across QVC. A multimedia retailer founded in the 80’s, QVC does brisk business 364 days a year (with Christmas being the only day they are closed). Want a deep fryer? QVC has it. Want a diamond bracelet? QVC has that. Want steak? QVC has that, too. But something else that QVC sells really, really well is the gender binary where happiness results from heteronormativity.
The hosts on QVC are cheery and upbeat, gushing over products and recommending them to their audiences (as is their job). Along the way, they also invite audiences to imagine themselves creating a perfect family environment that just happens to be steeped in deeply traditional gender norms. For example, when selling plates and serving bowls, the hosts comment on how, of course, you, as the woman of the house, want to present a pretty table to your family for that home cooked meal you dish out three times a day – and while you’re at it, why don’t you coordinate your kitchen with your serving set, in the same color or pattern? That way, the room in which you lovingly prepare foods for your family, will present a cohesive, attractive pattern for those dining at your table – and as you serve food to everyone, ahead of yourself of course, you can rest reassured that everything matches and looks put together. We get a clear picture of mom as serving meals, cleaning after meals, and color-coordinating her drudgery! I mean, if it is color-coordinated, it can’t be oppressive, right?
The gendering continues with every product that is sold. The Friday Night Beauty segment provides make up solutions for gals to look their best. Male hosts sell lawn equipment and car accessories, appealing to men’s traditional gender norms/chores. Do you need to clean the gutters for your family? Try the nifty ladder that makes reaching them a breeze. Or try that lawn mower that will make you the envy of your neighborhood, as you ride it/push it around. Does your wife nag you with all the chores you need to get done? Chill out with Bose headphones in your man cave. In the home section, mattresses are sold with the picture of a man and woman lounging on them, smiling as they read and sprawl in comfort - so that (an implied) heterosexual couple relaxing together is used to market the mattress sale, while also marginalizing non-heteronormativity at the same time (they are very efficient in this way). Furthermore, computers, or pretty much anything related to technology, are usually sold by male hosts – as if girls’ brains are just too tiny to handle techy details – or if there are two hosts (one male and one female) selling something tech related, the woman usually plays the “please explain it to me, I don’t get this as easily as you do” card.
Now, QVC is very successful. They seem to know their audiences very well: there’s always someone calling in to chat the hosts, and these callers confirm the hosts’ assumptions or imaginings of those heteronormative, traditional scenarios they use to create sales. QVC sells not only in the US, but also Germany, the UK, Italy, and Japan; they made $8.8 billion last year. And ultimately, that’s what’s really scary: that these marginalizing imaginings resonate so well and so widely with the audience.
This is what makes QVC so interesting: it is a perfect blend of gender norms, heteronormativity, and capitalist success. It is not simply presenting a certain picture of gender and sexuality; it is presenting that picture for the express purpose of sales. Which it clearly makes. Does capitalism uphold and normalize the gender norms and heteronormativity? Or do the gender norms and heteronormativity make the capitalism work? In QVC’s case, it is clearly both.