IWD: Women, Czars, and Electric Cars

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a great time to note that women are absolutely dominant players in the US (and world) economy. While this has had, and is having, a transformational effect on everything from the auto industry to American politics, its history is just as incredible.

That history dates to February 28, 1909, when the precursor to our modern variant was held in New York. The international character of the women’s suffrage movement at the time meant this first observance inspired women across the world and in Europe especially. Eventually, on March 8, 1917, one of the increasingly common women’s marches happened in St. Petersburg, Russia. It joined ongoing strikes and supercharged them – the women recruited around 50,000 more workers from nearby factories, swelling the strikers’ numbers to a quarter of a million within 2 days, all protesting the food shortages, autocracy, and war. This tipping point kicked off the February Revolution (8 Mar. was 23 Feb. in the old Russian calendar) that brought down the Russian Empire.

IWD returned to America in force around 1967, when it was adopted by the feminist movement, and gained further traction in the West when the UN recognized it in 1975. In the West specifically, women really began to see their societal power grow as the same feminist movement pushed ever more of them into the workplace. While this  normalized financial autonomy, it didn’t immediately erode traditional gender roles. Day jobs were now just followed by, “second shift[s],” as Arlie Hochschild famously termed housework.

By the 80s though, these changes began to make waves in the economy. Unexpectedly, the same traditional gender roles that had resisted change now drove its biggest effect: women’s power as consumers. Their normalized role as shoppers and caretakers (the lead buyers within their social networks) started to give them consumer power far greater than the demographic numbers indicated. Cut to the modern day and estimates name women as drivers of 70-80% of all consumer purchases in the US, through a combination of indirect influence and direct buying power. 

That colossal economic power has begun to grab the attention of market researchers and the brands they work with, slowly shifting implicit influence toward market-shaping influence. Businesses, in other words, are beginning to recognize the value in meeting women’s needs as consumers beyond just dyeing everything pink.

Furthermore, in our post-Citizens United world, money (and therefore consumer power) is directly convertible into political power. This puts women comfortably in first on the list of ‘most powerful political interest groups’.

That dominant economic influence has already reshaped markets. Take conscious consumption: It’s when you think about the effects of a purchase before you make it. The Green Revolution is the biggest trend that’s emerged from this practice. The shift in consumer demand that it describes, from cost to sustainability, was of course led by women, 75% of whom identified as the primary shoppers in their household in 2011. 

From Whole Foods to electric cars to carbon-neutral shipping options on Amazon, this one subtype of conscious consumption has already remade much of our economy. The change can be seen clearly in the sales of sustainable products, which grew 20% from 2014-18 alone. After asking so often about the production practices and sourcing of products, it’s only natural to ask about the political effects of the profits they generate. That’s a change we’re here to help with.

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