“The term ‘feminism’ has become a ball that is being thrown around by people for whom politics is a mere playground – too far away from the effects of their policies to ever feel them.”
Really liking all of the pieces being written at the moment about corporate feminism, faux-“empowerment”, elite feminism, and even cynical, instrumental feminism. This one tackles Theresa May (Varsity):
As it universalises, ‘feminism’ is being increasingly abstracted from any tangible meaning, contingent upon the flimsy subjectivity of ‘empowerment’.
I may be disoriented by the insularity of Cambridge, but it would seem that openly stating the view that women are inferior to men is becoming more and more taboo. Overt misogyny is being pushed down beneath the surface of acceptability. But under the thin veneer of a reluctant shift from ‘I’m an egalitarian’ to ‘fine, okay… I’m a feminist… I guess’, structures of oppression persist in and outside of the mind. Rich white men kind-of-sort-of embracing feminism to employ rich white women, because it has been made palatable for them by Emma Watson, is a step. But it is a step on a very narrow and exclusive path.
For the Conservative MP, Louise Mensch, women’s liberation is ideologically inextricable from capitalism, claiming that “A feminism that stigmatises the profit motive stigmatises women’s ability to get on and break the glass ceiling.“ But what about women who are so far below the glass ceiling that they can’t even see it? Mensch and other corporate feminists seem to perceive their struggle through a lens tinted by a cloudy naivety, their experiences as wealthy, cis-gender white women cruising smoothly from private school to Oxbridge functioning as a blueprint for a worldview. A world view in which Every Woman Wants To Be A CEO, like her Daddy was. Whether caused by ignorance to facets of oppression such as race and class, or selfishness – only promoting ‘liberation’ as long as it benefits you. If freedom from oppression for you is embodied by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, then your ‘feminism’ is shallow. A mere tokenistic plaster over the deep, bloody wound that is structural oppression.
This is what a feminist looks like
Phonetically, ‘feminism’ is just a word. Words are arbitrary, hollow – only filled with the meaning upon which we endow them. So yes, you can call yourself a ‘feminist’ if you voted for austerity – overwhelmingly harming women and diminishing equality of opportunity through widening the gaping chasm of socio-economic disparity. Yes, Hilary can call herself a ‘feminist’ while helping to fuck over the planet environmentally – oppressed minorities being the most vulnerable to the fatal repercussions of climate change. Yes, Theresa May can wear a T-Shirt that says ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ whilst overseeing the detention of refugee women in Yarl’s Wood.
But are they doing ‘feminism’? For me, they’re not. The meaning I have imbued the word with is fundamentally intersectional. For me, a ‘feminist’ is someone who strives for the liberation of all people from gendered oppression. This is deeply structural. It cannot and will not be achieved simply by Theresa May slouching into Number 10 to replace Dave. If your ‘feminism’ is limited to helping only women like Theresa May become PM, it’s not my ‘feminism’ – it’s elitism.