Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Girlboss and Postfeminism

Sarah Banet-Weiser’s 2003 article “What’s Your Flava: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture” felt incredibly prescient to this decade. Last week, Sophia Amoruso, of “NastyGal” fame and now of “Girlboss” notoriety, held her eponymous “Girlboss Rally”, inviting hundreds of women to participate in a day-long festival of women-entrepreneurs talking about their climb to success (at an eye-watering $400 per ticket). But Girlboss perhaps epitomises this “postfeminism” that Banet-Weiser alludes to, as “the normalisation of feminist… which prevent[s] it from existing as a discrete politics; rather it emerges as a kind of logan or generalised ‘brand’.” (208). In her autobiography, “Girlboss”, Amoruso writes “Is 2014 a new era of feminism where we don’t have to talk about it? I don’t know, but I want to pretend it is”, thereby fulfilling Banet-Weiser’s “denunciation...when feminism is acknowledged but in a trivialised fashion, shelved as something that may have been useful in the past but is clearly out of date in today’s world” (207). In one fell swoop, Amoruso has capitalised on a commercialised feminism, and also undermined its necessity in contemporary society. Amoruso acknowledged the commercial power of feminism in an interview with magazine Elle, and tried to substitute it for her own new “cooler” brand of feminism; “I think it’s a fine word, but I think the most feminist thing to do is just to show up and be a #GirlBoss. Maybe #GirlBoss is a new word for feminism.” This can be put down to what Malcolm Gladwell writes as the value and aesthetic of “cool”, that is;
“The Cool Girl Feminist doesn’t insist that men and women should be equal. The Cool Girl doesn’t even suggest there’s anything wrong with the man-woman hierarchy as it stands. All the Cool Girl demands is that she be seen as an exception, superior to other women because she alone has the insight to grasp that women really do exist for the pleasure of men. Like the dirty big sister of the May Queen, the Cool Girl’s distinguishing feature is that she’s not like the others.” (Sarah Ditum, “Against Cool Girl Feminism”, The New Statesman, http://www.newstatesman.com/sarah-ditum/2014/03/against-cool-girl-feminism).
As Butler notes, "it is precisely because women are now required to participate in the labor market and the public sphere that postfeminism emerges to resecure the gender order" (46). Perhaps most damning of all to the brand of “postfeminism”, is that Kellyanne Conway personally describes herself as one, saying “I consider myself a postfeminist. I consider myself one of those women who is a product of her choices, not a victim of her circumstances.”; http://nymag.com/thecut/2017/01/kellyanne-conway-considers-herself-a-postfeminist.html . Kellyanne Conway once wrote that “femininity is replacing feminism as a leading attribute for American women… if women really want to be taken seriously in the workforce these days, looking feminine is a good way to start”, - thereby rooting herself in “girlie feminism”, advocating consumer-based cultural activism. Equally notorious this week is mini-Kellyanne-Conway-in-training, Toni Lahren’s suspension from her own channel, for speaking out for pro-choice in the most post-feminist, neoliberal, libertarian manner she could muster; “You know what? I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well”.

1 comment:

  1. Kathy, this is a really helpful layout of today's cultural landscape across which #girlboss-ness is supplanting a more politicized feminism. I certainly agree with your denunciations following Banet-Weiser of the corporate post-feminisms incarnated in people like Sophia Amoruso, Kellyanne Conway, and Toni Lahren. Presumably we can add Ivanka Trump to this list (I'd be interested to hear if anyone disagrees!) and look to the differences between her and Melania Trump to shed light on the plurality of orientations within postfeminism.

    Moving towards the more ambivalent territories of (post?)feminism, I'm curious to know what people think of icons like Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, and M.I.A. In the past 5-ish years, celebrities have begun to describe themselves more and more as feminists. This marks a discursive break from the post-feminism that McRobbie, Banet-Weiser, and Butler describe. That said, there is an easy case to be made that this brand feminism still occurs within the paradigm of postfeminism, just one that utters the f-word as a form of cultural capital. While such a critique is at least partly valid, I am inclined to believe that there is also something meaningfully political happening cultural texts such as those posted below. Thoughts?