This misses a couple of big points, maternal feminism for one, and probably misses the mark in taking on a target like Beyonce, however lovingly. Plus, as my friend, Helen pointed out, feminism holds itself to account in a way few other movements do. This means we can focus on criticism without recalling that it is also ok for feminists to specialise at times, or to just not have time and that doesn’t necessarily equate to a disinterest in structural issues.
But certainly, Sarah Jaffe’s “Feminism for Sale” in the New Republic describes the overlap of some areas of feminism with neoliberalism very well. This may be an especially useful read if you found Eleanor Robertson’s piece on liberal feminism too much, too soon.
I picked a side in this fight a while back, and so I have been waiting rather excitedly for Andi Zeisler’s new book, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. (This is where I disclose that Zeisler has edited me in the past for Bitch magazine, where she remains creative director.) In a political moment that has seen thrilling, radical new movements spring up around racial justice and economic inequality, the fact that mainstream feminism still seems so enthralled with neoliberalism has been a source of deep frustration to many. And yet when we attempt to argue about issues, we get bogged down in battles over personality; pointing out that the liberation of a CEO does little for her nanny is likened to “trashing.” The personality trap is itself a function of the problem that Zeisler has put a name to in her book: marketplace feminism.
In the world of marketplace feminism, she writes, “the fight for gender equality has transmogrified from a collective goal to a consumer brand.” It is a world where “purchasing itself [is] a feminist act,” where status is confused with liberation, where freedom is measured in what we consume or who we control, where what we wear, watch, and wax is more important than what we organize and fight for. Under marketplace feminism, feminism is a commodity to be purchased, an identity to proclaim and print on a T-shirt, a litmus test to be applied to other commodities, rather than a collective social movement that aims to change the structures of a sexist society. The problem with marketplace feminism is simple: marketplace feminism is good for capitalism, but what is good for capitalism is not necessarily good for women.
Zeisler avoids entering the war of personalities. Indeed, up front, she includes herself in her critique, noting that we are inundated with feminist critiques of pop culture, many of which owe their lineage to her work at Bitch, which has been publishing “a feminist response to pop culture” since 1996, with articles ranging from “Amazon Women on the Moon: Images of Femininity in the Video Age” (by Zeisler, from the magazine’s very early days) to updates on the battle of pop star Kesha to extricate herself from her record contract, which ties her to the man she says abused her. Meanwhile, abortion restriction bills and “bathroom bills” aimed at institutionalizing discrimination against transgender people proliferate, the gender wage gap continues, and women are the fastest-growing part of the prison population. These are problems, she notes, that will not be solved by marketplace feminism. They will require collective political action.