Feminism is Not a Brand


Versione Italiana

It is necessary to reconcile a radical critique of power with the idea that women and the marginalized subjects of that power cannot be anything other than its victims. [Jennifer Guerra, “Il femminismo non è un brand”, Einaudi]

In reinterpreting the Faustian pact that, according to the economist Skydelsky, Keynes made with the economy of our time, in what key should the one between feminism and capitalism be read?

This is the question posed by Jennifer Guerra in her newly published book, released a few days before International Women’s Day.

The book is not an accusation – so much so that Jennifer Guerra explains several times how she does not to want to define good or bad feminists – but an analysis and a warning: if the boundaries between what is feminism and what is not and become so blurred as to vanish, then even the very meaning of the word risks coming to a similar end.

The identification of feminism as a brand and its reinterpretation through the filter of marketing leads to associating every aspect of the movement with a neoliberal perspective, starting with the term “empowerment”, which should represent the female gender taking participatory power. Instead, it is subsumed to the logic of marketing, whereby a branded gym outfit becomes “empowering”, as does a face mask and training in the most popular gym of the moment.

Cover of Time 1989, it represents the stereotype of the woman who has it all, with a shocked face, a briefcase in one hand and a newborn in the other.

This, however, has a deeper root, which is the notion according to which female emancipation derives from the achievement of personal success, according to a vision of the “trickle down” diffusion of rights which maintains how these rights tend to spread, with a dynamic of trickling down from the wealthier classes to the subordinate ones.

But does it really work like that? And is the trickling enough?

It’s a contradictory partnership, the one between capitalism and feminism, which identifies some protagonists of the star system as authoritative representatives of the movement, only to then realize that this celebrity endorsement, although an undeniable amplifier of the values of feminism, favors a market that is hardly egalitarian.

Values, moreover, which are sweetened and made digestible for mass culture, which, especially in Italy – “fascinated by revolutionaries and antiheroes, it does not direct the same fascination to the movements of which these figures are exponents” because it is not willing to accept the anger and the aggression that characterize them – which are cleverly swept under the rug, or, better said, under a charming pink-colored graphic that praises love towards all bodies, even non-conforming ones.

Beyoncé, considered by many to be a feminist ideal, with her song “Run the world (Girls)”, launched her sportswear line Ivy Park in 2016, a line predictably produced in Sri Lanka in sweatshops that pay their employees forty-four cents time.

The difference between those who break the glass ceiling and those who have to clean the splinters becomes tangible, to paraphrase what the author herself said.

Still image from the video for Run the World (Girls) by Beyo

The adoption of celebrities as models of feminism generates, in addition to contradictions, unattainable models of perfection, of the multitasking woman who “made it”: she has a brilliant career, a family, an aesthetic that adapts perfectly to standards of contemporary society, but which presents a less friendly face when you look at the frustrations, restrictive diets and extreme impositions you have to face just to get close to it.

On the other hand, thanks to public figures who continually profess to be feminists and to activists chosen as brand ambassadors so that, as if possessed of thaumaturgical powers, they transfer their aura of goodness and justice to the company that hired them, more than sixty-five percent of American girls profess to be feminists.

Pinkwashing, the appropriation by companies of feminist terms and battles in order to increase their hold on potential users and sell a product, triggers perplexed reactions.

The alternative to this model remains the reiteration of the status quo and of a patriarchal system, which in this way is questioned, albeit in a “soft” way by a very large portion of the population.

Still image taken from the trailer of Greta Gerwig’s film Barbie.

The symbol of our economic system, according to Frederic Jameson, is represented by the crystal palaces, in which, incomprehensibly hidden by the transparency of the material, serious crimes are committed.

This happens in full view of everyone, even those women who find that same crystal above their heads, unable to move beyond it, but able to fulfill their positions as middle managers, which require skills commonly associated with the female gender, such as problem and conflict solving or inclusive leadership, but kept away from the top roles of companies.

To quote the author:

in a society in which it is no longer possible to apply traditional coercive power, the promise of happiness acts as a social appeasement and a driving force for productivity and obedience.

This appeasement is represented by the constant controls, limitations and discipline exerted not only on oneself, but also on other women, on their bodies, on their success, on their status… The result is a sort of self-produced coercion of which the Panopticon can serve as a metaphor; the prison structure designed by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham in which a single individual, at the center of a circular structure, supervises all the prisoners who, not knowing whether or not they are being monitored at that moment, do not transgress.

The metaphor, often used in Maura Gancitano’s speeches regarding Internet use, also lends itself to this circumstance, conveying the idea of how the perception of being observed with a judging eye makes women constantly committed to expending themselves to the maximum in all areas, to be perfect wives, perfect workers, perfect mothers etc…

From X @Konbining: a fashion show in September 2016, in which Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s first female creative director, presented a t-shirt with the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminist.

Celebrity endorsement, repositioning in the market through a more acceptable and less divisive rebranding and the use of the adjective “intersectional”, which from indicating an intersection of discriminatory dynamics ends up identifying a slice of the market, are just some of the instances discussed by the author where feminism is assimilated to a brand.

On one hand, these theses can cause us to have that contrasting feeling described by Zeisler, an American writer, identified with the “Uncanny valley”, which we feel in front of anthropomorphic robots, an initial feeling of familiarity and, after a more careful observation, a strong discomfort. On the other hand, we cannot forget the power of capitalism in this democratic sense, which normalizes and spreads the values and visions of the world over great distances; values and vision which otherwise would find themselves enclosed within the minds of a few, for the most varied reasons, from the limits of accessibility to more in-depth education on the topic, to a rigid family that does not allow one to see the world through lenses other than their own.

This is not meant to deny the critical issues of the neoliberal “trickle down” distribution mechanism which seems, according to this type of pop feminism, to describe the dripping of honey in the hive talked about by Bernard De Mandeville, a Dutch philosopher who lived between 1600 and 1700: a place where inequality generates order, in this case the status quo, which far from being questioned, is confirmed and managed.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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Feminism is Not a Brand ultima modifica: 2024-03-19T20:00:05+01:00 da CAMILLA GHIGGI
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