Corporate ‘feminism’ as flaccid as the patriarchy it espouses

    Mar 9, 2022

    OTTAWA—It is International Women’s Day as I write this and I’m already tired. So far, in 2022, we have lived through more COVID, an occupation by white supremacists, and now a conflict/war in Ukraine that everyone but me is tuned into.

    Where is feminism?

    Since 2016, each following year has gotten progressively worse and there’s no end in sight. We have multiple crises on deck: inflation, housing, white supremacy, gender-based violence, leadership, climate, and massive inequities based on gender, race, and class. This is where feminism needs to pour out of the boardroom and into the streets; it needs to regain its radical identity as a social justice movement, not curl itself up in the corner office of a corporation or organization.

    If you want to know where feminism went, corporate did a good job of trying to strangle it in the bathtub.

    Corporate “feminism” is a women’s rights Birkin bag knock-off to real intersectional feminism that challenges the patriarchy and its squad of oppressions such as white supremacy, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, exploitative capitalism, et cetera. It removes responsibility of gender inequities from the realm of the structural and places it on the individual, creating an escape hatch of their responsibilities in upholding the patriarchal systems of gender oppression. As Jacobin magazine explains: “An individualist looking to get ahead will always rely on class interests and links with other successful colleagues rather than solidarity with colleagues of the same gender.”

    It’s grotesque, at best. And it’s been sold to us for 50 years as some sort of victory. It is not. It’s trickle-down feminism and it’s meant to prevent us from forming communities, which is necessary if you want true, structural change. It’s meant to keep us isolated from one another and suspicious of one another, so that we are all adherent to the power of the organization, the corporation, and/or the state.

    And it’s flaccid like the patriarchy it espouses.

    Over the past decade, women have been bombarded with the latest round of corporate feminist drivel with mascots like Sheryl Sandberg, Rachel Hollis, Sophia Amoruso, Miki Agrawal, and Elizabeth Holmes. These are the “girlboss” leaders who the patriarchy uses to gaslight other women who resist our corporate overlords. They are overseers on the plantation who collaborate with and manipulate power for their own ends. There is a reason these women are mostly white, educated, upper-class, and attractive: it is all in service of maintaining beauty standards of white supremacy, acquiring the wealth afforded by capitalism, and weaponizing “success” to oppress other women who don’t fit that socio-economic construct. The self-empowerment these women promote is another form of rabid individualism—pitched as agency—that fractures the collectivism necessary for systemic and structural change. And in the animal kingdom, those who are separated from the herd end up dead.

    Evidently, the girlboss has been fired.

    Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, a feminist manifesto as she called it, was a marketing train running at full speed until Michelle Obama killed it with one line: “ ‘Lean in’ — that s–t doesn’t work all the time.” It sure as hell doesn’t work for Black women in the workplace, or any woman of colour in the workplace. In the end, something so performative can never age well. As Israeli newspaper Haaretz explains, “When it came out last spring that the privacy of millions of Facebook users was compromised, the company’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg needed a plan to shift the anger—so she threw George Soros’s name into the mix.” She then hired a PR firm to use anti-Semitism to smear Soros as a distraction. This is corporate feminism, meaning no feminism at all.

    Thinx period underwear founder Miki Agrawal, self-proclaimed “she-EO” (god, these portmanteaus are cheesy), was accused of sexually harassing her all-female staff, which she denies. CNBC provided quite a list of her alleged transgressions: “Agrawal’s transgressions include speaking openly at work about ‘the size and shape of her employees’ breasts, an employee’s nipple piercings, her own sexual exploits, her desire to experiment with polyamory, her interest in entering a sexual relationship with one of her employees, and the exact means by which she was brought to female ejaculation.’”

    Elizabeth Holmes defrauded investors, after the then-editor of Glamour magazine wrote a fawning puff piece about her. Sophia Amoruso, former CEO of Nasty Gal, was accused of creating such a toxic environment for pregnant women that it spawned a lawsuit before the company filed for bankruptcy. Years later, however, she was still on the speaking circuit ostensibly to give career advice. Rachel Hollis, self-help Instagram guru, compared herself to Harriet Tubman in the perfect pitch of casual racism.

    With these women, who needs misogynistic men? Fact is, most of my bosses (when I had them) had been women and they were usually the fiercest in supporting patriarchal white supremacist systems. This International Women’s Day, we observed an obsessive amount of pink (which is infantilizing towards women) and all the “she-EOs” and “girlbosses” to whom you are encouraged to look up, from whom you are encouraged to seek approval, and in whom you’re supposed to trust because you are of the same sex. The pink side of the patriarchal complex is working overtime to gaslight women into believing if they had more education, glamour, looks, wealth, and slick marketing, they, too, could be the baddest bitch on the block. It’s all a game. And women always get played because we weren’t meant to win.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

    The Hill Times