KOCH: Capitalist motives detract from feminist movement

Graphic+by+Alexandra+Garner

Graphic by Alexandra Garner

Although third-wave and fourth-wave feminism made feminism more accessible, it also watered it down. Mainstream feminism is now more individualistic. Rather than focusing on collective female liberation, it is focused on how each woman can become empowered. Just because an action is personally empowering to one woman does not mean it is empowering to all women. 

The origins of modern feminism started with second-wave feminism, which included a myriad of beliefs. Although it was a diverse movement, Britannica defines it as being started by college-educated white women who were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. Later on, feminist movements for Black women, working-class women and LGBTQ women arose out of their exclusion from mainstream second-wave feminism. 

Its start is often attributed to Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique,” in which she showcases how unfulfilling women’s lives are under the patriarchy. In her book, she asks from her perspective as a middle-class housewife, “why should women accept this picture of a half-life, instead of a share in the whole of human destiny?” 

The book was pivotal but is now dated. Women having more freedom in the public sphere is important, but we’ve learned that even with that, women are still oppressed. We can choose any job we want, marry whomever we want, be a housewife, not be a housewife — except we can’t, not without the ever-looming eye of the patriarchy. 

Fifty-four percent of women have experienced workplace harassment based on their gender. Additionally, although women ask to be paid equal wages to men, they do not receive them at the same rate. Research has shown that on average women get paid about 82 cents for every dollar men do. Those numbers are even lower for Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous women, who make 54 cents, 62 cents and 57 cents, respectively, compared to a dollar earned by a white man, according to the Center for American Progress

Gender biases and misogyny inhibit women’s abilities to have equal opportunities in the public sphere. It’s the same old American myth we’ve seen play out time and time again. 

Furthermore, the success and wealth of one woman is not inherently feminist. The world does not need more female CEOs because the world does not need more CEOs, period. “Girlbossing,” a corporate- and individual-focused type of feminism, is not feminist in the slightest.  

Finding liberation through capitalism simply cannot happen, especially not with the beauty industry, fashion industry, diet industry and the rising self-care industry. Marketing has caught up with feminism; it’s all about wearing makeup for yourself, eating strict no-GMO clean vegan diets and “treating yourself” to a $28 dollar booty scrub.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from Billie, a razor company “built for womankind.” Their razors are pretty great and inexpensive. The company’s advertisements even show women flaunting their body hair or caring for it with Billie brand oils. At first, I felt immersed in it — body hair? On camera? Revolutionary. It certainly is helpful to portray women in a realistic sense, but there’s just one issue with their ads — they’re ads.  

Billie is primarily a razor company. Their main goal is for women to remove their body hair with their razors. A pro-body hair razor company is an oxymoron, plain and simple. 

There are billions of dollars currently being made off women’s insecurities, but now the products in those industries are increasingly marketed as tools for women’s self-expression. There is no doubt that makeup, fashion and self-care can be amazing ways for all people to explore their creativity. However, with the way they function now, it is hard to differentiate what women do for themselves, and what we do to appeal to the internalized male gaze. 

There can be no such thing as feminist makeup, dieting or fashion — especially since 80% of clothing sweatshop workers are female — in an anti-woman world.  There can be no real free choices for women in an anti-woman world. Women cannot find liberation through being workers or from being consumers. 

These ideas can feel suffocating. I love the feminist razor ad and I want a ridiculous booty mask and I hate that those things appeal to me. However, ignoring that these products are made to feed off my insecurities worsens the issue. It may not be inherently feminist to wear winged eyeliner every day, but it is not hypocritical to acknowledge that and continue to wear it. 

There’s no issue with women enjoying fashion or make-up or anything of the sort. The issue comes in when their choice to do so is considered feminist on the basis of them being women. Women are not exempt from patriarchal influence, and they are no more virtuous than other genders.

One can and should still do feminist actions while still participating in these industries. All people should better their knowledge of feminism, especially where it intersects with other forms of oppression. Just as men should acknowledge how they contribute to the patriarchy, women should acknowledge how our choices are influenced by it.

Furthermore, feminism needs to be anti-capitalist in order for it to be pro-woman. The definition of “human destiny” needs to be changed in order for women to be included in it. 

This story was written by Jenna Koch. She can be reached at jenna.koch@marquette.edu