Here’s why Empowerment Feminism should be canceled. Follow Jezebel’s Cancel Tournament to see what ultimately gets canceled
At some point this decade, every advertising executive has leaned out of their Fifth Avenue windows to scream at passing women: “Sorry bitch, but you’re empowered now!” Random SHE-E-Os have had capes thrust upon them by underpaid and overworked social media managers, while others of the #GIRLBOSS ilk found publishers crawling over each other for a chance to secure lucrative book deals with them. I’m a Girl, and a Boss! by CEO Bosswoman topped the New York Times best-seller list about a million times, while elsewhere, Sheryl Sandberg did everything she could to empower celebrities the world over to “Lean In” and away from their phones, where they were reading about Facebook’s many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many failures.
Earlier this year, NastyGal founder and preeminent Girl Boss Sophia Amoruso launched girlboss.com, a platform designed to account for what Amoruso saw as a lack of outlets for women in business to connect. As she told Business Insider prior to its grand debut, she saw the girlboss.com member as “someone who does or doesn’t have a traditional career, who may not have this C-level title, but may be on her way up.” The site, she claimed, would help this imaginary Girl Boss because “there are very few places for her to go to represent her resume or life today.”
In the press, interest in the site fizzled out almost immediately, and as I reported at the time, the launch was peppered by numerous crashes, a laggy interface, and a dubious moderation system. That reporting got me permanently banned from the site and blocked by Amoruso, however, so I will never know how just how empowered its users are today. (I am still looking forward to somehow sneaking in to the next “Create+Cultivate in Partnership with AERIE Real Models Present: AERIE Real-treat!” fireside chat, though!)
If anything, girlboss.com’s middling performance and lack of impact is indicative of the waning interest in the ethos it represents: Powerful, affluent white women dictating business edicts to other, college educated Everlane influencer-types. There are more pressing concerns for working-class women, like the rising costs of childcare, a failing healthcare system, an increase in pregnancy-related death for black and Native American women, a judicial system that largely favors sexual abusers, a looming economic collapse, soaring police brutality, concentration camps at the border, an ever growing list of murdered Black trans women—this list could probably go on for another million words. So I ask: Who was really empowered this decade by the girl bosses marching single file to the bank, while a growing chasm between them and working class women threatened to swallow everyone in this country whole?
Corporations claimed they were interested in empowering women through their spending habits , but those same companies are now (or were) under investigation for horrific working conditions, false advertising, and racism. In the meantime, they lined their pockets with the millennial-pink money made on cleverly marketed tampons, shoes, subscription boxes, and Instagram likes. They bought and sold personal data—which they collected through their empowerment messaging and SEO wizardry—so that other companies could market even more products, products they claimed would heal mysterious ailments, or revolutionize workout routines, or or change the way women dressed. The data this generated was fed back into the machine, and the same empowerment ethos was recycled over and over and over again.
Meanwhile, legitimate revolutions for women were underway, most notably Me Too, and the renewed focus on sexual harassment, rape, and its prevalence in American society. History is still too close to itself for any legitimate analysis of its longterm impact, but for a time things felt like they were genuinely changing. Industry titans toppled. Long-held rumors finally found platforms to stand on And women silenced by money, power, and violence refused to keep silent any longer. But a few years on, it’s increasingly likely that Harvey Weinstein, Me Too’s first domino, will never have to apologize or face the consequences of his decades spent sexually assaulting women across the world.
Empowerment is a selfish concept. When wielded by women like Sophia Amoruso, or Jill Sandberg, or Gwyneth Paltrow, or Kylie Jenner—or, some might say, Hilary Clinton—its end goals are enrichment, success, and the fortitude of a personal brand, all to be spun into more lucrative endeavors. The success of Me Too was that thousands of women were “empowered” to act up together. Social movements across history have prevailed and will continue to do so, because there is an unparalleled strength in unity, in togetherness, in camaraderie. Meanwhile, Girl Bosses will find their empowerment regimes interrupted by class wars and home renovations threatened by rising sea levels. Quick—take those selfies at the next “Raytheon and Blackstone Investments, in Partnership With EverlyWell and Peloton Presents: Firesides Chats With Gwyneth Paltrow and Jameela Jamil ” while you still can!