For much of my post-teen life, I've been getting conflicting messages about how to Do Feminism Right. Do I wear heels? Do I never wear heels? Do I Lean In? Do I Lean Out? Do I take Fat Joe's advice and Lean Back? Do I cover my body? Flaunt it? Do I have opinions on other cultures that require women to cover themselves? Do I just shut up about all that stuff and let other people handle it? Use words like "mother goddess" in everyday conversation? Have sex with everyone? Have sex with no one? Have sex with women only? Do I get married? Do I hate men forever? Do I feel really pretty and confident all the time without makeup!!! but have difficulty locating various African countries on a map?
Thankfully, through a combination of weed-addled college discussions and Tumblr fights (and later, thousands of competing Tweetstorms), I realized that media and culture have come to the tepid consensus that feminism is really about choices. It's about everyone doing whatever the fuck they want and then twirling in the middle of a London street during a rainstorm while an upbeat Aretha Franklin song plays. It's about getting a standing ovation while standing behind a podium, grinning widely from behind a dangling tassel. It's about attending benefits in snappy pantsuits and photo opportunities with Hillary Clinton. It's about HAVING IT ALL. And now, according to Jessica Bennett's most recent piece in the New York Times, modern feminism has made way for Conference Feminism, expensive and occasionally exclusive conferences where the OG's of Feminism, the ones who are on news magazine shows talking about feminism and writing books about feminism and founding magazines about feminism, get together to talk about feminism. Bennett writes,
What were once grass-roots gatherings have become commercial enterprises: star-studded events with corporate sponsors like Toyota and Walmart.
"It's the formation of a new girls' club," said Morra Aarons-Mele, a marketing consultant who advises companies on connecting with women. (She was speaking by phone, naturally, from a conference for female philanthropists.) "I mean, no offense, but men have been doing this kind of conference networking for years."
While spaces for women to connect and network are by no means a bad thing, the prohibitive costs surrounding these corporate-sponsored, star-studded conventions, seen as must-attends for people who want to rub elbows with the most powerful women in the world, is. Just how much would it cost to attend all of the big feminist-ish women's networking events and thus WIN FEMINISM? Let's find out.
What is it? Fancy ladies talking about banning Bossy.
Who does it? AOL and PBS
How much will it set you back? $Infinity dollars. You have to be invited.
What is it? Fancy ladies talking about being a hard working and powerful executive.
Who does it? Working Mother Media
What is it? Fancy ladies talking about global events.
Who does it? Tina Brown
How much will it set you back? $300 or $500, depending on how fancy you are.
What is it? Fancy ladies talking about issues facing fancy ladies.
Who does it? Politico and the Tory Burch foundation
How much will it set you back? Varies depending on the city (it's expaaaaanding!)
What is it? Fancy ladies talking about how stressed out they are.
Who does it? Mika Brzezinski and Ariana Huffington
How much will it set you back? $299, unless you want an "exclusive gift." Then it's $399.
What is it? Fancy ladies talking about being fancy.
Who does it? Forbes
How much will it set you back? $Infinity; you need to be invited.
What is it? Fancy women talking
Who does it? Claudia Chan and the 92nd St Y
How much will it set you back? $249 for a 2-day pass
(Travel, lodging, and incidental expenses and souvenir coffee mugs and tote bags not included)
This is a lot of money. This is two-monthly-mortgage-payments money. This is family-vacation money. This is completely out of reach for most women.
As Elissa Strauss wisely notes in a must-read piece on Conference Feminism at The Week,
The fact is, there is something inherently unwise, and kind of 1-percent, about relying on such a small group of women to make the big changes that benefit us all. With women making up 60 percent of the minimum-wage workforce and 73 percent of tipped workers, there are more urgent needs than better female representation on the board. We need laws that ensure we are paid fairly and won't go broke if we happen to fall sick or have a family — and ones that aren't subject to a change of management. No female friendly CEO can have the staying power of a law.
Do convention attendees impact the lives of the people who are already fortunate enough to be able to attend them? Sure! And there's no reason to abolish them or make women who have the means to do so feel bad for wanting to hang out with cool women they admire. But they're no substitute for the sort of advocacy that gets laws changed. All fun weekends of sisterhood in the world don't change anything if they don't translate to real world action.