She is telling it all, and we can’t wait to read it. Because even if she arguably failed, hers is an admirable tale of girlboss resilience and determination. A lot of us felt the unfairness. The intense scrutiny on her pantsuits, her marriage and her emails, even as he wore floppy suits, declined to release his tax returns and defied to extreme degrees the standards of propriety and righteousness we’d come to demand of her. We cringed that her eloquence was taken for dishonesty, and that her competence and preparedness earned her a likability penalty.
As far as the feminist movement goes however, there is little consensus about what a Hillary Clinton presidency truly represented. More accurately, the movement towards female empowerment and broken glass ceilings is fraught with fragmented efforts and incongruous opinions. Clinton’s failed bid can be mined for insights.
There are those that were convinced that her pantsuit-feminism was outdated and needed to embrace Michelle-Obama-bare-arms-dressy feminism. A greater number thought her center-leftism too corporate-friendly, and there even existed Bernie socialists that would have readily exchanged a Clinton presidency for hell. They probably got their hell. We will never know for sure. What we do know is that 53% of white women voted in her opponent, leaving in their wake bewildered women of color.
Is Girlboss Feminism Inadequate?
Feminism may be en vogue, celebrities and fashion houses may be peddling “I am feminist” shirts and music videos, women marches may be rousing crowds onto streets, but that is as far as it goes. The movement failed at making a woman the leader of the free world. The movement shall witness steps backwards in strides it had taken.
And this fashionable feminism, that proudly wears a label with little sacrifice and/or action, is a stark reminder that more conversations need to occur around the conventional neoliberal self-satisfaction that plagues mainstream feminism as it is. One author aptly describes mainstream feminism – it is “a deeply heteronormative, white-and middle-class-centric movement that’s become hopelessly stuck up its own ass.”
I agree. The Sheryl Sandberg brand of choice feminism is not accessible to many women, companies with structural failings such as C-Suites devoid of women should stay away from feminist brand messaging, and feminist consumerism is not enough, not even close.
Criticizing the Girl Boss
Scathing attacks on women working towards a women-friendly world are ill-advised, though. And society’s voyeuristic pleasure at women’s failure, happily helmed by other women in retrogressive catfights, is only a sad reflection of ways in which women continually contribute to their own disempowerment.
We can hail THINX for provoking conversations around the sanitization of women’s reproductive health and making menstruation fun even as we demand the self awareness of its founder, and the female-friendly cultivation of its workplace. We have to like neither Sophia Amaruso nor Marissa Mayer, and we don’t need to like Hillary Clinton, or her pantsuits. Bitches do get stuff done, and it’s ok if they dust off and move on when they don’t work it out.
We can recognize the failure of identity feminism to change structures, even as we admire the agency that makes identity feminism possible. Further, even as we criticize women whose privilege affords agency and choice, we have the responsibility to challenge them to pioneer real change. Over-preaching structure at the expense of agency will not give disadvantaged minorities ownership or participation in overhauling systems that are unfair, and a privileged savior approach to helping with such overhauls will be even worse.
Photo: Brooke Lark