When I was in high school, I was a devout raging feminist. So when I saw a cheap t-shirt with the colourful words “I am a Fierce and Liberated Woman,” I bought it instantly. I didn’t stop to consider if the person who sewed the shirt was a fierce, liberated woman, nor if the person that profited from it was either. I didn’t even consider if I actually was one.
I wanted to be one, and so I bought the t-shirt.
Mainstream capitalist culture encouraged me to believe that a feminist is bold, courageous, outspoken, intelligent, sexy, feminine. A feminist is empowered; they buy feminist t-shirts; they love their body and aren’t afraid to show it off; a feminist loves sex, and they are empowered through “sexual liberation. I didn’t even stop to consider.
At 16, I followed these ‘feminist’ ideals. I wore clothes that purposefully showed my body and posted pictures that showed even more. This wasn’t an isolated experience either. According to an analysis of messages conducted by Jiminy, 42% of 14 years-olds, or 1 in 10 ten year-olds, have been exposed to sexting. This is all occurring whilst an estimated 500,000 child predators are active on the internet daily. Even when my family attempted to step in for my safety, I believed (as I had been wrongfully taught) that they were just being ‘anti-feminist’.
To promote the belief that women and AFAB (assigned female at birth), can co-exist within this capitalistic society, without sexualization is not only wrong but extremely dangerous and predatory, as explored within my previous article The Disempowerment of Adolescent ‘Women’. I was not protected nor empowered by this choice feminism; rather, I was exploited, endangered and made vulnerable.
I was not a fierce and liberated woman then, and I still am not one today. I cannot be a fierce and liberated woman while the power structures that condemn me, and countless others, to a place of inferiority still exist. Through the individualist teachings of neoliberal feminisms, community support and relationships are belittled, allowing for vulnerable individuals to be isolated and preyed upon by the capitalist ideals that are fundamental to these feminisms.
Neoliberal feminisms have effectively infected mainstream feminist discourses and consequentially, left-winged individuals who seek nourishment and strength from such narratives, believing it is the solution to their disempowerment, have been poisoned and left unable to fight. These ‘feminisms’ endangers individuals and incapacitates feminist movements, preying on those they claim to empower.
Despite mainstream culture seemingly acknowledging the systemic oppression of minority groups (an example of this is performative advertisements including all corporate promotion at Pride), people are considered personally responsible for their own success and are expected to succeed within the patriarchal structures of society. People, including women, are expected, through the socialization of media and social media, to achieve personal, sexual, spiritual, and occupational successes and liberations within and by themselves despite the capitalist structures, as the more privileged may have done.
Through this teaching of individualist responsibility, the systems of oppression can be, and are, ignored and forgotten. Therefore, if a person is not fierce or liberated, it is because they didn’t liberate themselves. Through these teachings the fiction of the dismantling of systems, whilst belonging within and profiting off those systems, is constantly portrayed. This falsehood directly ensures the political passivity of the people, and re-solidyfies the future of their oppression.
Feminist academics like McRobbie, Dobson and Lorde, comment on this exchange where women, especially women, are asked to complete certain check marks of conformity, often only accessible to the privileged (promotional status, class status, high education levels, delayed parenthood) in order to exist and coexist within these systems of oppression.
Their successes are not ones of the oppressed as they can only, and are only, achieved through the exchanges and conventions of the oppressive systems; a girlboss is not a feminist icon as their role as a boss directly oppresses people. Neoliberal feminism praises and blames individuals into conforming to a new, still oppressive, mythical norm of passive, corporate ‘feminism’ where pay checks and Instagram infographics replace activism.
The further falsehoods of ‘girlboss feminism’ and ‘choice feminism’, expose people and children to the disempowerment of neoliberal ‘sexual liberation’. Through the deception of neoliberal sexuality, women and AFAB, are still portrayed and perceived as sexualized bodies for heterosexual pleasure, but now are done so with the pretence that they chose to be.
Too many children have ‘decided’ to sexualize themselves online in the pursuit of sexual liberation; too many children have been abandoned to be preyed upon. Too many people have felt like failures for not achieving the unachievable, and too many anti-feminist ‘girlbosses’ (or women in positions of oppressive power such as CEOs, police offices, landlords, property developers, politicians) have been praised as they re-legitimize and re-solidify the systems of oppression that abuse the most vulnerable.
These false empowerments exploit individuals and incapacitate radical and social justice movements. Neoliberal feminism has effectively disillusioned left-wing ideologies by subverting the mainstream understandings away from the realities of oppression and rather to the manufactured capitalist perceptions of ‘progressiveness’.
…or common activism
On social media, people can feel empowered through posts, petitions, and pictures. They can feel like they’re fighting for something by buying t-shirts, writing bios, and cancelling people. Yet the state can continue to abuse, exploit, and oppress people and the elites actually profit from this consumer based ‘activism’. There is no justice, there is no equality, whilst the corrupt capitalist state remains in power, exploiting and abusing our fellow people.
Former member of the Black Liberation Army, Assata Shakur reminds us that “Nobody in history has gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people oppressing them”. True change has always been forced with the fist of the united people. The working class, feminists included, cannot create revolution whilst they are divided by their identities, as neoliberal feminism promotes.
It is only when the working class can identify their true shared oppressors and collectively fight, tooth and nail, against those oppressors, for the possibility of revolution and equality to be truly realized. The promotion of corporate feminism or choice feminism distracts from this reality. It is time for feminists to become feminists once again. For feminists to fight to be fierce, and truly liberated people.
The author Estelle Lancaster has written before The disempowerment of adolescent women
…and she wrote this poem about the feminist fight to accompany her blog:
until we are all free.No-one is free,
until we are all free.
Self-defence against the state,
is still self-defence.
March on the streets,
|No-one is free,
while they’re locked up inside,
8 years too long, no end in sight.No-one is free,
until these lands are free.
always was, always will be.
‘til we are all free,
No-one is free.