By and large, college students (particularly those at the nation’s elite institutions of higher learning) are self-identifying as feminists. Given the number of unresolved gender issues, double standards, and problematic attitudes toward femininity that continue to permeate almost every sector of society, I consider this self-identification generally a good thing. We should be feminists. We should be for equality. But self-identifying with an at times vague ideology is a far cry from effective praxis and belief systems – and given the recent assimilation of feminism into mainstream politics and economics, I am skeptical of this leading brand of feminism and if it can actually be considered feminism at all.
Take for example the most commonly referenced statistics trumpeted by this mainstream feminism – the gap in percentage points between male and female CEOs or otherwise high ranking Fortune 500 corporate officers. The rushed-to solution is an unadulterated call for women to pursue careers in accounting and finance and work their way up the corporate latter to shrink the gap and show that they too embody the same Wall Street success that men have enjoyed. My issue with this ideology is as follows: we don’t necessarily need any more bright college students mindlessly enrolling in business schools, pursuing finance degrees, and entering the rat race that encompasses a significant portion of corporate America.
It makes sense that this type of feminism has been adopted and championed by corporate capital elites, because it fits neatly into their overarching, workaholic, wealth-building regime. It is a feminism that while seeking to reduce the professional gap that exists between men and women on a surface level, does nothing to question the potentially harmful aspects of a patriarchal, crony capitalist consumer culture. To look back on recent economic travesties and banking malpractices, one must ask the strangely blunt question: what makes us thing women will behave any differently than men if they are simply assuming the same old roles in the same old system? The effect is simply the appearance of change without any true audit of the actual pitfalls of the system.
On the political level, my weariness in embracing this newly championed brand of feminism can be summed up in one person – Hillary Clinton. Though the United States is long overdue for a female president, we must resist the temptation to fall into the trap of identity politics. Just because Clinton is a woman and has been around for a while doesn’t mean electing her would constitute any radical change in U.S. politics (just like electing Barack Obama failed to produce any radical change in U.S. politics. From a strongly interventionist foreign policy, to free trade deals and bailouts, Clinton has consistently embodied the imperialist and crony capitalist-friendly nature fundamentally antithetical to the average working American which she is attempting to appeal to. A genuine feminism recognizes this and is critical of Clinton as a public figure and politician. It doesn’t blindly embrace her as inevitably the next president, bold, immaculate, and free of any wrongdoing.
The emerging mainstream feminism seems to be being embraced either for necessity or trendiness in what appears to be a clever and creative way of maintaining the status quo with the devaluation of feminine qualities simply by integrating women into the dangerous patriarchal roles and attitudes of big business and government. Of course this is not to say we should not strive for a representative workforce and governing body – but it is to say that any such representative workforce and governing body would be a negligible accomplishment if the same harmful attitudes and actions persisted during it. A genuine feminism needs more.
In the critical time of college where these conversations unavoidably come up inside and outside of the classroom, I urge you to not be content with self-identifying labels, vague ideologies, identity politics, and haphazard embraces of trendy pseudo-change. A more serious and attentive demeanor must be taken in these developments that questions motives and actualities behinds words and appearance. For that, take a healthy skepticism in relation to this newfound mainstream feminism – it might not actually be a feminism at all.