“It is chiefly the psychologists of the school of Freud who have pointed out that many of man’s thoughts and actions are compensatory substitutes for desires which he has been obligated to suppress. A thing may be desired not for its intrinsic worth or usefulness, but because he has unconsciously come to see it in a symbol of something else, the desire which he is ashamed to admit to himself.”
Is there a new hashtag this month? Did a pop diva say something blatantly obvious yet treated as if she delivered divine wisdom? Has a popular feminist website recently released an article telling you what you should be offended by and what is now considered to be unjust? Are you not loving yourself enough, practicing self-care, and need to be reminded by a ‘feel good’ Facebook meme that you matter as a person? Are you sure you are a feminist or has the label changed and hasn’t sent out the memo yet? Perhaps more should ‘lean in’ and empower one another to corporate success?
Welcome to the 21st century; grand unifying narratives are dead, neoliberalism reigns, and even the abstract and intangible can be commodified for profit. In other words, ‘feels’ is an actual commodity that can be bought and sold, no different than buying a loaf of bread or the latest IPad. Edward Bernays would be impressed at the extent consumerism has exploited desire, particularly in the 21st century, when progressivism is little more than a tool for neoliberal expansion. For decades feminism was considered counter-culture at best, and simply frowned upon at worst. Mainstream culture perceived it as a threat to status quo, and rightfully so at that. Somewhere along the line, maybe the 1980s or after, possibly before that, it became a profitable opportunity to include rather than exclude. Feminism wasn’t the only philosophy or subculture to meet this fate. This can be observed with punk, rap, goth, and others which once started out as a rebellion or statement against the status quo and were eventually brought into the mainstream fold. Not out of compassion or social progress, though that did occur (in spite of rather than because of it), but primarily because of the profit that could be made from these subcultural trends. Consumerism learned it is easier to include and profit, than exclude and miss out. Unfortunately, all too willingly, feminism went the way of the bright eye and naive sheep to a slaughterhouse.
The death of punk was when it became commmodified into Hot Topic, and feminism has now become commodified in the form of various feminist websites, pop stars, hashtags, and pseudo-activism in ‘social justice’.
If one can convince women that it empowers them, then it can be sold. If one can convince women it makes them ‘more independent’, then it can be sold. If one can convince women that it makes them more ‘socially aware’, then it can be sold. It is the market of ‘feels’. There are arguably more women with college education than men, although it is true men on average hold more powerful positions in the private sector and in politics, women are certainly on the increase. And yet, despite this, it seems women feels more disempowered today than ever before. Whether it be microaggressions, supposed rape culture, offensive language, women are fish to bait when it comes to ‘being a victim’ that is in need of ’empowerment’. Of course, like good capitalists, there are businesses and the like which are all too ready to sate this desire. It is not necessarily a market of tangible goods, rather a market of ‘feels’. This is nothing new. It has always been a market of ‘feels’, dating back to the earliest mass consumerism, only now it is far more flexible and less corporeal. Feminism has become a commodity, a brand name, and the emotions as well as the physical bodies of women are its consumers. Ingenuisly this is not readily apparent as it exploits the facade of moral superiority inherent in Progressivism. They are ‘out to make the world a better place’ and have a ‘socially just cause’, when in reality they are no different than any other consumerist, simply another customer demographic in the neoliberal buffet.
Feminism is not unique in this, only another ‘righteous cause’ that has been commodified. An even larger commodification has been ‘organic foods’ and ‘vegan foods’ or the general ‘going green’. Claim a product is better for the environment, claim that it is organic and does not contain GMOs, claim it is vegan or animal friendly…appeal to the ‘righteous cause of the week’ and profit. Of course it would be dishonest to ignore that some businesses and products truly are genuine in their attempts. But we see more often than not, these progressive trends are easily commodified and exploited. Feminism is another on the list, and its advocates buy into it with bright eyes.
Recently Beyonce gave a sensationalist Superbowl half-time show which features costumes and themes from the early Black Panther Party movement. Feminists were amazed by her presence and hailed her as the ultimate present day paragon of feminism. It was astonishing to see that a movement idolate a pop diva to such a degree they failed to notice the sheer commodification and capitalist spectacle of it. Huey P Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, was devoutly against capitalism and the Black Panther Party was an overtly leftist organization, yet we see the supposed feminists and progressives absolutely bought by the Beyonce half-time show spectacle. If anything Beyonce is a prime example of what Guy Debord described as ‘The Society of the Spectacle, of which he defines as, “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” There is now only representation, absent of the original. This is a succinct description of what feminism has become and is becoming. It is a brand absent of content that is used to peddle goods. Instead of acknowledging the multiple women philosophers and authors which are intellectual giants in their own right, we gander in chicken fashion at the circus-like spectacle. Capitalism has devoured feminism, and while capitalism has done a great deal of good for women, it has commodified and exploited feminism to the utmost. Feminism has been reduced to the latest hashtag or social justice article.
Much like a bacteria adapts to potential threats, feminism and other social progressivist trends have adapted to potential truth telling. Since neoliberalism, or rather market consumerism, has learned to exploit a ‘righeous cause’ for profit and gain, it has also learned to defend itself behind the facade of ‘moral superiority’. Any critique against commodified feminism or commodified progressivism will result in the backlash that it has the ‘moral higher ground’ and it is mere reactionism that dares criticize its noble goals. If one attempts to criticize feminism for being commodified then they must be against the objectives of feminism and thus are ‘morally bad’. It is unfathomable to the social trend that one deviate and critique, surely the autonomous must be morally inferior and reactionist to maintain individualist thought despite the direction of the stream. Devotion to a particular brand of computer or soda is one thing, but devotion to a ‘righteous cause’ is altogether different, and yet not in the least bit different in the eyes of mass consumerism which sell both as products.
Feminism isn’t to be disregarded completely. It can be argued it has become obsolete, lost its way, and has severeky declined academically. Personally I enjoy the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Audre Lorde, and Monique Wittig, or the poetry of Edith Södergran, or the political brilliance of Hannah Arendt, or the sharp humor of Young Jean Lee. In other words, there is plenty of brilliance in women to be seen. Falling prey to commodification under the guise of social progressivism may be a step up from the downtrodden religious positions of yesterday, but it is still a far cry from intellectual autonomy. There is no shortage of external authorities that aspire to become artbiters of truth for ones self. Whether it be the ultra religious that was once the norm, or the mass consumerism that makes FEMINISM into little more than a brand name. Do not buy what they eagerly sell.
“The more he identifies with the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own life and his own desires. The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him.”