Reviews | Feminism has made a Faustian bargain with celebrity culture. Now it’s paying the price.

Corporate America has joined us. “In 2015, you couldn’t swing a tampon without hitting someone or something that bragged about its feminist import, in places you certainly wouldn’t expect: nail polish, underwear, energy drinks, Swiffers “, Andi Zeisler, a co-founder of Bitch Media, noted in her book “We Were Feminists Once”. Spanx marketed Power Panties under the slogan “Powerful Women Wear Powerful Panties” – with help from Tina Fey and Adele, who sang the shapewear’s praises. Dior sold $700 shirts trumpeting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We should all be feminists” slogan (and donated some of the proceeds to Rihanna’s nonprofit). Companies have posted “The future is female” banners on their websites and annual reports. Sheryl Sandberg (whose resignation as Meta COO came the same day as the Depp-Heard verdict) began her “Lean In” revolution by enlisting high-profile figures (and some famous feminists) to post their moments” Lean In”.

At the time, it looked like a breakthrough. “The star of feminism has risen,” feminist writer Jessica Valenti wrote in The Guardian in 2014. “Feminism is no longer the ‘F-word’; it’s the kingdom of cool kids. Hadn’t the opposition alienated women from feminism for decades by portraying its supporters as unpopular slaves? This message saturated the reaction of the media and pop culture of the 1980s: embrace feminism and end it unloved, single, sterile and bonkers. If feminism was now cool, wasn’t that a step forward?

“2014 turned feminism into a brand – and that’s not a bad thing,” Quartz headlined an article late that year by a young feminist writer named Jessica McCarthy, envisioning the promise of what she called “my generation’s new millennial feminism”. is announced. She understood the concerns of old guard ‘feminist gatekeepers’ – that a more commercial, celebrity-focused feminism could undermine the ‘collective spirit of the movement’. But she decided there was nothing to worry about. “This new wave that (critically) accepts new brands of feminism,” she concluded, “will never allow it to be sold.”

A reasonable hope. After all, hadn’t suffragettes opened suffrage shops selling “Votes for Women” merchandise a century earlier, commissioned films, and won support from silent stars Mary Pickford and Ethel Barrymore – and obtained emancipation at the end of the decade?

But mass pop culture was in its infancy in the 1910s, and the paramount importance of celebrities had not yet come to define America. By the mid-2010s, what had once been an adjunct to popularizing feminism threatened to become the public face of feminism itself – and a model for how to be a feminist activist.

A first referendum on these tactics took place on November 8, 2016, with the defeat of Hillary Clinton. In the aftermath, a vast array of unsung women have reverted to the old ways, nurturing a cumulative progressive awakening. Not only thanks to the women’s marches which have drawn millions of people to the streets of the country, but also thanks to hundreds of local and regional organizing initiatives. Local women-led activist organizations such as Sister District, Black Voters Matter, MomsRising and Flippable showed up at town halls, called community rallies, made petitions and made phone calls in a tradition that recalled the long century of American women’s fight for the vote. .

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