Feminism has always been a diverse ideological movement comprising different viewpoints such as liberal feminism, radical feminism, socialist/marxist feminism and Black feminism, among others, but all with a shared objective of challenging the patriarchy. The purpose of challenging the patriarchy was to dislodge the structures which kept women in subordinate positions both in the workplace and in the private sphere of domesticity. While the different strands of feminism may have disagreed about the means and range of prejudice suffered by women there was a common goal.
However, a new phenomenon is now being created which I personally term ‘Corporate Feminism’. Companies/organisations/corporates host either networking events or ’empowering’ events whereby women who have made it to the top of the corporate ladder turn up and talk about their experiences. If you work for a large organisation you will have witnessed it at first hand. There is normally a diversity week held in the workplace within which a whole day or half a day is given over to the top female bosses of the organisation to talk about how they made it to the top. The message is always one of ‘if I can, you can too’.
I used to attend these events but gave up a year ago when I cottoned on to the con that it was. The penny dropped for me when I heard a female CEO talk about her career path from university to where she was now. It was a route that held no relevance for me or three-quarters of the women present. The CEO had been to a top university, had worked in pretty much top level positions because of her connections and was married to a mover-shaker whose job was on a par with hers. I do not attend these events anymore. They are a complete waste of time and only serve as a tick-box exercise for large organisations to be able to demonstrate that gender diversity is very much part of their corporate responsibility. Therein lies the position of ‘corporate feminism’. It has become part of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The trajectory of CSR has gone from charitable acts to making inroads into feminism.
It is resulting in the ‘dualism of feminism’. By this I mean that the ‘have’ females preach to the ‘have-not’ females about how every woman can have career success if they so desire it. This message mimics the efforts of politicians and rich people who believe that everyone can get on materially in life if only they try harder. The huge flaw in this theory is the unacknowledged reality of how prejudice is embedded in the structures of our everyday life, like in the workplace for instance. Only a few women in any organisation will make it to the top and these places are reserved for those who most resemble the people who are already at the top. The patriarchy will make some exceptions but it will not go the whole hog.
It has come as a great sense of relief to discover that I am not the only feminist who detests ‘corporate feminism’. Jessica Bennett has written in the New York Times about empowerment conferences and, in my view, lays bare the capitalist opportunistic dimension of feminism. The Slate has published an insightful piece by Amanda Marcotte about how these events never quite address the real issues that women face.
Feminism is about everyday struggles that women face and an elite cohort of women certainly would not be representative of the majority.