Guest Post: The Empowerment Lie
1st Aug 2012 in Guest Post
It’d be particularly po-faced not to rejoice and bump your feminist rump when have-it-all (and a little bit extra) honey Beyonce snarls “GIRLS! Who run this mother?”, but the bittersweet secret is that unfortunately we do not. Alexandra Burke can sing of how women “do it even better in broken heels” but she’d have been as well singing “for lesser pay, and while rampantly objectified by male colleagues.” Popular representations of female strength feel empowering, but it is important to remember that this does not mean that power is changing hands.
While subjecting myself to an article on ‘men’s rights activism’, I had to giggle at a comment exclaiming shock and disgust at the ‘sexist’ sentiments of the Loose Women panel: “if men spoke like this about women, there’d be an outrage.”
This is revealing in itself. The reason women are permitted by society to indulge in some superficially anti-male sentiment is precisely because it poses absolutely no threat: it is a mass delusion women are entering into to let off steam, rather than an indication of brewing militancy. Loose Women is a rare pro-female – though not necessarily feminist – exception to normal television scheduling which doesn’t need to articulate that men are in charge, because of course they are.
In reality, empty sass could be seen as neutralising the potential for progress. Feminist “fiest” allows women to posture at being in power because that is more fun than dealing with the paralysing reality of the situation. Who can blame us? Trying on Beyonce’s attitude, nodding along to Sex and the City and rolling our collective eyes at the menfolk can provide a short term hit of that empowerment drug, some much-needed escapism in an otherwise bleak landscape. However, this is a false prophet of feminism: an in-joke that we’re all in on, and one from which we need to gain some critical distance. As austerity measures disproportionately impact upon women through cuts to welfare and public services, seeking refuge in empty sass is an understandable but dangerous recourse. Attitude without strategy is merely a fantasy of feminism and the empowerment drug is not equally distributed.
The paranoid reaction of men’s rights activists to harmless respites such as girl-power pop and lightweight female-friendly entertainment should trigger a comedown. That they speak of injustice perpetuated by Loose Women – daytime television that harnesses all the critical consciousness of a lairy hen night – should remind us that we are still on the defence when we should be on the attack. Inward analyses of pop culture have their merits, but only when they inform onward action. Feminism needs sass, yes, but also substance, sisterhood and struggle. We have shown ourselves capable of finding glitter in the shit, but the focus must now shift to making the situation better – not making the best of the situation.
Sarah Rogers is a 23 year old community education practitioner living and working in Leith, Edinburgh. Her interests include hiphop, literature and feminism.