“Corporate Feminism” is a term I only recently encountered. It succinctly categorises some of the things I’ve seen in my professional life, so it’s useful to have a word for this feeling that I couldn’t quite pin down. But the term also makes me uneasy, because I really don’t like telling people whether or not they are “real” feminists. In its simplest form, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). And that covers a huuuuuuuuuuge range of opinions, individuals and movements. When someone asks me about Feminist Theory, my default answer is “which one?” There are so many people with some broadly similar aims, but other, more specific and sometimes separate ones (this Wikipedia article is a good synopsis, but even that doesn’t cover every eventuality).

It also feels a bit off being a feminist criticising other feminists, but feminism is unbelievably introspective anyway, and so I’m not going to sweat too much over that one.  One danger though, is that anti-feminists use criticisms of some aspects of feminism to denounce the whole thing.  And I don’t want to contribute to that, thanks.

However, corporate feminism seems to be about paying lip service to feminism without embracing the spirit of equality.  It’s espoused by women who have reached the point where they are able to compete in “a man’s world”, and they no longer have time for those women who haven’t got to the same stage as them.  It’s frustrating, because the success stories actually cause harm rather than encouragement.  There are people who think that feminism has solved all our problems, or that inequality only happens in other countries.  And this just fuels that feeling.  So when a woman does describe her experience, or injustices are pointed out, it’s so easy to dismiss: “well, those women are successful, so there is obviously no problem”.  And it’s a double bind.  We need female role models, but when they get there, they don’t always offer a hand to those lower down the ladder. Sometimes those same women actually do harm, by embracing the Old Boys Network and undertaking actions that damage other women’s opportunities.

Here are some good articles on this: | Corporate Feminism: Rich Women Congratulating Each Other for Being So Inspiring (this reminds me of a few events I’ve been to, more on this in a future post)

Why corporate feminism is convenient for capitalism | Dawn Foster | Comment is free | The Guardian (Clue: because it’s the kind of feminism where you don’t have to do anything, and can sit back and pretend you don’t have any prejudices)

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Feminism Puts Women Issues at Risk | The New Republic (On how not all women can afford to “lean in”)

And I will leave you with this brilliant cartoon from Radical Splurge, summarising the issue nicely:

Radical Splurge: Breaking the Glass Ceiling and the Wonders of Corporate Feminism


Leave a Comment