For the month of April, our book club pick is We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler, cultural critic and cofounder of Bitch Media. We Were Feminists Once explores capitalism's co-optation of feminism and the depoliticized, decontextualized nature of marketplace feminism.
On engaging men in feminism: "We absolutely need men advocating for gender equality. But if they are men who are going to wait to be invited, they are probably not the people we need. e need the people who are already on our side and willing to do the work in their community."
On the connection between capitalism and feminism: "Capitalism is a system that's ultimately predicated on and dependent on some form of inequality. Feminism has always intersected with capitalism in terms of women's labor and gendered divisions of labor. There's always been a way in which capitalism has been able to almost get in on the ground floor of feminist movements and use them for their own ends... so much of [how women are encouraged or discouraged from participating in public life] is tied into capitalism and what can be sold to women, what can be earned from women either via their labour or via their freedom from certain kinds of constraints."
On waves of feminism: "I have never really been a fan of the wave metaphor, because it gives the sense of one wave wiping out and replacing the next. I think a better metaphor would be building blocks, where you can remove some things and add others, but still keep the whole ethic structurally sound."
Feminism has hit the big time. Once a dirty word brushed away with a grimace, “feminist” has been rebranded as a shiny label sported by movie and pop stars, fashion designers, and multi-hyphenate powerhouses like Beyoncé. It drives advertising and marketing campaigns for everything from wireless plans to underwear to perfume, presenting what's long been a movement for social justice as just another consumer choice in a vast market. Individual self-actualization is the goal, shopping more often than not the means, and celebrities the mouthpieces.
But what does it mean when social change becomes a brand identity? Feminism's splashy arrival at the center of today's media and pop-culture marketplace, after all, hasn't offered solutions to the movement's unfinished business. Planned Parenthood is under sustained attack, women are still paid 77 percent—or less—of the man's dollar, and vicious attacks on women, both on- and offline, are utterly routine.
Andi Zeisler, a founding editor of Bitch Media, draws on more than twenty years' experience interpreting popular culture in this biting history of how feminism has been co-opted, watered down, and turned into a gyratory media trend. Surveying movies, television, advertising, fashion, and more, Zeisler reveals a media landscape brimming with the language of empowerment, but offering little in the way of transformational change. Witty, fearless, and unflinching, We Were Feminists Once is the story of how we let this happen, and how we can amplify feminism's real purpose and power.