Today, an image struck me: a photograph of a newly-minted conference room at the San Francisco branch of women’s only social club The Wing. The space shows women sitting around a white table with black chairs; tasteful, modern decor placed here and there. The camera’s focus, though, is in the foreground, where painted in gold leaf across the clear glass door is the name Christine Blasey Ford.
Dr. Ford’s name has appeared daily across all major news networks for the last month; the result of her status as one of (now Supreme Court Justice) Brett Kavanaugh’s numerous sexual violence victims. In late September of 2018, Ford gave a composed and detailed summary of her assault before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the rest of the world. This televised display of trauma proved, unsurprisingly, to be a small piece of a larger scam in which Ford’s pain, and the echoed pain of millions of women, was acknowledged to a satisfactory degree, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation strode through its checkpoints, largely without actual technical issue.
Despite the brute force that has worked to silence her, Ford has stood tall. Her actions are undoubtedly brave by any standard, and her words and actions have given way to a renewed, powerful ripple of the Me Too movement, now officially one year old and finding its footing amidst the gray areas and the difficult questions.
That said, Christine Blasey Ford is not a conference room. The reopened wounds of women everywhere are not sutured by three words stenciled on a door inside a space that costs $2,000 a year to occupy, in one of the most expensive and rapidly-gentrifying cities in the world. What some may say is merely a respectful gesture in Ford’s direction is a continuation of the flattening of her character that has been so ardently forced since she arrived on the national scene. It is a PR stunt to capitalize on a moment and sell memberships, wrapped in a pussy hat costume.
For some time now I have struggled to summarize my thoughts on today’s popular feminist movement. My attempts at critique have come out bitter and jealous, like my concern for or understanding of women’s rights hinges on Petra Collins being skinnier than me.
Yet, when I saw the photo of this conference room today, accompanied by a caption of “yas kween yas,” no less, the realities of the faux-radical, colorblind, tone-deaf, bourgeois feminism appeared before me in such a cohesive vision, I nearly gasped.
I recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of our moment: one in which different layers of feminist thought are actively churning. One of those layers, which I will hereafter refer to as “popular feminism” has exploded into an international marketing scheme, swallowing whole all in its path.
I think of spaces like The Wing, hosting private talks with Hillary Clinton and tarot readings in the span of a weekend. I think of adult coloring books with titles like “50 Badass Women” and the blank white space inside Malala Yousafzai’s hijab. I think of a rack at Target stuffed with glittery “girl power” t-shirts, made by young girls themselves on the other side of the world from where they are purchased.
Yet feminism, as a brand, is not a political movement. It cannot, and will never, bring about the changes that millions of women around the world so desperately need. Popular feminism is so successful in part because it fits neatly with pre-existing power structures; it is crafted to be consumed. If someone can shell out a couple thousand dollars a year to sit in a Christine Blasey Ford conference room, isn’t it a hell of a lot easier to retreat to this form of wallet-based activism rather than seek new and possibly uncertain territory?
I realize now that my prior difficulty with trying to conceptualize the limitations of popular feminism is a fear of seeming sectarian; of giving the impression that I think my personal politics are somehow superior, or that women living their lives can’t enjoy their Feminist and Proud Swell Brand Water Bottle, Now Retailing for $28.00, without someone throwing open their window and questioning their politics.
At the same time, it is women are seeking more than tote bags. Those responsible for crafting the popular feminist movement are not the masses, but the marketers. As the efforts of the latter ring increasingly hollow, women are radicalizing away from consump-tivism and turning to the streets for answers.
While spaces like The Wing will continue with their insincere gesturing towards change, they will not be a part of the feminist tomorrow that the masses are working to create. Like the gold glitter of Ford’s name on the Wing’s walls, popular feminism is pleasant, but ultimately useless.
Perhaps this hesitation can all be summarized with one simple observation: the notable absence of “Dr.” from the title of Ford’s trauma-won conference room.