I’m Empowered, Hear Me Buy!

I think it was Edward Bernays who first made the conscious connection between resistance to male institutional power as a magic switch to ignite (American) female consumerism. He was the one who came up with the idea of tying female liberation to smoking in public with the catchy phrase “torches of freedom”. The product wasn’t cigarettes, but a non-tangible consumer good known as “freedom” (from male power in this case).

Female “Empowerment” seems to be a modern version of this. “Empowerment” is a perfect non-tangible product for an insatiable neoliberal market and mentality. For one, the phrase is, on the modern western context, semantically vacuous. Like “freedom” it means whatever the user wants it to mean at any given time. Ultimately anything any female does can be seen as ‘empowering’ to someone or other.

At the same time, just as a woman can never be too rich or too thin (in the words of Wallis Simpson) a woman can never be “too empowered”. A tangible product like lipstick can fill a need (maybe a vain, superficial need, but a need). But if shades of lipstick are framed in terms of empowerment, then no number of new shades and textures will ever be enough.

Finally, it is entirely, in its market sense, individualized and subjective. The more a young woman reads and sees news of other females being empowered, the less empowered she is likely to feel herself. This creates an intolerable mental burden so the young woman who buys into this crap (which is a lot of them) can easily end up spending most of leisure time and income pursuing “empowerment”. in ever more extreme and/or nonsensical ways. Bought new shoes yesterday, take that Patriarchy!

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