On "Empowerment," among other things
In my first attempt to leave my apartment since I became ill, I realized that one of the nice things about New York is that you can pick up The Onion for free on random street corners. This week's issue has a great bit of satire on the ridiculous and patronizing overuse of the word "empower" by makeup companies, women's magazines, Oprah, and cellulite cream manufacturers (among other culprits):
Women Now Empowered by Everything a Woman DoesAnyway, that piece made me laugh so hard I almost forgot I'm still too weak to eat anything but mashed-up rice, so please check it out.
OBERLIN, OH—According to a study released Monday, women—once empowered primarily via the assertion of reproductive rights or workplace equality with men—are now empowered by virtually everything the typical woman does.
"From what she eats for breakfast to the way she cleans her home, today's woman lives in a state of near-constant empowerment," said Barbara Klein, professor of women's studies at Oberlin College and director of the study. "As recently as 15 years ago, a woman could only feel empowered by advancing in a male-dominated work world, asserting her own sexual wants and needs, or pushing for a stronger voice in politics. Today, a woman can empower herself through actions as seemingly inconsequential as driving her children to soccer practice or watching the Oxygen network."
Klein said that clothes-shopping, once considered a mundane act with few sociopolitical implications, is now a bold feminist statement... (entire article)
And in case you don't have time, the serious moral of the story is: JUST BECAUSE A WOMAN DOES SOMETHING DOESN'T MAKE IT DEFACTO FEMINIST OR GOOD. Women are not better people (or worse people!) than men, it just so happens that in general, various groups of women have historically not been in positions of power and have been treated in multiple nasty ways and such by male-dominated societies. And a lot of women have reacted in some pretty amazing ways to this oppression, which is pretty cool. Women are complicated and nice and mean and good and bad, just like men are. (And for good measure, plenty of women were born biologically male and plenty of men were born biologicially female, so chew on that). There's plenty more to be said on this, but it's probably best said, in my opinion, in Nicola Griffith's absolutely brilliant science fiction novel Ammonite (which imagines a world without men as neither utopia nor dystopia, but, simply, another world with its share of war, peace, strife and happiness).