Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss: Is feminism in trouble?

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“We all have the same 24 hours in the day”. These are the words of social influencer and ‘Love Island’ contestant Molly-Mae Hague. Speaking on a podcast, ‘Diary of a CEO’, about her career, she has recently signed a £500,000 deal with fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing and is now working as the firm’s ‘creative director’. Hague’s comments have received an immense amount of backlash on social media. 

One can easily point out the ‘tone death’ and ‘Thatcheresque’ problems in Hague’s points. Simply saying “if you want something enough you can achieve it” completely ignores the different socio-economic backgrounds everyone faces. Trying to promote the idea that someone can just ‘positively think their way out of poverty’ ignores the systematic policies governments choose to enact on impoverished people, which is completely out of their control. In addition, her words seem ignorant as she doesn’t reflect on her own privileges of being from a white, middle-class background. 

These comments have caused further outrage, due to the controversies surrounding PrettyLittleThing and the fast fashion industry. Investigations conducted by The Sunday Times have exposed the retailer for poor working conditions as well as paying their garment workers in Leicester only £3.50 per hour. It would be facetious to believe that the only difference between Molly-Mae and her garment workers is a positive mindset. This is a corrupt system that Molly-Mae benefits from and now represents.

She has now apologised for her comments, saying her words were meant to “inspire”, not antagonise. Compared to her fellow contestants on ‘Love Island’, she has achieved a lot more than them, so to trivialise her success as ‘just luck’ would be incorrect. It’s also important to note that the majority of the other guests on this podcast say the exact same thing as her, yet they are not criticised as harshly. I believe we are seeing a new paradigm shift in how we view successful women and girlboss feminism in general.

She didn’t break the glass ceiling, she just coated it in paint

The story of the girlboss is interesting. In the early 2010s, the term became synonymous with ‘hustle culture’, the hyper-optimistic devotion to get ahead of the curve, and look good doing it. Yet over the past couple of years, this empowering idea has become subject to memes and mockery, ‘Gaslight. Gatekeep. Girlboss’, this compliment is now an insult.

The problem with the girlboss is that she didn’t break the glass ceiling, she just coated it in pink paint. By commodifying feminism, it became just another cog in our capitalist society, doing nothing to change the system and creating its own toxic practices and work culture. Eventually, everyone became fatigued and more critical.

So the girlboss has left the building. But where is she going? That’s the issue. A great article titled ‘The Smartest Women I Know Are All Dissociating’ explores this problem. The demise of the girlboss and the “‘Run the World (Girls)’ feminism… of plaintive begging and swaggering confidence” didn’t leave the desired impact. So now we “seem to be interiorizing our existential aches and angst, smirking knowingly at them, and numbing ourselves to maintain our nonchalance. Let’s call it dissociation feminism.

Only a smaller facet of a wider cultural shift

This ‘dissociation feminism’ has become popular in a lot of recent media such as tv shows like ‘Fleabag’ (2016) and ‘Euphoria’ (2019) as well as books like ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ (2018). There is a glamorisation of self-destruction within their female characters. The issue of the nihilistic perspective is that it is unproductive and dangerous. ‘Giving up on progress is the epitome of white feminism’, this mindset is a refuge, only for people who disproportionately benefit from other structural inequalities, namely wealthy, white cis women. Dissociation feminism is tearing down girlboss feminism but it doesn’t seek to dismantle the systems of oppression both share.

The Molly-Mae controversy is only a small facet of a wider cultural shift. But are these shifts beneficial for everyone, or simply the wealthy, white women already at the top? It is difficult to tell what the next ‘wave’ of feminism will look like, but it will have a major impact on how we view feminist successes and failures.

Image: Raph_PH via flickr

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