Is It Feminist To Sell Feminism?

This week, one of the most powerful women in media sat down for a conversation with one of the most powerful women in politics. The intimate conversation ranged in topics from their college years to theories of feminism. A textbook feminist moment, right? But Hillary Clinton and Lena Dunham could never make it that easy.

As the pair of controversial feminists powwowed behind a paywall, the question hung in the air: is it feminist to use feminism to get ahead?

The question isn’t one that just plagues Clinton and Dunham, but both have been accused of using progressive social views — and the buzz around feminism — to get ahead. Since the only people able to see the interview are subscribers of Lena Dunham’s for-profit newsletter, LennyLetter, it’s easy to see this as a ploy for Dunham to rake in some subscribers, and for Clinton to be more “human” to millennial women.  

The fact that feminism sells is a win. Now that feminism is cool and relatable and trendy, it’s is a way to get an audience and make sales. What used to be the realm of far-left protesters is now mainstream. The fact that you have the ability to use feminism as a marketing or career advancing technique speaks to the forward progression of our society.

But just because one can use feminism to sell things doesn’t necessarily it should be done. Feminism has historically been the realm of the disenfranchised: poor women, queer women, women of color, and women with disabilities should be at the forefront of feminism. Seeing rich, privileged, straight, white women co-opt a progressive movement to sell themselves feels wrong.

Watching Dunham and Clinton giggling about their college years seems to be a perfect example of “white feminism.” Dunham has oft been accused of ignoring intersectionality in favor of issues that overwhelmingly affect white women, such as the wage gap. She held this interview in Clinton’s campaign headquarters in gentrified Brooklyn; do they discuss the problems of the sorts of people that were there first? We would guess not.

In a cultural landscape where it’s suddenly cool to be socially active, it’s difficult to not take advantage of it. But preaching feminism isn’t acting feminist. Companies like Dove talk feminism while not taking feminist action; you can have an ad campaign about loving yourself, but selling skin whitening creams in India doesn’t exactly signal progressivism. It’s the same with Taylor Swift, who uses the ideology to sell concert tickets, and then turns around and diminishes the experiences of prominent black women, i.e. her Twitter scuffle with Nicki Minaj. 

And while — obviously — Lena Dunham and Hillary Clinton aren’t directly harming women with their feminism-lite, they’ve both been proven to be a bit misguided. Or they’re just really good at playing the game of late capitalist society — for Clinton, this interview is incredibly obvious, pragmatic pandering to millennial voters.

The idea that every woman has to take on the burden of feminism is unfair. If two men were interviewing each other, this wouldn’t be a conversation. But at the same time, we should hold purported feminists to some kind of standard. Feminism shouldn’t be forced, but in claiming the title, there should be something more than just the word.

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