Empowerment or Equality: Which “E” are we Striving for?

GWMCHstudents

Recently, while driving in the district, I came across an advertisement for a plumbing, heating, and air conditioning company.  The right side of the advertisement read: “A Women- Owned & Managed Company!”  The phrase was intended to be seen and obviously posted with pride. 

Recently, while driving in the district, I came across an advertisement for a plumbing, heating, and air conditioning company.  The right side of the advertisement read: “A Women- Owned & Managed Company!”  The phrase was intended to be seen and obviously posted with pride.  Further, the company’s website states: “behind every highly trained plumber, HVAC technician, sewer, drain cleaning and repair person is a women of integrity who loves her customers and wants them to be happy with our service.”

Over the past 50 years the workforce has shifted from a male dominated arena to a nearly equal presence of men and women. More women are in the workforce now than ever before. Much credit can be given to feminist of the past who pioneered the women’s right movement and those of the present who persistently advocate for women throughout the years.  During the primitive phases of the women’s right movement, women strived to be empowered-there was a sense of pride and determination to reach a level of equality between them and their male counterparts. The fundamental strategy was to break down the social norms of their time. I venture to say; most women in the United States know what it means, and in some cases, know how feels to be empowered. Empowerment isn’t a new or innovative concept. Women have been introduced to aspects of empowerment throughout history.

Earlier this year, on the other side of the world, Italian women came together to protest against their Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Along with protesting his charges of paying for under-age sex and abusing office; women also used this opportunity to protest for dignity and raise issues of equality in the family, economy, and society.  Furthermore, work for women in Italy is limited and most are left with temporary underpaid jobs. The two options for a woman living in Italy is to become a lifelong housewife or a lifelong worker.

As shown above, equality is still very much required in many parts of the world. Very often, equality is recognized as being achieved when social norms are redefined and gender roles have reached an even balance. However, equality for women in both cases, may be defined differently. Women of Italy may define equality as gaining dignity and respect, and here in America equality could be defined as a woman owning and managing a company.

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Regardless of how equality is defined in a society, the true essence of equality can be recognized when women throughout the world empower themselves and fight for the rights they deserve.  May be the question of empowerment and equality must be answered individual. In one sense empowerment is needed to unite and fight for a cause; and similarly equality is how women continue to feel empowered. These two concepts may in fact be concurrent; however, we as women should strive for one or the other, or both. Again I ask, which “E” are you striving for?

 -LaShontae Norman

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Insists It Was He Who ‘Broke the Glass Ceiling’ for Women in Construction

Ally Boguhn

Though Trump’s statement came the same day the Associated Press first reported Clinton—whose 2008 concession speech referenced the glass ceiling—would be the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, the news had not broken at the time of Trump’s comments.

This week on the campaign trail, Donald Trump insisted he was the one who had broken the “glass ceiling” for women—in the construction industry. 

Clinton Takes Democratic Nomination—and Endorsements From Key Democrats 

Clinton received endorsements and support from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Thursday after Clinton’s Tuesday primary victories solidified her place as the party’s presumptive nominee.

“For more than a year now, across thousands of miles and all 50 states, tens of millions of Americans have made their voices heard,” Obama said in a video posted to Clinton’s Facebook page. “Today I just want to add mine.”

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“I’m with her,” continued Obama, who had previously remained neutral in the 2016 Democratic primary race. “I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there to campaign for Hillary.”

Biden threw his support behind Clinton that same day while speaking at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy’s 2016 national convention in Washington. According to CNN, Biden said that “God willing, in my view, [the next U.S. president] will be Secretary Clinton.”

During an interview Thursday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Warren, an influential voice among the party, also embraced Clinton. “I am ready to get in this fight and work my heart out for Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States,” said Warren, adding that she was determined “to make sure that Donald Trump never gets anyplace close to the White House.”

Clinton’s string of endorsements come just days after news broke that the former secretary of state had secured enough delegates to become the party’s presumptive nominee.

Though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) remains in the race for the Democratic nomination, he signaled he will be willing to work with Clinton in order to unite the party.

“I look forward to meeting with her in the near future to see how we can work together to defeat Donald Trump and to create a government which represents all of us, and not just the 1 percent,” Sanders told reporters Thursday during a press conference outside of the White House.

Trump Says He “Broke the Glass Ceiling on Behalf of Women” in Construction

Trump took credit for breaking “the glass ceiling” in construction for women during an interview on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor Monday evening.

“Number one, I have great respect for women. I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry,” Trump told host Bill O’Reilly when questioned about how he would appeal to women voters during the general election. “My relationship, I think, is going to end up being very good with women.”

Though Trump’s statement came the same day the Associated Press first reported Clintonwhose 2008 concession speech referenced the glass ceilingwould be the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, the news had not broken at the time of Trump’s comments, according to the Washington Post.

O’Reilly went on to ask the presumptive Republican nominee about a recent Boston Globe report analyzing presidential-campaign payroll data, which revealed that just 28 percent of Trump’s staff were women and that the men on staff made “about 35 percent more” than women.

Trump denied the allegations, instead claiming it was Clinton who truly failed to offer pay equality, though he later suggested “there are reasons” men on his campaign would be paid more than women such as “different jobs.”

“If you look at my company and what I pay women versus men, in many cases I pay women more money than I pay for men, and frankly, now I’ll probably get a lawsuit from my men that work for me,” Trump added.

The Globe’s analysis, however, also looked at data for the Clinton campaign and found that men and women were paid roughly the same:

The women working for Clinton — who account for 53 percent of her total staff—took home an average of $3,710. The men made slightly more, at $3,760. Clinton’s staffers, men and women, made less than the women who work for Trump.

On Clinton’s campaign, the highest-paid employee was a woman, Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s director of communications. And of the 15 highest-paid employees, eight were men and seven were women.

Trump has voiced some support for gender pay equality in the past, telling the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe in August 2015 that “if they do the same job, they should get the same pay,” but adding that “it’s very hard to say what is the same job.” When questioned about the topic by an attendee of a rally in November, Trump reportedly said that a woman would “make the same [as a man] if you do as good a job.”

Conservatives have previously alleged that a gender pay disparity existed in Clinton’s senate office, evidencing their claim with a report from conservative news site the Free Beacon. According to FactCheck.org, Clinton’s campaign doesn’t deny that the data used for that study was accurate but argues the analysis used “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate set of numbers.”

When the fact-checking site analyzed the annual salary data provided by the Democrat’s campaign, which included some staff members not included in the Free Beacon’s study because they did not work the full year, it found that “median salaries for men and women in Clinton’s office were virtually identical” and that “Clinton hired roughly twice as many women as men.” The site took “no position” on whether the methodology used by the campaign was superior to that used by the conservative news site.

What Else We’re Reading

ThinkProgress’ Evan Popp explained that “while Clinton’s declared victory was historic and diversity within government positions has improved, experts say much more is needed before the U.S. government is truly representative of the people.”

Some Republicans are jumping ship after Trump commented on the “Mexican heritage” of the judge presiding over his Trump University case.

When asked about the possibility of another woman joining her ticket as potential vice president, Clinton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I’m looking at the most qualified people, and that includes women, of course, because I want to be sure that whoever I pick could be president immediately if something were to happen—that’s the most important qualification.” 

Though 70 percent of women view Trump unfavorably, Politico’s Daniel Lippman and Ben Schreckinger profiled some of the women who do support the presumptive Republican nominee.

“Libertarians are stepping up to the big time when it comes to fundraising from political action committees,” according to the Sunlight Foundation. Though big money typically doesn’t flow to the party during presidential elections, Gary Johnson’s presence in the race this year could change that.

Delete your account”: Clinton and Trump squared off on Twitter on Thursday.

California’s open primary system allows the top two Senate candidatesno matter the party they belong toto run in the state’s general election, and this time, two Democrats will face off.

Culture & Conversation Media

Bitch Magazine Co-Founder Probes ‘the Buying and Selling’ of Feminism in New Book

Amy Littlefield

In We Were Feminists Once, Andi Zeisler argues that a 2014 Beyoncé performance signaled feminism's "arrival" as a mainstream movement. But, the gender equality promised by feminist imagery in pop culture and the market​ has not trickled down.

Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Emma Watson are feminists. So is Miss Piggy from the Muppets. Chanel’s 2014 runway show flaunted feminist imagery, and even Katy Perry’s signature perfume is feminist.

Something has happened to feminism.

“It was hot,” Andi Zeisler writes in the introduction to her new book, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. “And, perhaps most important, it was sellable.”

It’s the moment Zeisler, one of the founders of Bitch magazine, has been fighting for for 20 years: the tipping point. Feminism has arrived.

“I always believed that the realm of media and popular culture was where feminism would truly change hearts and minds,” Zeisler writes. “Theoretically, this was exactly the breakthrough my cofounders and I had always hoped to see.”

But as you may have guessed from the subtitle, there’s a catch. Like the wealth promised by President Ronald Reagan, the gender equality promised by feminist imagery in pop culture and the market has not trickled down.

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Here’s how Zeisler sums up the disconnect:

As we celebrate the increasing number of female TV showrunners and writers, Senate Republicans have twice unanimously voted against an act designed to close the gendered wage gap. As our tabloid magazines documented every blessed step of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, an anti-discrimination ballot measure in Houston, Texas was defeated thanks largely to TV ads that painted transgender women as child predators, warning, “Any man at any time could enter a women’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman.” As we excitedly binge-watch a Netflix series about life and love in a women’s prison, dozens of black women have died in police custody in recent years, with no satisfactory explanation as to why.

In this deeply researched account, Zeisler charts the co-optation of feminism and women’s empowerment over the decades, and shows how this process reached a peak in 2014. In 1929, Lucky Strikes cigarettes were cast as “torches of freedom,” a co-optation echoed in perhaps my favorite of Zeisler’s examples: the 1970 billing of the Liberated Wool Sweater as the “embodiment of the new freedom.” In 1998, First USA offered a Mastercard celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention. But while corporations and popular culture have always tried to sell their ideas of what women want, Zeisler identifies 2014 as The Year It Happened.

It was Beyoncé. On stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, Beyoncé sampled Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and posed in front of the bright, white, glowing word: “FEMINIST.” In a 2014 Bitch post after Beyoncé’s performance that presaged some of the ideas in her new book, Zeisler wrote that the performance “positioned feminism as Beyoncé’s official brand.” While its impact was undeniable, Zeisler wrote that “the branding of feminism as an attractive product for consumption is very different than the work of feminism as a progressive movement.”

To be clear, Zeisler’s book doesn’t diss Beyoncé; it draws a distinction between what she calls “marketplace feminism”—the “mainstream, celebrity, consumer embrace of feminism,” which is often about selling us something—and the less visible work feminists (including Beyoncé) do every day to advance gender justice. In fact, the best part about Zeisler’s writing on pop culture is that she doesn’t hate it; she’s a connoisseur, which makes her the most entertaining, well-informed of critics.

She applies an almost encyclopedic knowledge of film, television, music, and advertising to reveal the funhouse-mirrorlike results of mainstream culture’s co-optation of radical ideas. Take what pop culture did to the punk movement Riot Grrrl, with its out-of-bounds, anti-capitalist, “girls to the front!” ethos: “The phrase ‘Girl Power’ was harvested from Riot Grrrl zines and re-emerged, a marketplace-feminist Frankenstein’s monster, in the juggernaut of the Spice Girls.” And what happens when even consumer products like underwear can become feminist? An “uncanny valley,” filled with objects that kind of look feminist: “In the uncanny valley, those granny panties are feminist because they say so on the butt.”

In one of the book’s strongest sections, Zeisler unpacks how even feminist ideas like choice and empowerment have been co-opted to sell damaging mythologies, like poverty as an individual, not a societal failing, or the notion that women make choices about work and family in a vacuum. Zeisler writes that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, “shifted the language of bodily rights from demands to choices.” After that, “the advent of neoliberalism did the rest, normalizing the self-focus and singularity made ever more possible by a booming free market. The parlance of the marketplace became the default way to talk about almost all choices made by women.”

So what happens when neoliberalism—with its ethos of privatization, deregulation, and individualism—co-opts feminism? You end up with figureheads like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose “lean-in” feminism masks the failings of capitalism by implying that women who fail to break through systemic barriers simply aren’t leaning hard enough. As Zeisler notes, the neoliberal approach to feminism obscures racism, classism, and other barriers that “make grabbing status-quo balls almost impossible for anyone other than the people who are already in closest proximity to them.”

By tackling the false promises of “marketplace feminism,” Zeisler has provided a much-needed counterpoint to Sandberg’s classist vision. Her critique of this exclusive iteration of feminism—and its cozy ties to the corporate powers that be—reaches its peak during her description of the 2014 MAKERS Conference, a corporate-sponsored, invitation-only event attended by Sandberg, Martha Stewart, actress Geena Davis, and more, or what Zeisler sums up as a gathering of “very elite women patting other very elite women on the back for their individual achievements in highly rarefied fields.”

What Zeisler calls “marketplace feminism” could, at times, have simply been called “capitalist feminism” or maybe just capitalism. Its co-optation of social movements is hardly new or unique to feminism. But in an email to Rewire, Zeisler said she coined “marketplace feminism” as a more specific term, “because of the way it invokes picking and choosing, taking on the parts of an ideology or practice that appeal to you and ignoring those that don’t.” In co-opting feminism, pop culture and the market have taken the sellable and left the “thorny, unsexy realities” behind.

Still, Zeisler misses an opportunity to fully articulate an alternative to “marketplace feminism,” perhaps one that encompasses its logical counterpoint: socialism, another idea that’s arguably having its Beyoncé moment right now. For many on the Left, watching Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders criticize capitalism on a national debate stage has been akin—and bear with me here—to what happened at the VMAs in 2014, albeit … well, not nearly as … hot. The number of young women identifying with socialist principles suggests many potential readers would appreciate an explicit discussion of alternatives to capitalist feminism—beyond equal pay, what about basic income?—but Zeisler largely avoids this conversation, instead alluding more broadly to the need for a “post-marketplace-feminism world.”

In the end, the book’s greatest weakness is that it sidelines today’s grassroots feminist and intersectional social movements, many of which oppose capitalism. While she acknowledges organizations like Know Your IX and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Zeisler’s only explicit mention of Black Lives Matter is to cite the hashtag as a branded entity, lumped in with “Barack Obama’s presidential campaign” and “one-for-one TOMS shoes.” (“By a branded entity, I don’t mean that #BLM is actively selling a product,” Zeisler wrote, when I asked her about this in an email, “but that it has leaders and language and imagery that are associated with it, and the words have become shorthand for something that people feel deeply invested in.”) Yet, it feels like an oversight of one of this generation’s most defining social movements. #BlackLivesMatter caught fire like a brand, but it was created by women of color, not by tobacco or shoe companies. It’s a surprising blind spot for a book that reckons with how “marketplace feminism” can obscure racial and economic injustice.

Zeisler ultimately falls into her own trap, focusing too much on the very things on which, she suggests, we are too focused. In critiquing the fixation on celebrity spokespeople, she writes: “It’s as though feminists are becoming part of a celebrity movement, rather than celebrities joining up with a feminist one.” But the opposite is true: Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham, and Miley Cyrus are responding to a movement that has pushed some feminist ideas into the mainstream. That doesn’t mean feminism has been bought. Beyond the rarefied MAKERS Conference, feminists are protesting on behalf of women killed by police and against anti-transgender legislation. The feminists I know watch Beyoncé’s “Formation” video on repeat, but they don’t think the battle’s over because Beyoncé tipped her hat.

I learned a lot from Zeisler’s witty, well-informed prose, and it was refreshing to read a feminist book so openly critical of capitalism. But in the end, I just can’t buy the idea that feminism has been sold. Maybe it’s because I was there on March 2, as thousands of feminists gathered outside the Supreme Court while it heard the most significant abortion case in a generation. People who had had abortions told their stories, on their own terms, and so did abortion providers. That was feminism—not defined by Sheryl Sandberg or even by Beyoncé.