Trickle-down white feminism doesn't cut it

14 Comments

 

Earlier this month, Business Chicks unveiled their latest Latte Magazine cover, sparking controversy for its glaring lack of women of colour.

Latte Magazine cover featuring Tracey Spicer and other womenThe glossy façade featured fashionably colour-coded women accompanied by the text: 'Tracey Spicer and the women dismantling discrimination', in reference to Spicer's newly unleashed NOW Australia.

Backlash inevitably followed, with many taking to social media to point out the problem of largely white women as self-proclaimed spearheads of a movement while missing the mark with representation.

Business Chicks sought to defend and diffuse, reassuring commenters that 'diversity was absolutely considered for this cover'.

However, NOW member Nareen Young spoke out in response to the cover, stating, 'I'm on the NOW board. I didn't know about it and I am beyond furious. And I've just seen Instagram and some of what has been offered up. Shameful and embarrassing. Considering position.'

#MeToo, a movement founded and nurtured by Tarana Burke (a civil rights activist and a woman of colour), was intended to be collective and accessible. By contrast, in Australia we are increasingly seeing a mainstream picture of women's liberation that ignores a longstanding struggle for diversity, genuine inclusiveness and radicalism.

Instead, the movement continues to be appropriated by corporate 'feminists' leveraging themes of oppression to gain various forms of capital.

 

"The problem with this approach is that it fails to reach and empower women on the fringes, or those determined to take a different path than the corporate one."

 

In April, Spicer openly admitted that NOW Australia 'unashamedly' reaches for the centre, noting she'd been 'attacked by both the extreme left and extreme right'.

Business Chicks speaks similarly to the empowered, middle-class corporate woman with her eye on a seat at the table.

The problem with this approach is that it fails to reach and empower women on the fringes, or those determined to take a different path than the corporate one — that is, envisaging the tearing down and reimagining of the very structures that breed and strengthen oppression.

Rather, the decision to put nearly all white women on the cover of a business magazine highlights an exclusive path available to the wealthy and those willing to navigate the status quo rather than challenge it.

The business landscape is saturated with this kind of thinking. The rhetoric of women-focused organisations that spruik 'mumpreneurs', 'She-E-Os' and #GirlBoss ambassadors inadvertently emphasises women as 'the other', whose inspiration can be drawn from hyper gendered semantics and futile notions of 'girl power'.

Take Business Chick's international annual conference, Movers And Breakers. It's a curated three-day getaway in Fiji for those with a spare $3680-$7390 to splurge on their professional development.

Or consider Spicer's latest campaign of tweeting perky tips accompanied by the hashtag #100daysforchange, such as 'Enquire about hosting a networking night for women within your organisation or industry.'

How do such ventures and advice serve, for example, a single mother working two jobs, and just scraping by on the domestic front? Or those in minimum-wage employment structures where networking events are the stuff of myths?

The issue is not solely Spicer or Business Chicks, rather a broader and pervasive culture of 'inspirational powerhouses' claiming and overshadowing movements, and then high-fiving each other in the absence of elevated viewpoints from the truly marginalised.

If these kinds of individuals and organisations feel inclined to help out on the women's rights front, it needs to be done in a way where they refrain from assuming the position of pioneer, and extend their strategic efforts beyond the limitations of patriarchal capitalism.

The feminist movement has for decades been strengthened, not by white women propelling themselves up the corporate ladder, but by the marginalised, the equipped, and the truly collaborative, bringing their lived experiences into the realm of action.

We need the women who represent the real world (in other words, not just the middle-class) to be elevated as influencers of the levers of budgeting; as deciders of the allocation of resources; and as agitators of real, systemic governmental and policy change.

What we don't need is those privileged and with a platform merely striving to take their likeminded girl gang into the boardroom with them while positioning themselves at the forefront. Trickle-down white feminism from a chipped glass ceiling simply doesn't cut it.

 

 

Laura La RosaLaura La Rosa is a Melbourne-based writer, designer and producer, with a passion for feminist storytelling. Originally from Sydney, Laura is a proud descendant of the Darug people.

Topic tags: Laura La Rosa, #MeToo, feminism, Tracey Spicer

 

 

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Existing comments

As a transgender female I am proud to be able on the NOW Australia steering committee. I can safely say that NOW Australia has a board, steering committee and Ambassadors that come from diverse backgrounds and totally believe in diversity and inclusion.
Melissa | 27 June 2018


Hi, I just wanted to jump in here- NOW has been very transparent about its steering committee and consultants, and it is an amazingly diverse group. (and the group has been published, publicly!) I am part of it- I am 20, I am gay, I grew up in rural Australia with a single mother, and we barely scraped over the poverty line. We have women of colour, we have women from indigenous backgrounds, we have women from rural and regional Australia, from too many industries to count, women who identify as trans women, people from the LGBTQI community, people ranging in age from 20-60+. We also have incredible diversity in our celebrity/industry ambassadors. We did not have editorial control of this cover- we were simply asked to be on it, and we jumped at an opportunity to raise funds for an organisation that is helping people in ALL industries, regardless of race, religion, location, income sexuality, age or otherwise, who are being abused. It is not a perfect cover- but I think there needs to be more research done into the organisation before this article can be written with any authority.
Abby | 27 June 2018


At last - thank you Laura, a real voice, of balance and reason about the rise of neo feminism that seems to have completely lost it's way. Feminism is about so so much more than class, colour, race, it's about equality and humanity, something much deeper and wiser than we are seeing. Dare anybody give an honest critique? Good on you Laura
Julie Shannon | 28 June 2018


So much here I can't quite take it all in. It will need several re-reads, I feel. Thank you for your robust argument; I'm a little embarrassed to note that many men (I am one) would have no idea about this unless directed to it. For that I am particularly grateful. Now, back for another read...
Richard | 28 June 2018


Thank you for such a well balanced article Laura.
Clare | 28 June 2018


It is clear from the comments that the NOW board is diverse. It also seems that among the women on the cover there is a transgender woman, but this is not obvious. Missing, at least visually, are Indigenous women, and women from Asian and African ethnic backgrounds, all of whom experience the discrimination double whammy of racism and sexism. If you produce a graphic with a caption, it is reasonable to assume that the caption is an accurate representation of the graphic and vice versa, so the cover of Latte tells us that for the people who approved the cover, diversity is about older and younger women with blonde and brown hair. Not even a redhead in sight. :-) Some of the other groups mentioned in the comments are difficult to represent visually, but Latte could have done better and I hope they do so in the future.
Judy Redman | 28 June 2018


Really terrific article, Laura. As an old-school Christian feminist, I know there are as many schools of feminism as there are groups of women. That's fine - but none of them can be effective without analysis. It seems that Tracey Spicer's group lacks analysis! Laura's article could be a great help to them in amending this, if they can co-operate rather than defend their untenable position. Thank you, Laura.
Joan Seymour | 28 June 2018


I am an old man of Celtic Catholic background who has lived in Australia for over sixty five years. I comment on Eureka Street under the pen name Uncle Pat because I am trying to address my opinions to my numerous nephews and nieces who in their various ways share the genes of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, South American and African parents. In the photograph on the cover of Business Chicks LATTE I could identify only one of the women as in any physical way being like one of my thirteen nieces. She is tall, attractive, blonde (artificial) and a business executive. She dresses well. She is by her very vocation dismantling discrimination. Then I read the subtitle: Tracey Spicer and the women dismantling discrimination. If only the subtitle had said Tracey Spicer and some of the women' I would have had no quarrel with the message the picture projects. It is the suggestion that it is this elite group of women who are dismantling discrimination that irritated. I thought of my twelve other nieces who in their own occupations are quietly and determinedly dismantling discrimination. None of them is a Business Chick.
Uncle Pat | 28 June 2018


Great thinking Laura. Collaborative work by women from a different demographic to Spicer’s is indeed necessary. Women who organise events that are exclusive and excluding, maybe necessary for women in the corporate world but they do little to influence the lives of all women.
Patricia Gates | 29 June 2018


Well said, Laura. For anyone who is part of the "other," empowerment can only occur via grass roots action, which enables the breaking down of structures, that solidify oppression. Anything less is merely a band aid solution
Virginia | 29 June 2018


Thank you Laura. When I found feminism I was a single mum, desperate to be part of the cool girls that were, & still are, front & centre of feminism. You hang on to any scrap of recognition from these women in the belief that they are what you need to be in order to be a ''feminist''. Thank goddess I found intersectional, grass roots feminism & unhooked myself from the allure of corporate & institutional feminism. Finding the permissiveness of grass roots feminism, spaces where we can actively criticise the institutions of media, medicine, law government etc without being othered, chastised & positioned as envious & jealous of their success was liberating. We need more women with the courage to say what many of us just don't have the platform to say. I think so many of us inside our feminist bubbles forget that most of us first encounter feminism through the MSM & breakfast TV. When the same women are simply rotated through & are the only one being approached by publishers we really are limiting the potential to reach more women.
Jennifer | 29 June 2018


Thanks for pointing out what is (bleedingly) obvious to me. While I see great changes propelled by the movement, I still feel left out - why is that? As a woman of mixed race - one being Fijian - I'd feel extremely conflicted about paying thousands of dollars to attend a corporate event only to be served by people I may be related to, women of colour in a 3rd world environment. I cannot single-handedly take that on I know but I can't help the feeling that I'd rather hang out in the kitchen with the cleaning staff because at least there, I'd feel represented.
Lyn | 30 June 2018


The #MeToo movement is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault. While I unreservedly endorse Laura's article, the most critical aspect of it for me is the sentence that says: "Instead, the movement continues to be appropriated by corporate 'feminists' leveraging themes of oppression to gain various forms of capital." I might add that in recent times a correspondent in these columns has persistently used the #MeToo appellation before his name in advancing positions that are hardly radical and consistent with the broad philosophy of feminism. This is a misappropriation of the #MeToo symbol and the editors of this journal, if only for reasons of consistency associated with publishing this article, should, in my view, inform him of the same.
Michael Furtado | 05 July 2018


“... but by the marginalised, the equipped, and the truly collaborative, bringing their lived experiences into the realm of action.” Yes, but white feminists will gladly hide behind women of colour if they think they’re useful, shielding them from accusations of racism, but sideline them in a heartbeat for the premier positions. Prime example: this magazine cover. NOW is apparently diverse but won’t display them front and centre.
Bazz | 17 July 2018


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