Women are now sold their so-called “liberation” through consumerism. Yet this has only succeeded in making women docile in the face of outer society.
Google has just released its new ‘Inner Strength’ App under the rubric of MINDBODY, alongside a zillion similar “time saving” Apps with titles like ‘Calamababy’, ‘Lipstick Lounge’ ‘Waxing Hub’ and ‘Relax at Home Massage’. It’s just the latest chapter in the ever-expanding galaxy of commercialised “Mind-Body-Spirit” propaganda and product. It is my belief that this industry has created the most depoliticised and dis-empowered generation of women in human history. Half of the Western population of women is so busy focusing on their ‘personal growth’ and physical appearance that they neglect their civic responsibility. They are instead collaborating in their own exclusion from the outward-looking social sphere, where the decisions that affect them and their families are being made.
The fatuous world of adult colouring books, ‘mindfulness’ and personal growth has all but eclipsed women’s participation in the political and technical spheres.
Just take a look at the insulting ‘Women’s Interest’ section of any magazine rack, and the depressing array of titles directing women towards the infantilising preoccupations that females are expected to find ‘interesting’. A few such examples include relaxing fragrances, napkin folding techniques or (literally) naval-gazing yoga poses. These body-obsessive, mind-numbing activities serve to do nothing other than to normalise women’s political marginalisation and domestication. The gendered assumption that women and men even have separate ‘interests’ is being promoted and expressed through retailer’s divisions, with everything from children’s toys to adult magazines. This is apparently without consumers’ recognition that these assumptions about men and women are what is producing the separation of men and women into two different species in the first place. The commodification of women’s minds, bodies, and spirits (i.e. their wills and desires) has epitomised an advertising industry that promotes female insecurity and conformity, and then sells women back their self-esteem at a price with a whole range of unnecessary “feminine” products. The relegation of women to the inward-looking, domestic realm is not an expression of women’s “inner nature”, but of cultural conditioning by this industry of insulting “feminine” hogwash.
The “Mind-Body-Spirit” industry, as I shall call it, is an industry that functions very much like a cult. It offers women (as a culturally and politically disenfranchised class of citizens) false hope and a sense of belonging as flattering substitutes for actual power. It provides them the semantics with which to articulate a feeling of “spiritual empowerment”, and membership in an inner group of like-minded women who share similar lifestyles revolving around marriage, reproduction, child-rearing and the home. This only produces a sense (belief) of being virtuous or ‘empowered’ while simultaneously offering permanent financial dependency upon men in the real world. This empty spirituality makes women complacent with the patriarchal status quo and its sexist division of labour, no matter how unjust the realities may be.
Alongside this passive embrace of their own false consciousness, women are also taking a Panglossian view of actual religious male chauvinism. Western women now regard women from oppressive Islamic religious cultures with the utmost respect for their submission to Islamic sharia law, which gives a woman’s testimony half of the validity of a man’s and favours men across the board on all family matters, from child custody to male polygamy and inheritance ‘rights’. Western women see their Muslim “sisters” (and their male superiors) not as “others” but as kindred spirits. They harbour a well-meaning but utterly naive fantasy that people whose culture and religion are opposed to Western women’s liberation and equality will be forever malleable if only shown sufficient love. The Polyanna fantasy of joining hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ with religious fundamentalists who would sooner kill women than offer them equal rights or reproductive control makes European women blind to the real plight of Muslim women living under sharia law. Western women have been deluded into “tolerance” for everything – even the most abusive and irrational sexism – when they should be responding with righteous anger. Women at the vanguard of the 1960’s and 70’s women’s liberation movement would not stand for it, yet their attitude has been largely forgotten or subject to cynical revisionism.
Western women’s unbounded tolerance for religious sexism is grounded in the belief that women from other cultures are the same as them in voluntarily choosing to be dependent and submissive to men, and that peaceful coexistence is inevitable. They overlook the possibility that religious Muslim women either do not enjoy the same autonomy as they do, or disapprove of them, view their lifestyles as ‘haram’ and look forward to the day when all women will be wearing modesty dress and obeying sharia law. Western women are failing to act in solidarity with Muslim feminists and secularists in the obtuse belief that doing so would make them “Islamophobic”, a myth stoked by Islamists to bolster their victim narrative about how all Muslim women are under constant attack by xenophobic Europeans. The irony is, a great many Muslim women would argue that they face far more danger from religiously conservative Muslim men!
The saddest part of this narcissistic culture of feminine “inner strength” and outer powerlessness is that the luxury of enjoying the freedom to choose this self-immolation voluntarily has come at such a huge cost to strong, courageous women of past generations. It is a privilege that many Muslim women today risk their lives to attain. Despite this, many European and American women think they are following in the footsteps of great feminists of past generations when they merely post slogans on social media, or wear a “this is what a feminist looks like” T-Shirt. The shirt is itself yet another symbol of the way that all attempts at resistance to the dominant culture have been com-modified and sold to women, so that consumerism and empty gestures become the only responses to real-world problems.
Even when women do actually step out of their interior bubbles to do something active in their real communities, this is instantly transformed, on social media, into a virtue-signalling advertisement about the act. Time spent advertising one’s virtues replaces the hard graft of real community activism and participation. Two-dimensional imitations of activism in a virtual community of like-minded cheerleaders for the cause replaces time spent in the actual world doing things that might bring about real change. One starts to wonder whether the motive of all activism is really to change aspects of the real world, or whether the aim of activism is merely to change one’s status update on Facebook. Real-world actions have ceased to be ends-in-themselves and must constantly be made into opportunities for narcissism and self-image improvement. They must take place in a virtual world that consumes the would-be activist’s energies, as she fixates on her image as “activist” as yet another aspect of her personal appearance.
Until women wake up, smell the coffee and disengage from this nexus of consumerism and false consciousness, the real world will continue to be both a dangerous and hostile place for women.
Terri (PhD) is an author, blogger, and has taught philosophy and film studies in Secondary and Adult Education for over ten years