“Women helping women”, my ass.
There’s a big lie going around that women supposedly treat each other better than men treat women. There’s talk of a “girl code”. There are clubs and societies dedicated to this so-called “Sisterhood”. And there seems to be a fake belief that we, as women, have got each other’s back.
Who the hell started this myth?
I recently attended the Hispanicize event in Miami, Florida. Hispanicize is an annual event put together under the premise of being a “launchpad for creative endeavors”. Basically though, it’s a 5-day affair for Latin Americans working in industries of digital content to get together and network. And over ninety percent of its attendees are female.
This year, the opening ceremony was hosted by a company called LatinaMoms, a partner to the event. LatinaMoms is a new company founded by three Latin-American celebrity moms, who all took turns getting up on stage and spieling us their stories of hardship and turmoil and success, despite all of the odds pitted against them. You know, the classic inspo-speech. Followed by an if-I-can-do-it-you-can-do-it kinda tagline.
And after they finished, all three of them got back on stage and hugged and smiled and told us to make sure to hashtag our photos on social media under the event #Hispz17 and #myboldmoment. Because it was going to be a great five days, they said. It was going to be a great five days of teamwork; they were going to help us achieve our goals, too. Women helping women. Success for everyone!
I love the feeling of female community so I made sure to get to the event early enough for a front row seat. And after the opening ceremony, I did as told; I uploaded a photo onto my personal Instagram account with the prompted hashtags. We all clapped. We all hugged. And we moved on to our first workshop of the day.
During one of the breaks between workshops, I scrolled through Instagram and noticed that one of those LatinaMoms had swiped my image and posted it onto her own Instagram account. She was nowhere in sight, so I immediately wrote her, privately and publicly, asking that she credit me.
I used to be a photographer so I’m pretty familiar with copyright and infringement laws. I realize that many people aren’t as familiar so I’ll give a quick summary: Reposting other people’s photos is illegal. If you do so for personal use, you must cite their name. If you do so for commercial use, you must compensate them. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and awaited her reply. But before I knew it, that same photo had blown up on social media. The two other LatinaMoms had also reposted it. I wrote them as well. Nada.
In the span of a few hours, my photograph had been reposted hundreds of times. And by the end of the day, it was all over the Internet as the poster photo talking about the event. With no acknowledgement to my name whatsoever.
I’ve had people steal my images before so I am aware that this is always a possibility, since I refuse to use watermarks. However, this violation was done on a very large scale. And at a female empowerment summit. I mean, these women have millions of followers; crediting my name could have largely helped attract attention to my budding company. It could have helped with publicity and marketing, which is the primary reason I attended the event in the first place.
I wrote the event coordinators a detailed email about what had happened. I asked for my money back, as I would no longer be attending the remainder of the conference. No answer.
It’s easy to get caught up in this whole “sisterhood” and “female empowerment” movement. I mean, the Internet will eat you alive if you aren’t pro-woman.
But, what exactly is pro-woman? Does anyone even know what “female empowerment” means? Is it synonymous with feminism? Does it equal independence? Is feminism the same as gender equality? Do any of these terms have anything in common?
“Empowerment” now simply insinuates “the right to choose”. Back in the day, it was considered more radical, with a suggestion of rebellion and revolution. But no longer does the term refer to the idea of an entire demographic, such as women, gaining power for the common good, but just one woman gaining power for the good of herself — a shift from the collective to the individual.
Enter the LatinaMoms. They did a great job selling the idea of a community, when in reality, it was all just a sales pitch for their own individual gain.
I grew up in a single mother household. My mother grew up in a single mother household. As a child, I learned to depend on my sister and my mother for all kinds of support. My mother depended on her girlfriends. Her friends became part of my support system. We were all on the same team.
Women helped women.
But those were different times. Now, the era of gender equality is in full swing. Women are putting their careers first. We are getting married later, having less children, and finally making our own money. All of this in order to gain more independence and less dependence from the opposite sex. And financial independence is a great way for us to become equal members of society.
As history would have it, I saw the problems it caused my mother to be financially dependent throughout my childhood. Therefore, I placed financial independence high on my priority list in life. It’s not numero uno, but it’s up there.
Today, I find myself on the cusp of launching a social network that will enable independent, traveling women to connect with one another. Naturally, in the years leading up to this, I’ve done my fair amount of research and networking and conference-attending where I have met many women striving for similar things: whether that be financial independence, a better adult life than their childhood, or simple self-improvement. But I have also met women who claim to want to help other women in achieving these goals, and are completely full of sh*t.
Damn you, LatinaMoms. We were supposed to be on the same team.
The truth is, female betrayal is everywhere. It’s just harder to spot. And it’s usually hidden under this umbrella called “female empowerment”.
Let me explain.
As a woman, you are now “empowered” no matter what you do. Wear all of the make-up or wear none of it. Work out ten times a day or binge on cake all day. Wear sweatpants to work or sport that new leopard-print mini skirt. You name it, you choose it, it’s empowering you. And there’s an entire Internet waiting to praise you for just waking up today.
So if female empowerment is the right to choose, and each and every choice is the right choice, then aren’t we back to where we started? Because, for there to be a right choice, this implies that there must also be a wrong.
Hadley Freeman, a writer for the Guardian newspaper, said it best when she wrote that “empowerment has become the cover for doing whatever the hell you like. It is a self-created safe space.” As long as you say that you are empowered, anyone who criticizes is just trying to oppress you. Think about it. When a celebrity puts up a near-naked picture on social media, two sides always emerge: those who do not approve, but are quickly labeled as out-of-date “body-shamers” and “anti-feminists”, and those who fill the feed with words of encouragement and applause.
Thank you for being so brave, Kim.
I am an avid social-media user. In fact, I’m online all day long. And on any given day, I come across dozens of images of women posing seductively and wearing practically nothing for the entire world to see. (The only reason they aren’t completely naked is because Instagram’s policy won’t allow it.) And I can’t help but wonder, where exactly is the empowerment in that? I, personally, find it much more empowering to choose who gets to see me naked rather than baring it for everybody. When did selectivity become counteractive to empowerment?
Let’s be honest, naked selfies empower none other than your follower count. And selling your body, a.k.a. selling yourself, for attention is not my kind of empowerment, or “feminism” or “gender equality”, or whatever term one hides behind.
Marketers have caught on to these buzzwords and are now exploiting them, as marketers do best. And guess what, “female empowerment” sells just as easy as sex sells. It’s the oldest trick in the book. And we’ve fallen for it all over again.
Allow me to give some examples.
Telling a woman to lose weight is wrong. Of course; it would be hard to find any argument against that. However, as Freeman from the Guardian points out, Weight Watchers and Spanx are now selling products by promising that they provide empowerment. They are no longer telling you to “be thinner”, they are telling you to “be empowered”. But they are still selling the same thing. And Gwyneth Paltrow, a beloved face of modern female independence for God-knows-what-reason, recently said in an interview “I think the most clear, direct way to empowerment is to be really, really true to yourself,” all while pushing a designer perfume for sale. I think what she meant to say was, “buy this perfume so I can make some big bucks, please”.
All for you, Gwynnie-bee. We’re all hungry to get ahead.
By the way, you know those two clashing sides, pro and against naked selfies, that I mentioned earlier? ‘Haters’ are a marketing favorite. Erupting controversy in the comment section makes for so much more press. Pitting women against each other is no accident.
All in the name of empowerment, right?
Women versus women.
Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, took an entirely different approach. She didn’t depend on labels of “empowerment” and “feminism” to further her career. She even publicly rejected the women’s liberation movement when feminists later came around and tried to classify her as one of their own. Because, while other women were busy parading around in the name of some cause, she was carefully crafting her skill set and accomplishing objectives, instead of relying solely on being a woman to help her get ahead.
The moral of the story is this: We all want to succeed. And that’s perfectly fine. We’ve battled hard for the right to vote, for equal pay, and for men to see us as their equivalent. But this “movement” of female empowerment has become a mockery. While men are out there still doing their thing, we’re pitting ourselves against each other and fighting over the right to take naked selfies on Instagram.
Listen up ladies, female empowerment is like a club, except that we are ALL the damn leaders. When someone tells you to do something or buy something in order to feel empowered, then that is the exact opposite of empowerment. And while the ability to choose is a “feminist” act, that doesn’t mean that the choice in itself is too.
And also, real women give other women credit where it’s due.
For more information on mentions in my article, click here: