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georgiamoncaster
10th May 2024

The death of corporate feminism

Hearing my friends and fellow students increasingly joke about marrying rich may not seem like breaking news – but is it just a joke anymore? And is corporate feminism to blame?
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The death of corporate feminism
Credit: Christina Morillo @ Pexels

To be a woman is to have it all. Successful career, prestigious education, buzzing social-life, secure love-life, mindfulness, fitness, hobbies, mother, wife, friend, worker. Sound exhausting? Many women think so too.

Corporate feminism was the response to a culture that has consistently tried to box women into an exclusive ‘mother’ role that feminism has tried to ‘fix’. As such, the ‘SheEO’ was for some time the feminist idol, whose capability to be astronomically successful rivalled her male counterparts that dominated the workplace. 

It’s these associations that popularised her during the 2010s when corporate feminism was arguably at its most influential, having some part to play in pushing teenage us into her heels. At university? Well, you’re already one step closer to the educated and affluent woman she is touted to be, so why not go ahead and be her?

Well here’s the catch: when coupled with the unpaid domestic labour at home, how emancipating was this role, really?

Increasingly, women at university appear to be rejecting the ‘every woman in favour of marital and domestic security, free from the arduous grind of a career’ narrative. Just in conversation with friends, do you ever find yourself musing on the joy of marrying rich, of trekking to the business school in search of a traditionally wealthy mate who will ‘sort it all out’ for you?

My sister, for example, jokes that her degree in economics and finance is not a BSc but an MRS degree. When asked what her ideal world looks like 10 years from now, she muses, “I’m thinking stay-at-home mummy for one of the guys I’ll work with in banking for a few years, then I can just sit back.” In another instance, my best friend is commenting on the wealth of her boyfriend’s family whilst we’re sat in his extortionate London flat. She says, “Hopefully I won’t have to work too long, I mean, look around.” She is dedicating the next 7 years to studying to become a doctor. Even in conversation with a lesbian friend at uni, she says sincerely, “I need a rich wife. Then I won’t have to do the work. Then I won’t have to do any of the stinking work.”

So what drives the monumental shift pushing these educated women away from the corporate dream that was so popular in the 2010s?

For starters, she’s increasingly becoming the impossible standard. From the get-go, the ‘SheEO’ was exclusive to a meagre 1% of women physically capable of achieving her success. Innate wealth was synonymous with her, with the financial access to childcare, the basis of her role as worker-mother. Now though, with the cost of living and plummeting wages, prospects are worse than ever, and the dream of even owning a house seems fantastical to the average university woman. It seems then that chasing beyond that is becoming less desirable, and the more women who statistically must fail in her place means fewer women are able to identify with her and her goals. In essence, the allure has, in some part, died out in the face of a grim reality.

But women are also tired. The expectation of the ‘every-woman’ is to be everything all at once, taking on the burden of a career alongside the unpaid labour of motherhood that male counterparts don’t see themselves as equally shouldering. This highlights the ‘do it all’ elements of third-wave feminism that is harmful in its inability to address the labour gap, which instead of seeing as a systematic failure, it sees as a challenge.

So why is this an issue? The worry is that this, much like many other third-wave pillars, is turning young women away from the movement, especially educated. In these conversations, do the aspirations free from career present a liberation, or a situation in which women once again do not hold a place in the labour market? Without this access to a career, there comes also the threat of losing economic freedom, a voice in the workplace, and more formatively, a fulfilment separate from a man’s association.

As well as this, the detriments of seeking a success-centric model have made the movement socially unproductive. Blinded by the lure of wealth, we are missing the progressive beats that make the movement accessible to a woman with less fiscal means.

So one of the first steps in solving this is positing where we have gone wrong, and this generation of exhausted unaspiring women has some of its roots in the residual third-wave premise of the corporate feminist. Ultimately, we need to find a middle ground between the eternal worker and the trophy wife, as neither offers solutions to gender equality, and both have the potential to further destroy and fracture this already collapsing movement.


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