Putting a female face on imperialism and capitalism doesn’t make it excusable. Stop calling women who participate in the exploitation of marginalized communities “girlbosses.”
The neoliberal agenda nowadays is very simple—take the powers that be and make them relatable in a way that will mask their true politics. Make them appear more progressive and more radical than they really are in hopes of pacifying the people and their righteous anger. By turning those who would normally be considered foes into friends, no harm can come to the current system.
In modern-day politics, figures such as Meghan Markle, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michelle Obama, and Kamala Harris are seen as heroes of our times who have overcome the odds in order to make the world a better place for women everywhere. By taking up space in male-dominated settings, they are sending the message that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Powerful. Commanding. In control. However, this doesn’t automatically mean that they’re making progress on behalf of women everywhere. Despite what neoliberalism may have you think, filling a seat is simply filling a seat. It’s almost impossible to believe that women like Kamala Harris or AOC started working for the United States government with hopes of fully dismantling such an oppressive regime.
Sure, they may add diversity to an institution that was once predominantly white and male, but placing a woman or anyone at all in a position of power or authority means nothing without anti-imperialist praxis or principles. Anything less simply counts as a form of upholding the current system.
In fact, this approach is nearly textbook in the manner in which it is done—the oppressors will often take a handful of people from a marginalized population or community and prop them up to be “examples.” These select few are then advertised as what the rest of the community could be or aspire to if they worked harder, essentially serving as the face of “this can one day be you!” But, what they don’t tell you is that you can’t hold solidarity with both them and the people at the same time; you must choose. So, what did these women choose?
They chose the regime. Every one of these women has benefitted from a system of both imperialism and capitalism; one that exploits everyday, working-class women who don’t share their privileges of being wealthy or considered one of the elite. Though the mere presence of powerful women may appear as a form of resistance in a patriarchal society dominated by male leadership, they do nothing more than offer the exact same system but from an entirely different angle, one that may appear more authentic and honest to someone who isn’t a part of the elite. We’ve fallen into a similar trap before with Barack Obama, and many other public figures from marginalized communities both at home and abroad. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many Black people made the mistake of thinking that a Black president automatically meant better for Black people without taking a look at the policies he would put in place or his track record.
With the Obama presidency being thought of as the ultimate achievement and a possible catalyst for a post-racial society, much of the grassroots organizing and activism that occurred before went on a long hiatus. It only started again once Trump was elected eight years later, with people realizing that the struggle wasn’t over. Therefore, it makes perfect sense as to why we’re making the mistake with women (especially of color) in high positions. We like to think that they’re shattering glass ceilings when in reality, they’re building fortresses that are far more indestructible than glass could ever be. After all, when you’ve added so many intersections and diversity to a harmful system, it’s much harder to point out that the system is harmful.
And although many figures start their careers having mostly pure intentions to make the world a better place, many of them eventually abandon some of their original morals in order to get ahead in their careers or lives. At first, they wanted to challenge the system, hoping to reform it for the better until they realized that there would be more to gain by pledging their allegiance to it. In doing this, they become members of administrations that are directly involved in the violence that takes place against various marginalized groups, many of which women are a part of.
Though she ran on the campaign promise to abolish ICE, AOC faced harsh criticism when she voted in favor of a bill that would help fund it on her very first day of office.
Despite Kamala Harris originally stating that she believed the women who accused Joe Biden of sexual assault, she later stayed silent when he chose her as his running mate for the presidential ticket. Currently in office, the Biden-Harris administration has not only proceeded in the deportation of thousands of Black immigrants, but they have also bombed Syria and are also planning to drone strike Somalia through the help of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Though millions of Americans voted for the Biden-Harris ticket in hopes of reducing the amount of harm that could possibly come to certain communities, much hurt has already taken place.
As for figures such as Michelle Obama and Meghan Markle, they have often been praised and lauded by the masses for being women who overcame personal hardships and obstacles before making their way up to successful positions of power and influence. For Michelle, she hailed from Chicago’s south side, and eventually made her way up to being the wife of America’s first Black president. For Meghan, she faced much racism and discimination in her youth, only to later find herself becoming a duchess in Great Britain’s “Royal Family.” Both Michelle and Meghan, though facing struggles put in place by racist and imperialist institutions, had no problem joining these same institutions once they became comfortable members of the elite class. Meghan Markle particularly, had no problem marrying into one of the most racist institutions known to the entire world, only to feel discomfort once that same racism was redirected at her.
So we must ask ourselves, are these women truly shattering glass ceilings and pushing boundaries when they themselves are becoming the very same systems in which they once took issue with?
As organizers, activists, Black revolutionaries, and Pan-Africanists, it is critical that we rethink feminism and what its progress truly looks like. Not only on a national scale, but a global one. When we paint the elite and the powers that be as our saviors, we’re doing a disservice to the women who organize and fight for equality everyday at the ground level. Any movement, including a feminist one, should be centered around women who exist in the most marginalized communities. We have to look at history and realize that an organic movement really for the people will start small at the root and then grow until the masses are aware of it and join in. If a revolution is started at the top, it’s not truly a revolution, but is instead being placed there to fulfill a separate purpose.