The Empowerment Elite Claims Feminism
Clearly, every “women’s conference” cannot be all things to all women. Expecting training in hard-core organizing at corporate conferences would be naïve. And the power and influence these platforms provide can be a real boon—feminists want more Americans to know about the movement; we want more support for issues like equal pay and representation in business. And I can’t think of any feminist who wouldn’t support the innovative work of the speakers I heard at TEDWomen. But this is an incomplete vision of feminist goals being presented as the most vital—and they will almost certainly be the best funded. Meanwhile, the more controversial issues like abortion will be stranded in their wake.
TEDWomen didn’t leave us with a call to action, but instead with a carefully cultivated feeling of “empowerment.” It’s not a bad feeling—but it is seductive, and that’s part of the point: being made to feel like you’re one of the powerful chosen few who are as innovative and enterprising as the speakers as if by osmosis.
We need urgent action, not feel-good platitudes. Since the curtains closed at TEDWomen, Mike Huckabee has said that women who use contraception can’t control their “libido,” anti-choice groups have boycotted the Girl Scouts, and Mississippi has proposed a ban on all abortions after twenty weeks.
Recently, MAKERS announced that it will be holding a two-day conference in California to “shine a light on innovative and ground-breaking individuals driving the advancement of women’s leadership and contributing to the evolution of the women’s movement today.” The speakers will include Martha Stewart, Phil Donahue, and executives from Coca-Cola and AOL headlining alongside feminists like Gloria Steinem, Geena Davis and PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill; there will also be panel discussions on such topics as “Leading From Your Center” and “Living in Your Brand.” The invitation-only event requires attendees to pay for a ticket, but MAKERS declined to reveal just how much it costs.
In all this, it is unclear what price feminism will pay.
(Disclosure: The author’s sister, Vanessa Valenti, is an independent consultant who has worked with TED. She was not consulted in the writing of this article.)
Read Next: In response to this article, TED claimed that the organization doesn't have a policy against abortion-related talks. See Jessica Valenti's reply to TED here.
Editor's Note: This article has been edited for clarity.