This modern preoccupation with the Empowerful Woman was funny for a while, but it begins to wear thin. I predict that if a post-patriarchal social history of the New Millennium ever gets written there will be a hilarious chapter on this bizarre, buffoonish construct.
I allude to the confident, photogenic, entirely fictitious female who inhabits TV ads, “Sex in the City,” Oprah, and the popular imagination. Today’s woman isn’t a feminist. She doesn’t need to be, because she’s empowered.
She may only earn 3/4 of what a man earns, but she damn well has the empower to look sexy doing it in her cheapcrap push-up bra from Victoria’s Secret. She has the empower to demand pink products from manufacturers. She has the empower to cry out ‘I did it for me!’ when she gets her boob job; maybe she even has the empower to believe it. The empowerful woman is saucy, yet feminine. Clever, yet feminine. In her early thirties, yet feminine. Heterosexual, yet feminine. Stays in shape eating Lean Cuisine and sweating blue Gatorade while kickboxing in slow motion, yet feminine. Yes, the empowerful woman is many things. Too bad powerful isn’t one of them. That’s because feminine is all of them.
It’s no accident that the empowerful woman has stepped into the void left by the absence of any actual, fully-realized women. She was invented for precisely that purpose by the global corporatocracy, without whose tireless sponsorship of consumer feminine consciousness real-life women might have no clue how ugly and unfeminine they are. Femininity—that set of self-absorbed, self-defeating behaviors required of women by the dominant culture to ensure a ready-steady supply of submissive sexbot availability—is central to the empowerful woman narrative. Because there was never so hideous an abomination as a woman who can’t prove, through word, deed, and sportcorset, that she has successfully internalized the patriarchal message and is conversant in fulfilling male fantasy.
But dang it, I keep forgetting: the subject of today’s essay is Nike, the sportswear company. Nike is currently running an ad campaign for their women’s line featuring whup-ass tennis stars and the slogan “I Feel Pretty.” On TV they play the song over footage of Maria Sharapova, who is supermodel foxy, looking surly on her way to the US Open. The juxtaposition of the cutesy song and the take-no-prisoners expression on Sharapova’s face supposed to be edgy-ironic. We women are empowerful enough to be pretty and pretty good at tennis!
NIke has also bought itself a spokes-thlete with actual power, the magnificent Serena Williams. Now, you could pile the earth’s entire supply of pink lace on Serena Williams and she would still, I am happy to say, exist well beyond the bounds of ‘feminine’. But in order to sell overpriced sportswear made by Asian slave labor, Nike dilutes the terrifying spectre of Williams’ threatening prowess; a catalog arriving in the Twisty mailbox yesterday describes her with this howler: â€œPowerful, feminine, unexpected.â€
But wait—while you’re deciding whether to laugh or cry—there’s more: Nike, in an apparent bid to position itself as outfitter to the tragically empowerful, has come up with a thing called a ‘sport corset.’ It’s sort of a pink sports bra, but—no joke—it has boning and laces. God forbid you should fail to look like a Hustler centerfold when you’re out on the court. At last, a way to show the world you’re empowerful enough to be a complete moron.