The new feminism, just like the old capitalism: the commodification of the self as career opportunity

In a paper published by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, Joseph E. Davis wrote:

The commodification of the self seems to be a misnomer. If a commodity is a product, something that can be bought and sold, then in what sense can the self be commodified? Without any claim to being exhaustive, I want to discuss two possible meanings. A first is that self-understanding is mediated by the consumption of goods and images. In this sense, self-definition depends on the appropriation of the traits of commodities. We know who we are and we judge the quality of our inner experience through identification with the things we buy. A second meaning of self-commodification involves the reorganization of our personal lives and relationships on the model of market relations. This adaptation is well illustrated by the recent practice of “personal branding,” a strategy of cultivating a name and image of ourselves that we manipulate for economic gain. Both of these meanings of self-commodification concern the terms in which we define ourselves and our well-being, and each has been facilitated by the loosening of self-definitions from specific social roles and obligations.

In all these discussions about “having it all” and “leaning in”, this, our contemporary feminism has turned us into commodities to market. We are the product to be sold to corporations in order to have a career. And here is what strikes me as weird-funny-baffling: we have failed to develop our own “properties” to trade in this game of currency exchange (in the sense that women, as a class, have not massively developed a means of production so we are left to play in the guys’ pens) and when confronted with this failure (white, heterocentric patriarchal business models) instead of demanding a structural change to level the playing field, we are advised to turn ourselves into the commodity. I suppose that when we collectively realize we have nothing to trade, all that is left is better marketing for the only commodity we do own: the self. In a sense, this feminism is guilty of the same objectification we have been fighting against for centuries.

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