24/04/2014 08:26 BST | Updated 23/06/2014 06:59 BST

The Feminist Market: The Buying and Selling of Supposed Liberation

Last time I wrote about feminism, it ended up being the most popular blog post I have ever written, and for all the right reasons. It inspired debate. It voiced the concerns of some people, who liked it, shared it, and tweeted it to their acquaintances. In business terms, despite not receiving any payment for my blog posts, one could say that it sold well.

There were, of course, dissenting voices, as is required to form a debate. Although I had quoted several feminists in the post, they accused me of not reading enough "modern, current, feminist texts".

While there are several ways of countering this argument, it got me thinking. There are a lot of feminists publications about. At the same time, there is a demand amongst feminists to get more women at the top level of business.

So, I picked from the bestselling feminist texts* on Amazon UK, to see who they were published by. The same names kept popping up: Virago Publishing, Guardian Books, Faber & Faber, Icon Books, 4th Estate, and Oxford University Press. I then took a look at how feminism-compliant these publishers were at the highest level, and it turns out:

I'm sure the boards of each of these publishers is doing a great job, regardless of their gender proportions. That's not the point, though - feminists allegedly want women to be represented at the top level of all businesses, and not just as a token minority. Yet this means that the feminists reading these "modern, current, feminist texts" are making successes of the very executive structures they oppose.

To businesspeople in many industries, feminists are not brave social justice warriors, they are just another market. It's not just publishing, the same goes for the journalism industry, where women (such as Arianna Huffington, who provides the name that proudly mastheads this online publication) only hold a quarter of top positions, but as I noted in January:

one of this country's most popular news websites dedicates an entire section to feminism, another had dedicated on average one article per day on feminism in 2014, and protests from the likes of Femen and petitions such as No More Page Three gather heaps of media attention.

The film industry, where women work in disproportionately low and decreasing numbers, is also a culprit. Series such as Game of Throneshit record ratings because they are sold to feminists as having "strong female characters". The same goes for the highest-grossing animation of all-time. If it can help achieve revenues like that, feminism is a massive market.

Even industries that might not seem very feminist at first thought, such as the beauty and clothing industries, try to appeal to the market in their own ways. HuffPost recently claimed that "one fearless teen" was able to start a revolution by creating a feminist lingerie company, while a blogger here suggested that the feminist revolution would start by buying different razors from the same company.

The New Statesman, one of the UK's leading political magazines, turned into a hair magazine a couple of months ago when Laurie Penny sold short haircuts, which was followed up by a piece from someone admitting to being so mentally ill, they "prayed every night to wake up and have 'normal' hair like white people" - apart from without admitting that this was obviously some form of self-loathing disorder, and instead selling it as a feminist movement for more natural hair products.

Compare figures and cases like these to what happens when a product does not appeal to the feminist market. Companies react in a way that they would and do not to other political campaign groups.

For me, this shows that feminism is not going to achieve equality for women, let alone their liberation. It turns women into a market, into numbers that rise and fall helplessly in a bank account or a stock market. They're not selling their bodies to men, or even to the supposed patriarchy, but to 'free market' capitalism.

I've been told by several feminists on numerous occasions to ignore / avoid / forget about "radical feminists", by which they mean feminists whose views they disagree with.

This recently appeared on social media from someone who contacted me soon after my January post, warning me of the dangers of listening to radical feminists. However, other feminists would think, probably rightly so, this was an example of radical feminism. This shows how subjective the whole idea is.

While these sorts of beliefs are certainly problematic, they're still not quite in the mainstream yet. Instead, the main problem from feminism is that it abandons the solution to equality issues in favour of following the existing business-focused, economics-centric culture.

What's needed isn't bestselling feminism, or even radical feminism, but an ethical humanism more radical than feminism. A movement that actually demands change of the existing cultures and tries to get every human to act towards it, rather than the sort of change that inspires people to buy a different brand of beauty product.


*I did contact all the publishers listed to see if I could obtain figures as to how well these books actually sold. Of those that replied, they all declined to give me any numbers - not surprising, since that's commercially sensitive information. However, somebody at the press office for Virago Publishing did say that "our feminist polemic books...have sold hugely well and continue to do so, and certainly as well as our other nonfiction". If we take that as typical for the other publishers (and given that they are all Amazon UK bestsellers, we have no reason not to), that gives some indication of how much the 'feminist market' is worth.