Post-feminism, Cultural Entrepreneurship and Social Media

FeministWith my colleague Karen Patel, I am writing a paper which seeks to address issues of identity and professionalism for female cultural entrepreneurs by drawing on the online activities of a small group of women. We are investigating the construction of professional identities as expressed through social media activities, in this case we focus on twitter as a key platform for cultural workers.

One of the contradictions in women’s contemporary experience is a level freedom and empowerment co-existing with inequalities. This is described by Angela McRobbie (2004) as an entanglement of feminist and anti-feminist ideas illustrated by celebrities such as Karen Brady and Sheryl Sandberg who merge a feminist discourse of empowerment with neoliberal values (Gill and Scharff, 2011). In particular, entrepreneurial activities tend to appropriate a ‘can do’ language which puts an emphasis on individualism and  agency as a driving force for personal development. Of concern to scholars such as McRobbie, Gill and Scharff is the pervasiveness of a neoliberal agenda on personal identity and notions of subjectivity as individuals become preoccupied with self-image to demonstrate qualities such as expertise and professionalism.

McRobbie (2015) in particular is concerned with the way in which feminism has been adopted as part of a competitive individualisation rather than as a collective movement which seeks to contest inequalities. In her book, The Aftermath of Feminism (2008) McRobbie is very pessimistic in her description of post-feminism, presenting a neoliberal environment in which the notion of meritocracy creates boundaries rather than opening up opportunities for women to challenge and contest the status quo.

The post-feminist masquerade was a technology of the self, a mode of self-restraint which stopped women from challenging palpable gender inequalities, especially in the workplace. (McRobbie, 2015, p.8)

Building on this, McRobbie (2015) describes how the idea of perfection has entered into the realm of contemporary femininity as an aspect of the individualised project, driven by celebrities. By way of illustrating this, McRobbie draws on the US drama Girls written by Lena Dunham, highlighting how in this case striving for perfection can be articulated through imperfection, as a means of creating boundaries and social divisions between those who can afford to be imperfect and those who can’t. Through irony, the programme appears to present imperfection as a form of perfection. Yet, the key protagonist, a character based on Dunham herself, is still seeking perfection by expressing her own imperfections.

How do these concerns relate more specifically to entrepreneurial women working in the cultural and creative industries (CCI)? As others have discussed (see Oakley, Gill, McRobbie) the seemingly open-minded and laid-back attributes associated with the sector conceals gender and ethnic inequalities in terms of pay, roles and opportunities. Whilst these issues are based on gender ideologies entrenched within society (Bielby, 2013), the self-employed and freelance nature of much cultural and creative industry work creates particular problems for women. Entrepreneurial modes of CCI work tend to be focused on relatively small, micro-enterprises such as those described as The Independents by Leadbeater and Oakley (1999), often an individual setting up a small enterprise or working freelance. As David Rae states, key to the CCI entrepreneurs is a strong brand identity, usually connecting closely to their target audience and which expresses an ‘authenticity’ linked to the individual behind the brand. Self-branding and how that is expressed through social media becomes a key component of the cultural entrepreneurs potential success.

How does this relate to notions of expertise and how female cultural entrepreneurs present themselves on social media platforms such as twitter? At one level, twitter feeds could reveal very personal evidence of post-feminism and competitive individualisation at play. Furthermore, a feminist analysis of these practices might inform our understanding of the challenges of contemporary work. As McRobbie states, a ‘can do and must do better’ (McRobbie, 2015) ethos drives the imperative for perfection through constant self-monitoring, as often practiced on social media platforms.

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Annette

Senior Lecturer at Birmingham City University