But none of this would surprise those troubled by the rise of what “We Were Feminists Once” author Andi Ziesler has called “marketplace feminism”—the belief that female choice and individual self-actualization prove the primary means of achieving equality. “Consumer empowerment dovetailed nicely with third-wave feminism . . .,” Zeisler explains, “and this empowerment was certainly of a piece with the neoliberal ideal in which individuals operate independent of culture and economic influence.”
But in a blown-out, “Lean-in” world where self-branding is the status quo, a woman’s ability to even achieve financial solvency is ever more predicated upon not only what she consumes to fulfill aesthetic expectations, but by how she herself is consumed in both the real and digital spheres. So as much as it may feel “empowering” to Instagram pics of a svelte post-baby body, or upload a luminous headshot to a LinkedIn account, danger lurks when one’s power is based less on the capacity to produce something than project an image of ineffable confidence and economic well-being. In other words, when we privilege capital—or the illusion of such—above all, a woman’s gains are measurable only insofar as her body and labor retain market value.