‘Popular’ Feminism, Pharmacopornography and Media Strategies: Some Initial Thoughts
by: Tina Krekels , April 18, 2018
by: Tina Krekels , April 18, 2018
The Popular and Pharmacopornography
The descriptor ‘popular’ brings to mind Pierre Bourdieu’s: ‘Did you say ‘Popular?’ The magical epithet ‘popular’ is shielded from scrutiny by the fact that any critical analysis of a notion which bears closely or remotely on ‘the people’ is apt to be identified immediately as a symbolic aggression against the reality designated […] (Bourdieu 1992: 90-102)
‘Popular’ somehow, therefore, means ownership by ‘the people’. ‘Popular’ feminism is presented and embodied by ‘the people’ across all media platforms. Ownership by ‘the people’ makes feminism a popular identification for consumption. The fashionable diet of the fashionable female on the neo-liberal market: the very image of the pharmacopornographic female. Beatriz Preciado describes the pharmacopornographic as ‘the processes of a biomolecular (pharmaco) and semiotic-technical (pornographic) government of sexual subjectivity.’ (Preciado 2013: 34) Our bodies are made through the symbols and systems that surround us. We live in a world in which pornography and pharmacy have contributed to the creation of the neo-liberal human being. Popular feminism is the embodiment of the pharmacopornographic female. A female made through controlled contraception methods (the Pill). Their bodies transformed into an endocrinology-idealised corpus of labour.
I find myself browsing through some reading copies in a coffee shop around Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. F-Mag attracts my attention. It looks stylish and contemporary. The cover in colours of today’s Instagram generation: pastel blues, pinks. A woman dressed in black – a bit Punk, Goth, Bohemian – holding a lit torch next to it the title ‘Heul nicht, mach doch!’ – something like: Don’t cry, do! I am getting ridiculously happy to see this magazine: That’s popular feminism in a nutshell!
Shaping an Idealised Body
Instagram and F-Mag are the contemporary tools par excellence of body assemblage, the market in which to pick and design one’s new Self. Shape, Attitude, Character, Lifestyle, Class. Popular feminism is a tool for the empowerment of the neo-liberal female. The bodies out shopping on Instagram for identity as clothing one can wear; a liminal and virtual space in which followers of trend and trendsetters may trade their products. How about a spot of yoga in some rather expensive sports clothes. And now some healthy, raw, clean, plant-based eating for the idealised, hard-working, strong-minded and successful female. Curvy models demonstrate they exercise, whilst eating a cupcake at the same time. The creamy, sweet icing on the cake becomes the epitome of their marketing strategy. Their curvy bodies are their money, their goods, their capital. Selling their ‘positive body image’ to all those ‘curvy ladies’, a curvy body can’t be lazy, so it needs to exercise in order to shape those curves into sexy-looking love-handles. Cupcake’s job, though, is to show that a curvy woman can still indulge herself in a bit of that pink frosting and light sponge.
This might create an archive of the healthy body – images for and by the people – but all the while it conceals the capitalist-economic symbolism upon which these images are predicated. These bodies are a form of politics, shaping the pharmacopornographic into the icon-pharmacopornographic: the image as Icon (yet again). The image as capitalist product: curves, celebrities, veganism, clothes, make-up or political slogans (all sharing the same platform – the personal is the political!) These images are also Bourdieu’s symbols of power: the whittling down of feminist bodies to hashtags: the drying up of experience. F-Mag and Instagram function through appropriation and normalisation in order to create and uphold the central neo-liberal tenets of ‘feel-good’ and empowerment cultures. Inclusion of different shapes, genders, people is important and welcomed, but not too much! ‘popular’ feminism fails to address itself as a global product. Distinct filter options and typography offer the perfect digital/media space of an icon-pharmacopornographic market.
Neo-liberalism offers a form of capitalism that not only allows gender, sex, sexuality, desire and pleasure to be political objects of power, but furthermore as a politics itself it is now “carried out through the new dynamics of advanced technocapitalism, global media, and biotechnologies” (Preciado 2013). More so the icon-pharmacopornographic feminist is able to sell the technoscientific industry as desirable. A healthy, mindful, fit, trained, plant-eating, curvy, successful person is, after all, desirable and, above all, marketable. A body selling and marketing all components of its own body – selling oneself off bit by bit. From invisible metabolism procedures that can be harnessed through pharmaceutically controlled contraception methods to healthy eating and exercise regimes and the muscular, yoga- shaped body that consumes multiple green smoothies a day – this lifestyle costs a small fortune. Popular feminism is a global marketing strategy for the white and wealthy.
For Market Sale
I wonder which demographic F-Mag is targeted towards? I spot the magazine amongst all the ubiquitous female/fashion/lifestyle magazines. I laugh. This is self-assuring laughter. I knew this magazine was pitched for young women to sell feminism as the new ‘Glamour’ and ‘Cosmopolitan.’ F-Mag is part of the Brigitte magazine group. A magazine I remember my mother subscribed to in the 90s. In fact, all I remember is the Brigitte diet and how often my mother used to eat self-abnegating cabbage soup. F-Mag, on the contrary, is trendy and pitched to younger women, advocating Frydays. Empanadas recipes filled vegan, meat or sweet. Fried. Washed down with cocktails. F-Mag is not yoga, skinny. It’s re-frying the shit out of popular cultural feminism. Those empanadas are filled with panties costing €60 each and dirty fantasies of having sex with ugly men. Body positive images and stories showing scars in a sauce of unsolved rape cases, young politicians and their important experiences…I have to put the magazine away: it’s full to the brim with contradiction and incomprehensibility. Was this feminism I just experienced? Well, the magazine does come with ‘complimentary’ stickers that say Muschi (German for pussy).
Self-made platforms like Instagram or a magazine like F-Mag are stages for inventing subjects. Pharmacopornographic biocapitalism does not produce things. It produces mobile ideas, living organs, symbols, desires, chemical reactions, and conditions of the soul. In biotechnology and in pornocommunication there is no object to be produced. The pharmacopornographic business is the invention of a subject and then its global reproduction. (Preciado 2013: 36)
Users on Instagram allow followers to invent themselves through mimicry of online personas. Those materials can be possessed (if actually purchased with money), but come with the added asset of a specific ideology (‘free’ gift included). The material can be possessed as Self, bodily Self. A celebrity posts on Instagram, promoting her campaign as ambassador for equality whilst wearing an extortionate designer outfit that is tagged for ease of information directly in the post. This is feminism woven into the very fabric of popular consumer culture. A political message to accompany your latest purchase: Feminism ™.
Popular feminism is certainly about the perfect body. Not simply as a solid corporeal unit, but as an identity. This body is situated within the purview of the male gaze (which is also simultaneously the icon-pharmacopornographic gaze). And if we recall what Haraway (1991) and Preciado (2013) have to say on this matter, the female body does not exist outside of reproduction and labour. Mother. Womb. Desire. Moreover, the female body is an idealised medical body: its hormonal cycle is identified as different/other/unruly and needs to be brought under medical control. The female body is a productive machine: of people, of desire, of labour, of reproduction. A popular feminist is one that carries the brand of empowerment forward: #Feminist. The female body is rendered as a machine for capitalist purposes. Popular feminism means to promote oneself as self-styled, self-sufficient, autonomous agent. Self-laboured really means to amplify and expedite the process of absorbing patriarchal production into each living cell.
Bourdieu argues that one’s strategic use of language is a profoundly indicative of one’s identity. Language is, thus, symbolic of identity. Instagram appeals to the eyes: ophthalmic objects are transfigured or translated into an image as a nexus of cultural and social relations (and by extension knowledge). F-Mag sells itself as a Politics of Sex & Tinsel (although I prefer the German word: Lametta). Tinsel stands for fashion, make-up, lifestyle (all that glitters). In its first issue, F-Mag offers its readers make-up tips from drag queens. Unlike Instagram or YouTube vloggers, the magazine foregrounds the now laborious act of reading (we live in an attention-economy driven by images thrown at us at ever greater speed): the reward of our labour is the amelioration of self as marketable product. The drag queen, once a radical outsider and a political activist in a heteronormative world, is now normalised and capitalised – brought under control as a ‘symbol of identity’ (Bourdieu 1991). Sugar-coated popular feminism carries a bitter aftertaste: it speaks to a privileged few. This is no subset of activism or a sequestered group reaching out and calling for radical social change. It promotes and recuperates as a form of contemporary feminism the already-always-established heteropatriarchal capitalist system as a liberal and free-thinking philosophy: here, one can be an empowered feminist so long as one labours hard towards perfection of the body and lifestyle. We’d do well to call it out for what it is: that same old chestnut of women on the market!
Bourdieu, Pierre (1991), Language and Symbolic Power, Malden: Polity Press.
Haraway, Donna J. (1991) ,’A Cyborg Manifesto. Science, technology and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth Century’, in D. J. Haraway (ed.) Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge, pp. 149-182.
Hansen, Astrid et al (eds) (2017), F-Mag, (April 2017), Hamburg: Stern Medien GmbH.
Preciado, Beatriz (2013), Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, New York: Feminist Press.
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