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Why Do Trend Pieces About “Empowered Women” So Often Make Me Want to Kill Myself?

I was in a perfectly nice groove with the web today until I tripped over a link to a new T magazine story. Entitled “The Professional Women Who Hunt, Shoot and Gut Their Dinners,” it sounds innocuous enough. You think, perhaps it’s time that women got to hunt too, bloody disgusting practice that it is. But then there’s that curious word, “professional,” which in the honored usage of the closet Marxists who work at magazines like T, really means that these women are rich beyond your wildest desires. And sure enough, Our Heroine has a name like “Georgia Pellegrini,” used to be an investment banker, and has a business partner who lives in Park Slope. She wears a raccoon penis bone and eats things called “wild-boar roulade.” In addition, she has written a memoir. It is called Girl Hunter.

All of this would be enough to incite depression on its own. The worst, though, is this little remark from the piece’s author, for which Ms. Pellegrini admittedly can’t be held responsible:

When shells have been placed in the chamber and the clay pigeons are ready to be launched, she gives Reibstein two crucial words of instruction: “Lean in,” she says. She’s talking about shooting posture, but she might as well be making a nod to Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate/feminist manifesto.

No article that is about Women Doing It For Themselves these days can go by without an allusion to Sandberg, I guess. Which is just my point, just the thing that bugs me about articles like these. It’s not only that these people are filthy stinking rich; it’s not just that women find empowerment through the use of phrases like “gun hickeys” and valuable tips about how to make lip gloss from beets. It’s that we are hitting a point where the women’s empowerment story is becoming so commonplace that it has hit the status of cliché.

Which I could see someone arguing I ought to celebrate, because it means that “empowerment” is becoming widespread. A cliché is a cliché because it suffers from overuse. Unfortunately, like most clichés, it’s also becoming meaningless from overuse. “Self-sufficiency,” Pellegrini’s book apparently promises, “is the ultimate girl power.” I suppose, in the sense that it would be nice to disconnect from all the men one finds out of touch and live in a cabin in the woods, maybe a collection of cabins in the woods, with a few other women living in them — and then, oh wait, that’s lesbian separatism. And lesbian separatism is not the kind of “girl power” articles like this are interested in.

The kind they are interested in is the kind that has no real content whatsoever, no risk in it, soft clichés about self-fulfillment and self-worth. In the last few years the world has apparently produced too many ersatz Roiphes and Paglias, women who Know What They Want and Go After It. It’s a desperately silly view of life and power to assume it’s a zero-sum game, empowerment, that either you have all the choices or you have none. But that’s the popular view of it now. And it’s the collapse of all actions into “girl power,” where all women’s actions are created equal as long as they feels empowered by them, that really depresses me. It isn’t the same thing, what Sandberg does (run a big, influential, maybe even culture-leading multinational corporation), and what Pellegrini is doing. Going on a “Girl Hunter Adventure Getaway” is not acquiring and using power in the same way, not at all.

I mean, just think about the name “Girl Hunter Adventure Getaways.” I’m not one of those people who wants to police the word “girl” out of existence, but its use here signals something important. That is to say that when the “professional women who hunt, shoot, and gut their dinners” do so, they are living out a sort of alternative fantasy life. They’re not really engaging with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, they’re dabbling in it. And their imaginations of what liberation looks like seem similarly clipped, and boxed in. After all, whatever utopia it might constitute, in that alternative rugged fantasy life, women still feel it necessary to describe themselves as “girl hunters,” rather than “hunters,” full-stop.

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