Sunday, August 01, 2010


I despise the hocus pocus self-help of Oprah and her empire. Joshunda Sanders and Diana Barnes-Brown have put together a TERRIFIC article for Bitch Magazine critiquing this privileged market and its anti-feminist underpinnings.

For decades, self-help literature and an obsession with wellness have captivated the imaginations of countless liberal Americans. Even now, as some of the hardest economic times in decades pinch our budgets, our spirits, we’re told, can still be rich. Books, blogs, and articles saturated with fantastical wellness schemes for women seem to have multiplied, in fact, featuring journeys (existential or geographical) that offer the sacred for a hefty investment of time, money, or both. There’s no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she’s willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen.

“Live your best life!” Oprah Winfrey intones on her show, on her website, and in her magazine, with exhausting tenacity. Eat kale. Lose weight. Invest in timeless cashmere. Find the perfect little black dress. But though Oprahspeak pays regular lip service to empowerment, much of Winfrey’s advice actually moves women away from political, economic, and emotional agency by promoting materialism and dependency masked as empowerment, with evangelical zeal.

As Karlyn Crowley writes in the recent anthology Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture, Winfrey has become the mainstream spokesperson for New Age spirituality because “she marries the intimacy and individuality of the New Age movement with the adulation and power of a 700 Club–like ministry.”

It’s no secret that, according to America’s marketing machine, we’re living in a “postfeminist” world where what many people mean by “empowerment” is the power to spend their own money. Twenty- and thirtysomething women seem more eager than ever to embrace their “right” to participate in crash diets and their “choice” to get breast implants, obsess about their age, and apply the Sex and the City personality metric to their friends (Are you a Miranda or a Samantha? Did you get your Brazilian and your Botox?). Such marketing, and the women who buy into it, assumes the work of feminism is largely done. Perhaps it’s because, unlike American women before them, few of the people either making or consuming these cultural products and messages have been pushed to pursue secretarial school instead of medical school, been accused of “asking for” sexual assault, or been told driving and voting were intellectually beyond them. This perspective makes it easy for the antifeminism embedded in the wellness jargon of priv-lit to gain momentum.



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