What women have vs. what women are: the weird collusion of feminism and consumerism

Photo by Tomo Nogi on Unsplash.

On this International Women’s Day, I’ve been contemplating a quote from Edith Stein. It is a sentiment both prescient and enigmatic.

The world does not need what women have. It needs what women are.

-Edith Stein

There is so much to unpack in those thirteen words. Every day I discover a new situation in need of this enlightenment. Perhaps today more than ever, what women have is exploited and appropriated on a massive scale, in blatant disregard for what women are. The painful irony of these offenses is that they are often perpetrated by those who presume (or merely pretend) to serve, liberate, empower, respect, and even love women.

I remember when Maybelline wanted to sell us make-up under the guise of self-worth and Pantene inexplicably tried to purvey shampoo as some essential component of professional respect and workplace gender-parity. I was righteously indignant then. (Full disclosure: That was also in my pixie-haircut phase. A few professionally fulfilling, cosmetically carefree years during which I did not own a hairbrush or use conditioner.) How naive I was! Little did I know then that I would soon yearn for such good old days, days of comparative innocence.

Women in the United States make the majority of consumer decisions. As far as the markets are concerned, we are a goldmine, and greed is having its way with us. We are routinely essentialized and manipulated. By now it is common knowledge that internet advertising is targeted, and social media have effortlessly induced us to give marketeers more detailed personal information on their target audiences than ever before. The scale of these data and the power they impart are breathtaking.

I boast very few victories of note, but here’s a modest one: my private life seems to have totally baffled facebook’s ad-targeting genius. I’ve been without a relationship status long enough that the ads for engagement rings and wedding gowns petered out years ago. Then, for a long stretch, online dating services were ubiquitous in my news feed, but I didn’t take the bait. Now only google still holds out hope that I’ll find my match, with the help of apps they advertise, of course. But if any of you thought such misguided attempts to get money from a single woman were tone-deaf or offensive, then hold on to your bonnets, clutch your pearls, and cross your legs, because things are about to get truly weird.

Here are the kinds of targeted ads I get now:

These aren’t the most invasive examples, though appeals by Planned Parenthood to me are probably the most off-target. Many ads are even more insulting. As you can see, one company is offering a pill to boost my sex drive. (Who said it was lagging?) Fertility care centers throughout the mid-atlantic region suspect my ovaries are on the struggle bus, and want to sell me the promise of my very own baby. On the other hand, devout Jewish couples have more faith in my fecundity; an agency representing them offered to purchase my eggs for top dollar. I was deeply confused by that one. Not sure whether they think these eggs are kosher, or that I would just favor a particular religious community with my genes. Another business asked to rent my womb. A sperm bank has reached out to offer me my pick of DNA from genetically superior males.

Planned Parenthood, in an almost universally-overlooked irony, has never offered me either planning or parenthood assistance. They actually just offer to continuously sell me infertility on demand, with a steaming hot side-dish of smug white-femme-savior-complex, because supposedly needy women everywhere must be rescued from their own hazardous bodies by synthetic hormones, suppressive devices, and far more abominable measures.

Purveyors of vagina-shaped hats had a go at my pursestrings back when a bunch of women thought that dressing up as genitalia was a good way to show a predatory president that we…um…aren’t mere genitalia? (Clarification: I do not reason, vote or march by use of my privates. In fact, I have other parts to perform all those functions.) “Save the Tatas” lures us to donate money towards breast preservation, because apparently saving lives isn’t quite as persuasive or lucrative. I will leave to your imagination the other unseemly items, services and causes which industries and certain feminists insist unattached women “need.” Throw in there a handful of mistaken though benign ads for menstrual cramp remedies and endometriosis clinical trials, and I think you get the picture. (On that note, I do not take my good health for granted. I fervently wish godspeed to any woman in need of a decent, ethical healthcare. Beware the vultures.)

For now at least, even the all-seeing internet doesn’t know what I want from my body. Still, these advertisers have something in common. They are all quite convinced that my lady parts and female insecurity are big business.

They are wrong. Ladies, sisters one and all, please, I entreat you earnestly: DO NOT PROVE THEM RIGHT.

Only the devil can sell you what is yours. My mother told me that when I was an adolescent. No doubt she learned it from her mother. I remembered it all these years because it puzzled me so much. I didn’t understand then just how profound and salient it was. Another untarnished gem of sagacity, its sources shrouded in the mists of time. Forget the fountain of eternal youth. I want in on this font of ageless wisdom.

So, I’ll say it again for those in the back.


All marketing is profit-driven. Much of it is only one shade of gray lighter than exploitation, but marketing which monetizes the needless manipulation of a healthy, autonomous female body, marketing which pretends to offer a woman such as myself reproductive fulfillment, social equality or sexual so-called-liberation, strikes me as downright evil. It makes my flesh crawl. We do not need any of these products or services in order to be women–beautifully, powerfully, naturally, wholly, freely women. In fact, most of these marketing and advocacy campaigns are not just unnecessary; they are dehumanizing. By exploiting what women have (i.e. our body parts) they erode at our collective understanding of what women are.

We are more than the sum of our parts. We are women. We are whole. We are enough. We are human beings. Get your ROI’s off our ovaries, your bottom lines off our bottoms.

We are more than the sum of our parts. We are women. We are whole. We are enough. We are human beings.

To everyone offering to fix my female body for a fee, this is your official notice that my body is not broken. To everyone asking to buy my body’s natural gifts, let it be known that they are beyond price.

I cannot buy my freedom, my femininity, or my completion because they are already mine. I will not part with them for all the gold in the world.

On the other hand, if you want to sell me high-quality, custom-tailored clothes with capacious pockets, then take all my money. Just so you know, there isn’t very much of it.

Hand-sketched monochrome cabbage in a magenta hue- Cabbages and Kings