Straight Women on the Internet

Is the Empowerment in the Room With Us?

Fohr
Koby Omansky
June 12, 2024
Updated Jun 12, 2024
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At Fohr, we strive to be students of people and culture—especially when it comes to the Internet. For example, what topics are provoking conversation online? How does online discourse materialize as influence? Usually, anti-vax “wild mamas,” serve-thy-husband-first influencers, and other conservative, gender-role-embodying content doesn’t make its way into this author’s corner of it—but lately, there’s been a shift. First, it was the stay-at-home girlfriend trend and “Just a Girl” videos about not knowing how to change a tire. This level of encroachment felt allowable; after all, being a stay-at-home girlfriend sounds pretty luxe and I definitely don’t know how to change a tire. But then, a ratcheting-up of the tenor commenced and my previously coastal-progressive feed became a clearinghouse for what felt suspiciously like crypto-conservative content: so-called ‘feminist trad-wives' evangelizing raw milk mixed and mingled with unironic choruses of “‘Looking for a Man in Finance.” Why are all the independent, progressive, educated women I know suddenly being advertised a-man-is-a-financial-plan content by an algorithm that should know them better by now? Maybe it’s because the algorithm has noticed that, perhaps even more acutely than before, the straight women are not okay.

Girls may run the world, etc. but they sure aren’t getting paid for it. While women are achieving increasing levels of education and positions of leadership, they still make 84 cents on the dollar compared to a man with the same job title, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the National Women’s Law Center—a number that hasn’t improved in decades. This is coupled with the fact that prices have increased 20.8% since the pandemic-induced recession began in February 2020. We have thousands in student-loan debt, the co-pay for a regular doctor’s visit is like $80 (and that’s when nothing is wrong), a martini is cheap if it’s $16, and we’re supposed to be freezing our eggs or having an extra mil lying around for childcare and a college fund. Empowerment is all nice and good when you live in whatever Sex and the City economy gets you a brownstone apartment on a columnist’s paycheck, and less appealing when it sounds more like living paycheck to paycheck until you die because that’s #girlpower.

Casey Lewis of After School explains why Looking for a Man in Finance is such an appealing proposition in a post-Girl-Boss paradigm: “There’s this feeling that no matter how hard women work ... we’re still barely making ends meet,” Lewis said. Given those headwinds, it makes sense that new Jenny Holzer-esque survival-tactics would emerge to fill the existential void: “If [you] just lock down a man in finance…then you’re kind of made.’” Which begs the question: if patriarchy won't change in our lifetime, don't we deserve to make it work for us? In May, the dating app that built its brand on women messaging first, Bumble, announced that it would now allow men to make “opening moves.” One female user of the app’s takeaway feels summative of the general feelings surrounding heterosexual dating these days: “[The change] feels ‘regressive’ in theory but useful in practice.” Being empowered to make the first move sounds good in theory, but exhausting in practice when you’re looking down the barrel at driving the conversation and spearheading the meet-up to splitting the bill and eventually single-handedly managing a household like an octopus maestro. Don't empowered, educated, accomplished women also deserve a modicum of ease?

It’s easy to scoff at unemployed Gen Z artistes earnestly researching pre-nups and self-identified “feminist trad-wives'' whose reels show perfect lives full of books read in gardens surrounded by fair-haired, linen-clothed children playing with foraged herbs and handmade dolls, but it would be a mistake to ignore the deeper truths their popularity indicates. With the mind-wreckingly conspicuous absence of both reproductive rights and the material possibilities of a booming 90s economy, we find ourselves flirting with regressive ideas that we otherwise wouldn’t.

If you’re asking me what “liberation” actually looks like for young women who want financial freedom without having to grind endlessly for The Man or do domestic labor forever for A Man in an Arc’teryx Vest Named Brian, I will respectfully decline to answer that “the bear or the man”-esque question when there should be a secret third thing (financial autonomy as an accessible future)—although I have an awful feeling that the closest example I have for a truly free woman might be that one lady who asks strangers to record her then charges at them on all-fours while screaming.*

*Honorary mention of Miranda July’s new book, All Fours, which I have yet to read, so the jury is still out on whether the woman gets liberation in the end.

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