Entirely apropos of my mention of Eat, Pray, Love, I was directed to the latest issue of Bitch magazine, which has, as always, trenchant commentary on the phenomenon of “priv-lit.”
Eat, Pray, Love is not the first book of its kind, but it is a perfect example of the genre of priv-lit: literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial. Should its consumers fail, the genre holds them accountable for not being ready to get serious, not “wanting it” enough, or not putting themselves first, while offering no real solutions for the astronomically high tariffs—both financial and social—that exclude all but the most fortunate among us from participating.
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.
This is a wonderful piece, not in the least because it manages to achieve the tricky double axel move of slagging off Gwenyth Paltrow* and making fine use of Pierre Bourdieu in quick succession. Read here.
*In an interview with UK Elle, Paltrow claimed “I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year,” which certainly lends credence to the whole notion of enlightenment, sanctity, or just smug fucking self-satisfaction are truly the provenance of the economic elite.