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The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RNF (The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

RNF addresses the puzzling convergence of neoliberalism and feminism, a convergence that has produced a new and increasingly dominant strand of feminism in the Anglo-American world—what I term neoliberal feminism. This feminism has been unmoored from key terms, such as equality, justice, emancipation or autonomy. Indeed, disavowing the socio-economic and cultural structures shaping our lives, neoliberal feminism produces a feminist subject who accepts full responsibility for her own well-being predicated on crafting a happy work-family balance, which is itself based on a cost-benefit calculus.

This is the first multidisciplinary perspective on the rise of neoliberal feminism, one which exposes its mode of operations and how it helps produce a new feminist subject whose ideal is a happy work-family balance. It also exposes how neoliberal feminism reifies white and class privilege and heteronormatively, which, in turn, lends itself to neo-conservative and xenophobic agendas. Thus, the project has created new tools for understanding our present neoliberal reality. Finally, RNF has developed new directions and a new conceptual apparatus for reclaiming feminism as a social justice movement.

The overall objective of RNF was to give an account for the rise of neoliberal feminism, which posits a happy work-family balance as its ultimate ideal.

RNF’s main conclusions are:
1) Neoliberalism currently ‘needs’ feminism to resolve one of its internal tensions in relation to gender. As an economic order, neoliberalism relies on reproduction and care work in order to reproduce and maintain so-called human capital. However, as a political rationality, neoliberalism has no separate political lexicon that can recognize let alone value reproduction and care work. Neoliberal feminism therefore operates at the moment as a kind of pushback to the total conversion of educated and upwardly mobile women into generic human capital. By maintaining reproduction as part of middle-class or so-called aspirational women’s normative trajectory and positing balance as its normative frame and ultimate ideal, neoliberal feminism helps to both maintain a discourse of reproduction care-work while ensuring that all responsibility for these forms of labor falls squarely on the shoulder of individual so-called aspirational women.
2) Neoliberal feminism increasingly produces a splitting of female subjectivity: the worthy capital-enhancing feminist subject who are encouraged to have children and negotiate a happy work-family balance and the “unworthy” disposable female “other” who performs most of the reproductive and care work.
3) Neoliberal feminism should not be considered “faux” feminism but rather one strand among many others.

1) I have gained new multi-disciplinary methodological skills, as well as leadership and project management knowledge.
2) I have helped to organize or have participated in four separate workshops on feminist convergences. I have also held a number of informal meetings with feminist NGOS and activists to discuss neoliberal feminism as well as spoke to a number of groups of high school students about the state of feminism.
3) I have significantly expanded my research network. I am currently working on a number of different projects with other scholars. One current collaboration is with Dr. Shani Orgad (LSE) and Dr. Sara De Benedicis (Brunel) on how the #MeToo movement has been depicted in the UK press. Another collaboration is with Professors Rosalind Gill (City) and Sarah Banet-Weiser (LSE), where we have conducted a three-way conversation about the differences among neoliberal feminism, postfeminism, and popular feminism. I have also strengthened my collaboration with Dr. Sara Farris (Goldsmiths), Lynne Segal (Birkbeck) and Angela McRobbie (Goldsmiths) . I am also collaborating with Rossella Ghighi (U of Bologna) on a special issue of Rassegna Italiana Di Sociologia entitled Feminism: Historical Legacies and Current Challenges.
4) I have amassed empirical material (data collection) with the help of research assistants and written two articles in top-tier peer-reviewed journals, co-edited a special issue for new formations on “Righting Feminism” and co-authored the introduction to this special issue, as well as completed my manuscript. All of the peer-reviewed articles acknowledge the EU Horizons 2020 Individual Marie Curie Fellowship.
5) I have written four op-eds (three in Al-Jazeera), one of which was published in the Conversation, reprinted in The Independent, reaching tens of thousands of readers across Europe.
6) I have attended two international conferences, given four public talks and been invited to 8 other workshops and seminars. I have also been interviewed about my work for the Journal of Consumer Ethics, the podcast, Politics, Theory, Other and BBC radio 5live, and been invited to participate in various less formal academic workshops and seminars.
7) With the help of a postgraduate student, I am in the last stages of creating a web-platform for my project, which should be up and running in the next few months:
"The results and the impact of RNF have been extremely positive.

In the past two years, I have published two articles in top-ranked journals and an introduction to a special issue as well as completed my monograph. The co-edited introduction to the special issue of new formations on “Righting Feminism” has been translated into French and Arabic, attesting to the project’s international reach. Additionally, a Hebrew version of my article, “The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism” is coming out in Theory and Criticism in the Fall of 2018 and an updated version of this same article is to be reprinted in the Handbook of Gender, Work and Organization, published by Routledge and slated to be published in the Fall of 2019.

The term neoliberal feminism has become part of the scholarly discussion and my work is being circulated and referenced widely. This is evidenced in the number of invitations I have received to speak and/or to contribute to various academic and media outlets. One of these invitations was to be a keynote speaker for a conference organized by scholars in the field of management at Middlesex University (June 1, 2018), which attests to the cross-disciplinary impact of RNF. Another one of these invitations is to speak to an activist group called the Cardiff People's Assembly in November 2018, demonstrating how my project on neoliberal feminism is reaching a wide audience. I have also been asked to co-edit a special issue of Rassegna Italiana Di Sociologia entitled Feminism: Historical Legacies and Current Challenges, slated to come out in 2020. Finally, my monograph is slated to be translated and published in Italian by Ombre Corte. This attests to the international impact of my project.

Finally, RNF has led to a new collaborative project, which continues to explore the influence of neoliberal feminism on the #MeToo movement. Thus, the term neoliberalism as well as my theorization of its emergence will continue to have an impact for years to come.