Girls on Wall Street
Can Wall Street embrace the principles of feminism?
By Lina Wu
Wall Street is the ultimate “boy’s club.” It is the epitome of capitalism, continuously catering to and buoying the wealthiest in America. Women can certainly break into this boy’s club. But is it possible for this manly, capitalist environment to truly embrace the principles of feminism?
Feminism is often perceived as merely a movement focused upon gender equity and no more. Those against feminism misunderstand it as an act of terrorism focused on elevating women above men. But the former is an unfinished answer, while the latter is just completely inaccurate. Feminism can expand beyond gender to class and race. Feminism should be an intersectional movement rather than a single-issue one. To the media, single-issued, white-washed feminists such as Lena Dunham represent feminism.
We should be looking towards the works of feminists like Kimberle Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Assanta Shakur, Bell Hooks, and many more. These women are some of the best representations of intersectional feminism. They recognize the intersections of all movements including sex, race, and class. Class has a major role on Wall Street and within its relationship to society.
As Marx said in The Communist Manifesto, “the history hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” The class struggle focuses on elevating the role of the proletariat working class laborer in society. The working class is full of the disadvantaged, which undoubtedly includes both women and people of color. A working class focus can indeed be applicable to feminism.
What isn’t often spoke of is that Marx believed capitalism was necessary for revolution. Although he agreed with capitalism to a certain extent, he didn’t agree with it being the final stage of humankind. When taking this into consideration, Wall Street is an absolute necessity for the advancement of society. Disadvantaged groups, such as women and people of color, must be represented on Wall Street, the nexus of our financial system. In a capitalistic society, we must alter who retains power so as to revolutionize the system and rectify its oppressive aspects.
So considering this aspect of Marxism, corporate feminism is embraceable. The recent film Equity depicts corporate feminism at its best. Equity examines women taking control of Wall Street and breaking its norms. The film focuses on one woman’s attempt to navigate scandal and corruption and achieve Wall Street success like her male counterparts.
The film shows us women who essentially act exactly like the Wall Street men of popular cinema. This includes some of the same experiences, manipulations, rule-bending, and run-ins with government. Women become just as bad as men. And although it isn’t an entirely positive depiction of women on Wall Street, it does complicate historic stereotypes that paint women as fragile, unable to run their own empires.
The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 aimed to dismantle a corrupt system. Wall Street is flawed for many reasons, among them deception, irresponsible risk-taking, and excessive CEO pay, but also because of the fact that it’s dominated by white males who have limited interactions with the worlds of disadvantaged groups. Adopting parts of Marxist credo, there’s a good argument to be made that the excesses of Wall Street could be reigned in if more women, especially women of color, had access to it. Women of color are often hit the hardest by widespread economic hardship. When the disadvantaged are allowed to assume positions of power, it’s possible to change the system for the better.
Many on Wall Street argue that it is an efficient meritocracy; but can we really call it that? A successful meritocracy would not be characterized by white male hegemony. If the tenets of intersectional feminism could begin to permeate this environment, one we’ve seen endlessly portrayed in films like Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Big Short, more diverse representation could have remediating consequences.
Corporate feminism currently dominates the political scene. Women such as Hillary Clinton and Ivanka Trump are the epitome of corporate feminism. Money and power elevate them to the powerful roles that are most often occupied by men. And although Wall Street can embrace corporate feminism, like the kind we see in Equity, that limited view is still insufficient.
Although it can be revolutionary to occupy a position on Wall Street as a member of a historically disadvantaged group, to a certain extent, one becomes a part of the very hegemony they aim to dismantle. With more diverse representation, would things really change? A feminism that is devoid of the issues of class is a still-patriarchal feminism. Women like Ivanka Trump exemplify this phenomenon.
Ultimately, we must work within the existing system if we are to embrace the values for which Marx argues. While examining the societies of nations such as China, which has completely embraced communism, I don’t completely agree that Marx’s “utopia” is possible.
But I do agree with Marx on this point: capitalism must be embraced, to a certain extent, for us to fix our society’s flaws. Corporate feminism and Wall Street are not mutually exclusive. But to a certain extent, corporate feminism is just another version of the patriarchy.
So is corporate feminism, like the kind we see on Wall Street, even feminism? In a perfect world, feminism would redirect its focus towards benefitting the truly disadvantaged. And while mainstream versions of the movement have been overly white-washed, focusing on a glamorized portrayal of the working lady, we certainly don’t have the right to proclaim there is one way of practicing feminist ideology. After all, the movement, while in desperate need of reform, is all about choice.
Originally published Fall 2016