As feminist slogans are blazoned on t-shirts and Instagram posts of marches and protests are frequent and common, the increasingly trendy nature of current fourth-wave feminism is an incredible accomplishment, resulting in the stigma that has historically surrounded the concept being eroded away and embraced by more young women.
With this popularity and proliferation of feminism, there has been a recent discussion over the concept of the ‘double agent of the patriarchy.’ As explained by the actress Jameela Jamil, this idea refers to a a women who “perhaps unknowingly, is still putting the patriarchal narrative out in the world.” Jamil highlighted the example of the Kardashian-Jenner clan as women “still benefitting off, profiting off, and selling a patriarchal narrative to other women.”
The example of the Kardashian sisters is an obvious one. The problematic nature of how they chose to use their celebrity is well-known and well-documented and are prime demonstrations of how women can be complicit in encouraging patriarchal standards and undermining the feminist cause. Instead of encouraging self-belief and acceptance they tout such bogus scams such as detox teas and parade appetite-suppressant lollipops to their young fans as explanations for the personal-trainer sculpted bodies. Women like the Kardashians each play in a role in the continuation of patriarchal norms.
While examples of the Kardashians-Jenner clan’s complicity may be easy to digest, the idea of a double agent still holds complexities. Take the model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, a woman who is a proud and active feminist, something that should be commended. She is outspoken about her views and proactive in her activism, having done commendable work for Planned Parenthood and having been arrested at a Brett Kavanaugh protest.
However, Ratajkowski does seem to benefit from and profit off the patriarchal narrative, with her penchant for appearing in the nude and displaying her impossibly toned body. Her insistence to assign all that she does as feminist while so much of it seems to be catering to the male gaze and succumbing to the traditional male idea of the ‘perfect’ woman can be seen as problematic in her confining herself into this ‘cool girl’ stereotype.
It is hard to blame a woman for benefitting and profiting off her sexuality when for years women have been told that that is the only power they yield. These women have not created this framework but are merely operating within one that already exists. At least in this social media age, women are able to be the ones who control when and how their bodies are seen.
There is merit in Jamil’s idea. Women are complicit in furthering the patriarchy and it is okay if we feel discomfort in what certain women chose to present as feminist. Influential women do play a part in sustaining patriarchal oppression off women and as fellow women, we should demand better of them. This is not a simple issue that can be fixed by assigning blame but is an important topic in addressing how feminism can help us all, instead of providing benefits for the few.