BuzzFeed's "Apps That Will Make Women's Lives Easier" Ignores Actual Women

Categories: Culture

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Robert Scoble/Flickr
NY Times? Nah, women don't need that.
One of the best things about current-day feminism is its emphasis on celebrating the differences in women, in addition to the things we have in common. While women as a whole do still confront some of the same issues -- the wage gap, or the threat of violence from men, for example -- the movement has also made strides toward recognizing individual women as just that: individuals, facing individual challenges that are sometimes further complicated by the fact of their vaginas.

That's what makes "16 iPhone Apps That Will Make Women's Lives Easier," the BuzzFeed list that's gone viral for suggesting that women care solely about menstruating, shopping, cooking, and working out, especially frustrating. Some have pointed out that the topics on the list reduce women to some 1950s housewife stereotype: plotting their next babies, planning their outfits, making sure to have dinner on the table when hubby comes home.

That, of course, is a laughable statement, one that's hard for me to take seriously; if you don't know by now that "women be shoppin'" is not the full extent of the female agenda, this listicle isn't going to change your mind either way. But there's a more dangerous message underneath this narrow view of women, one that undermines the diversification feminism has been striving towards for decades.

Take, for example, the inclusion of shopping apps like Gilt. That's a money-saving app for some female shoppers, ones with disposable income to spend on designer clothes. Those women must also be able to fit into designer sizes, so better luck next time, plus-sizers. So yes, I guess you could say that for a very narrow percentage of women, Gilt makes their lives a tiny bit easier.

You could say the same about the grocery shopping apps: for women who spend a significant amount of time cooking, or women responsible for feeding their families, those apps might be helpful. For women who like to play around with their appearance, the apps where you test out your nail color or hair color might help avoid beauty missteps. Women who are into fitness probably really dig the Nike Training Club app. (I downloaded that one awhile back, but quickly realized that I am really, really not that person.)

The problem is that each of these sectors leaves a ton of women out. Think of it as a progressive reversal of the misguided #notallmen trend on Twitter: Not all women like shopping, or have the disposable income to do so as a hobby. (Wage gap, remember?) Not all women have families to cook for, and not all women with families cook anyway. Not all women care enough about what they look like to spend time using apps to alter their appearance. Hell, not all women even menstruate. Ask your grandma.

(And for the record, plenty of men would also find some of BuzzFeed's apps helpful. At the bare minimum, dudes do have to wear clothes and eat stuff.)

At face value, this narrow view of what women are -- which is to say, privileged -- is insulting to the majority of women in this world who are not. (Hell, it's pretty insulting to women of privilege too.) Especially when there are apps out there that specifically address problems that a majority of women do face -- apps that would actually make most women's lives easier. There's the Hollaback app, which lets women take a stand against street harassment by uploading a photo of the latest catcalling asshole to an online database. Or the YWCA Safety Siren, which can be used to signal for help when you're attacked.

But the bigger problem isn't the BuzzFeed list itself. It's the mindset that inspired it. It's the willful ignorance of the real problems women face -- poverty, violence, ageism, sizeism -- in favor of convenient stereotypes. I'm sure writer Lara Parker thought she was doing her fellow chicks a solid by compiling all these apps in one place. Instead, she just provided another sexist distraction, undermining the work of feminists -- the work that really does have the potential to "make women's lives easier."

Follow Ciara on Twitter @ciaralavelle.

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