(ESSAY) “Capitalism will even alienate you from your face” by Eleri Fowler
In this essayistic meditation, Eleri Fowler taps into the strange subjectification and temporality engendered within the quest to become a ~ female worker ~ in the Neoliberal job market. Bodies, affects and identities are all at stake as Fowler moves compellingly through a curriculum vitae’s worth of feminist reference, anecdotal experience and social performance.
> Libby is LinkedIn she is linked to everyone else she is in there. She is one in a constellation. She is a cog. You must make yourself known by asserting that I am, I am, I am. It is Austinian. It is Poststructuralism. You are nothing unless you say you are. You do not exist unless you have a(n online) presence. Have you noticed how I keep switching pronouns? Your I has to become a bit less wobbly it must be robust it must be strong and stable. I am resourceful, I am driven, I am good at working in teams. I am writing in the third person. It’s a different kind of prose. These are words made dirty through circulation, furrowed bank-notes passed through the changing hands of pragmatism. I am writing in the third person. I am performing a strange kind of introspection. Enquire within. Is what I am an office administrator? Is that what I do? Is and and and is and and. Between then and then did this. Year X Role X Skills. Flexi-time. You cannot be on the commute to yourself. Instead, you must be a fully formed specimen but also a progression, developing, a narrative [Also – very bad to have gaps in your CV]. Then is it a bildungsroman? Well, where do you see yourself in 10 years? When being interviewed, you will often be asked questions you don’t have an answer for. No one knows the answer to them, they are so massive. They might as well be asking – what is the meaning of life, is it all worth it? Here now is they. Us and them. We (in good company / in a good company). In her applications,Libby is shouting at no one in particular she is boasting posturing it is so embarrassing. Orbiting yourself towards imagined employers. Scrub your social media of swearing, of references to drugs and alcohol. Fill the position. Be who they’re looking for.
> Libby cranks open her zygomaticus major and picks some lint off her shirt.
> Another step on the slalom of job hunting.
Ducking and diving. Hawking wares.
Darting in the backstreets, shiftily opening your shearling lapels and revealing all your silver watches (your goods, your credentials).
> Going around and selling … what? Your body and its functionality to make buying things easier for other people? Your back and knees to bend down and pick up low things; your arms to reach and pick up high things.
The metonym of your smile.
Offering up your selfhood, but a weird flambéed version: all the custard gloop of your multifarious self, caramelised into a hard, darkened shard. All anyone ever saw was this opaque lid.
> The journey is made on a dual carriageway and has a parallel cyber tract, traversed similarly itinerantly ‘surfing the web’.
The end point to this vagrant wandering is like the diminishing spot on the horizon during a trip down the M6 at 3am, high on energy drinks.
Meanwhile, time is fed through you like the gap-toothed centre lines below the undercarriage of the vehicle in front.
> The work when you do get it is physically demanding and requires unprecedented reserves of emotional resilience.
Such anaemic, flimsy little promises offered to the precariat.
The mechanic hand of Late-Capitalism picking them up and flippantly dropping them like a limp stuffed toy.
You should not ‘get on with’ your oppression, the correct thing to do is have a tantrum, throw your toys out of the pram. A crotchety childish response is the only logical one to a whirlpool that swirls inscrutably around you; one so complicated and entrenched it can’t be explained beyond a weary sigh “Things just are the way they are”. How do you complain about a system? [i]
> And yet.
When she miserably googles ‘Qualities That Interviewers Look For’, she is surprised so many lists prescribe ‘Optimism’.
‘It is important to develop optimism in ourselves and in the people around us, because research has shown that optimists tend to do better in many areas of their lives than pessimists. Pessimists get depressed more often; they tend to achieve less at work/school and their physical health has been shown to be poorer than optimists over time. The good news is that we can all learn to become more optimistic and the key is in controlling our self-talk.’ [ii]
Optimism is not peppy delusion but the stalwart old sea-captain steering his ship through the sea-fog of our categorically insane moment. What future am I facing? How am I going to live? – You can’t let these questions wash over you because otherwise you will drown.
> “We’re not looking for corporate clones. We like people who do things a little differently. Tell us what makes you stand out from the crowd.”
“Show off your personality! Be Bubbly! Energetic! Enthusiastic!”
> Why do they go in for the old popularity contest? How much more smoothly do charismatic, well-liked people glide through the world.
Why is there such demand for big personalities in essentially repetitive, menial jobs? Why must you have exceptional interpersonal skills to operate a point of sale system?
The pathological oxymoron ofwanting to hire ‘individuals’ and making them wear a ‘uniform’: everyone homogenised by the steam-roller of brilliant white Christmas cakeicing.
Anyway, the utterance of demeaning, subjectifying sentences howarewedoingtodayeverythinggoodhereguysgradually wears them all down into something as smooth and easy to walk over as generations of footsteps over ancient stone stairs.
Indeed, workforce is no more than an exercise in pointillism. Each valued, special, infinitesimally different member blurs into the body corporate.
> It is not lost on Libby that she has access to a particular slice of jobs because she is a good girl.
She is pretty, well-spoken, nice.
In Neoliberal synaesthesia, she would be lilac, or pale pink.
Because of this privilege, she has clearance to earn minimum wage by frying fish and chips at an annual elite tennis event, or selling custom-mixed paint, or becoming somebody’s stylish personal assistant. She is eminently employable because she has been given the social advantages to perform a particular form of palatable compliance.
Libby starts work at a purveyor of luxury footwear. A CV is instantly rejected because the individual who delivers it has a slightly abrasive manner and an imperfect dye-job. This woman has worked in lots of shops before. Libby has no previous experience.
> Customer-service is essentially femininity. But in what form? Femininity as air-bag. Muscle-memory femininity.
Femininity is saying “yes”
Femininity is absorbing all the static melodrama of the demands and vitriol of others. Taking it.
Femininity is the work of acting happy when you don’t feel like it.
> “The customer is always right” – What sort of world is governed by this moral law?
We want an easy dynamic, a dialectic.
A hollow, buffeted, maniacally happy – Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube (WO)man
> All around Libby, her peers wear the livery collar of their usability
Experiences calcify into vocations. Twitter epithets accrete like zygotes. Multi-hyphenate babies.
> They attend events for ‘Women in Business’. They lament the dearth of female CEOs.
They post earnest, prescriptive Facebook statuses – urging women into action – on occasions such as International Women’s Day or on any election (“Remember the women who fought for your right to have this vote!”)
They are often beautiful.
> They put on some glitter and go out and take coke and wash their hair the next morning and post their eggs benedict on Instagram – determinedly observing these acts like social rituals. Like the rigmarole getting married.
They are unblemished by the weirdness of life. They just march on through.
They always have something to report to enquiring relatives.
They have never once in their lives stayed in bed all day in convulsive despair.
> In lots of ways, this is a perfectly valid and sensible way to get through things.
[i]Sara Ahmed on complaint.
[ii]The handbook from a motivational training course I was sent on at work.
Text: Eleri Fowler