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June 29, 2022

Crypto Queen or Girlboss? How the Crypto-Hype Empowers (Privileged) Women

“Tired of listening to ‘crypto bros’ mansplaining about cryptocurrency and reaping most of the economy? Then, it’s time for us girls to take over the crypto world and grab that bag!”

by Rizka Khairunissa Herdiani

Talks of cryptocurrency in the digital world have taken new heights as women are entering and taking over “the boy’s club.” From Katy Perry to Reese Witherspoon, these celebrities are encouraging other women to dip their toes into investing in cryptocurrency. The reason behind it? They not only want to build gender equality within the space but also transform it into an empowerment tool for women to foster themselves financially and artistically. 

While the premise behind this promotion sounds like feminist empowerment, the nature behind it is rather fallacious than it is promised. 

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The Appeal Behind “Women Empowerment” Through Crypto

Since the rise of cryptocurrency, the demographic of cryptocurrency investors has been predominantly men. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research, men (22 percent) are about twice as likely as women (10 percent) to use cryptocurrency. However, as time went on and women became more aware of its benefits, many began to kickstart their crypto investing journey and “take over the space.”

Findings by Gemini, for instance, showed a different view:  the crypto gender gap is starting to close, with 47 percent of women planning to purchase cryptocurrency globally in 2022. In addition, crypto investments in the Global South are occupied mainly by women than those in the Global North. 

As for benefits, cryptocurrency can also be a space for women-led projects as a way to promote diversity and open accessibility to financial opportunities. When it comes to individuals who invest in cryptocurrency, many assume that they come from entrepreneurship or finance backgrounds. In reality, women from various backgrounds are actually active in investing (or developing) crypto.

For instance, women artists began to showcase their talents by minting and selling Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) on digital marketplaces. Instead of obtaining all of the profits, some of them direct the proceeds to various social justice campaigns and organizations. 

As for the “gatekeepers” of crypto, women celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Reese Witherspoon have not only encouraged women creators, collectors, and investors to actively participate in the crypto community, they also provided spaces and platforms to channel their talents and aspirations. Moreover, the majority of women chose to dip their fingers into crypto-investment to increase their financial well-being along with gaining financial independence. In other words, onboarding women to invest in crypto is seen as an empowerment move by shifting the profits from the male demographic to them. 

Source: https://twitter.com/reesew/status/1467967292927463427

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Criticism of the “Girlbossification” of Crypto

Despite the overwhelmingly positive response, encouraging women to join the “crypto wagon” is seen as problematic. Instead of empowering women, this kind of “power move” is considered the revival of neoliberal feminism or, according to the Gen Z slang, “girlbossification”: “empowering” women who are already privileged instead of those who are in the margins.

Thus, imposing the involvement of women is a superficial attempt that failed to question or disrupt the power dynamics within cryptocurrency. Such an instance can be seen in the investment of the infamous NFT Bored Ape by celebrities.

While there are women celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon and Paris Hilton who encouraged other women to purchase NFTs and invest in cryptocurrency, the profits are then merely “recycled” within the elite circles. In the end, this recreates more similar power structures where the profits are being gatekept by the powerful and influential, regardless of their gender. 

Source: A mapping of the “Celebrity NFT Complex” (Credit: Read, 2022)

Relating to this, the “women in crypto” movement started by these female celebrities ended up as mere performative empowerment, as it only self-served the financially privileged (and in some cases, influential) women, while neglecting those who came from marginalized communities. 

Instead of advocating for better access to digital infrastructure and digital financial literacy, they ironically “promote” women's empowerment through NFTs, some of which have been uncredited or stolen from other artists. In essence, the “advocacy work” for more women's involvement in cryptocurrency is more or less equivalent to mindlessly throwing around the “gender equality” jargon. 

So, does that mean cryptocurrency is not an empowerment tool?

Regardless of the rising number of women involved in crypto investment and its promises of financial freedom, it has yet to answer the question of the inclusivity and effectiveness of cryptocurrency as an empowerment tool for women. The reality is far from what it is promised by these influential women: those who are not financially privileged are instead “gaslighted” to join crypto investment, even if it doesn’t fully guarantee “big gains'' due to its precarious nature.

The profits themselves are already gate kept by them alone, leaving out the women who are trapped in the “false hope” scheme. Thus, considering cryptocurrency as a women’s empowerment tool is like any other utopic promise in the age of digital technology. 

Rizka Herdiani is a public policy student at Universitas Gadjah Mada and a research assistant at the Center for Digital Society (CfDS) FISIPOL UGM. Rizka has profound interests relating to gender in the digital space and the creative industry. She is also an avid lover of spooky things and melancholic poetry.