Women in the Shark Tank: Entrepreneurship and Feminism in a Neoliberal Age

49 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2019

Date Written: December 31, 2016


Shark Tank is the American version of a reality television format featuring entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in order to secure investment from a panel of venture capitalists. This Article uses the social experiment of Shark Tank — taken as both a reality show and a show of reality — as an opportunity to critically examine the good, the bad, and some of the ugly that comes as women increasingly “do entrepreneurship” in a neoliberal age. The first Part of the Article is dedicated to describing how Shark Tank’s discourse is structured to circulate the story of defeating gender inequality in the market via entrepreneurial activity. This story comes in two versions: one that celebrates the accomplishment of equality while rendering feminism unnecessary and another that recognizes (some) inequality while suggesting that entrepreneurship is the way to cope with it. The Article's second Part digs deeper. It treats the discourse critically and uncovers many troubling moments in which the show actually works not to defeat but rather to perpetuate gender inequality. It defines three ways in which the process occurs in the entrepreneurial setting presented by Shark Tank: underrepresentation of women, sexism, and a gendered division of businesses along the traditionalist lines that associate women with the domestic sphere. The third Part analyzes the conflicting messages presented in the preceding Parts from a feminist perspective, with an emphasis on their impact on current legal feminist battles for economic gender equality. I argue that given the dominance of entrepreneurialism in our neoliberal age, the status of women in the entrepreneurial world — as reflected and produced by Shark Tank — severely challenges feminist epistemology. I also suggest ways by which feminists can begin to respond to the challenge and propose that such response should include recognition of, and legal care for, female entrepreneurs. However, I conclude that to advance gender equality for all women — at home, in the workplace, and in the business arena — feminism ought to reject the neoliberal framing promoted by Shark Tank and the framing of entrepreneurship (and everything else) as individual issues. Accordingly, feminism should keep insisting that social structures matter and it must remain a political project. To do all that the Article invites readers to “sit back and enjoy the show.”

Keywords: Feminism, Gender, Neoliberalism, Entrepreneurship, Law, Television, Discourse

JEL Classification: K12, B54, Z13

Suggested Citation

Keren, Hila, Women in the Shark Tank: Entrepreneurship and Feminism in a Neoliberal Age (December 31, 2016). Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2016; Southwestern Law School Research Paper No. 2019/03. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3326907

Hila Keren (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States

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