STAFF BLOG: FEMINISM IS NOT FOR SALE

BY MARTA JASINSKA, COMMUNICATIONS AND MARKETING MANAGER AT THE EQUALITY INSTITUTE

12/04/2017

White cotton and linen "we should all be feminists" print T-shirt by Dior. 

White cotton and linen "we should all be feminists" print T-shirt by Dior. 

The music is loud, the lights are on, and the message is clear: feminism is cool. Gender equality is being fought for with fourth wave gusto and enthusiasm. The pussies are out against Trump. Organisations (such as our own) are benefitting from a high tide of fresh interest in the movement for equality. Violence against women is receiving attention from philanthropists, spokespersons and other activists. Governments have no choice but to heed the thunder of voices coming from different spaces that we want equality, and we want it now.[1] But so has capitalism, which has craned its greedy neck, its eyes wide on the equality pie.

Some would say that misappropriation is the logical next step for a popular movement. Opportunistic feminists are everywhere; from men like shock jock Alan Jones (not ironically!) calling himself a feminist[2], to luxury brand Dior selling T-shirts with “we should all be feminists” written on them, whilst simultaneously hiring 14 year old girls to model their clothing[3], and so peddling the impossible beauty standards by which women have been oppressed since the dawn of print media. Just because proceeds from those T-shirts go to Rihanna's non-profit, The Clara Lionel Foundation, does not mean that the brand is doing anything to stop us needing T-shirts with feminist slogans in the first place.

Sadly, these cases are not isolated. Many organisations that espouse feminist values in their merchandise don’t actually reflect them in their organisational structures. When H&M launched their ‘Lady’ campaign late last year (see clip below), critics were quick to point out that its feminist messages were nothing more than a (not so) clever PR ploy. The company reportedly employs refugee child labour,[4] largely ignores the needs of its plus-sized clientele,[5] and has its clothes produced in a Bangladeshi factory where a fire broke out, injuring four people.[6] Given that 80% of garment workers worldwide are women,[7] you have to ask yourself: “where is the feminism?!”

For me, the last straw was popping into a makeup store. I love makeup as much as the next 20-something beauty junkie — this doesn’t make me a bad feminist, chill — but when I saw the latest launch from high-end beauty brand Hourglass, my blood boiled a classic rouge. For $46, you expect their GIRL Lip Stylo to give your lips a lovely pop of colour and hydration. Instead, by boasting colours with names like Activist, Visionary, Influencer, Liberator, Idealist, and Icon, it stains your lips and leaves a bad taste in the mouth for absolutely free!

When misguided individuals and opportunistic corporations jump onto the feminist bandwagon, they are not fighting for a more equal and just world. At best, they are reaping the rewards of half-baked backseat activism. At worst, they are profiting from a movement that has had to work tirelessly for every small win, whilst simultaneously confusing and diluting the message. To be clear, a feminist is an individual who actively advocates for the social, political, legal and economic rights for women on the grounds that women should be equal to men. When Alan Jones proposed that women are “destroying the joint”,[8] I don’t think equality was at the forefront of his mind.

It’s important to take a step back and acknowledge that empty statements about equality or showing off your whitewashed and privileged ‘Girl Squad’[9] will not achieve change, unless it’s accompanied by a concerted and holistic effort to change the structures that keep inequality in its cushy place. Making political statements in fashion and music is fine,[10] and I don’t for a moment think that it shouldn’t or won’t happen. However, if companies are going to tout their feminist wares, they should embody feminist values in their operations, actively contribute to the movement, or support charities or organisations that are. A good example of this is the accessory brand Mimco working with Our Watch to release seasonal collections with 100% of profits going towards educational tools to help end violence against women and children.[11]

We have a responsibility to make sure that feminism and women’s empowerment remain authentic and do not become so commercialised that the messages lose all meaning. Feminism is about equality and everyone having the same rights, opportunities, and freedoms to live happy and full lives. Feminism isn’t for sale, to be fished out of a bargain bin for $9.99 once the trend is over. We still have so much to achieve. And when the bandwagon breaks down, I hope you will keep trudging along on foot with us. Because here at the Equality Institute, we are in it for the long haul.


References

[1] Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/international-womens-day-photos-2017-3/?r=AU&IR=T/#people-from-dozens-of-nations-are-celebrating-this-year-the-goal-is-to-raise-awareness-about-issues-of-civil-liberties-reproductive-rights-workplace-discrimination-and-economic-inequality-and-push-for-change-2

[2] The Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3480489/Shock-jock-Alan-Jones-says-s-feminist-Minister-Women-Michaelia-Cash-refuses-label-one-Q-A.html

[3] Catalogue Magazine: https://www.cataloguemagazine.com.au/news/14-year-old-girl-is-the-new-face-of-christian-dior

[4] The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syrian-children-found-working-for-uk-clothing-suppliers-including-next-and-hm-a6845431.html

[5] Babe: http://thetab.com/uk/2016/09/22/hms-lady-campaign-20407

[6] Quartz: https://qz.com/608698/another-major-factory-fire-in-bangladesh-shows-industry-safeguards-are-failing/

[7] Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work, ActionAid:

 http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/close_the_gap_final_21.01.2015_0.pdf

[8] News.com.auhttp://www.news.com.au/national/alan-jones-women-are-destroying-the-joint/news-story/402a32a90a61275ac789a6cbfb45c31d

[9] The Mirror UK: http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/taylor-swifts-squad-made-up-8369554

[10] The Cut: http://nymag.com/thecut/2017/02/all-the-political-statements-brands-are-making-during-nyfw.html

[11] Our Watch: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/What-We-Do/%E2%80%8BOur-Watch-partners-with-MIMCO