Feminism for Sale

A blog post by Becky Beaver, Communications Director, YDA Women’s Caucus

It is Women’s History Month and businesses are jumping at the opportunity to capitalize.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that companies want to support the fight against the patriarchy. My question is, are these companies genuine in their support of women and other marginalized communities or are they just interested in increasing their financial bottom line under the banner of feminism?

In the wake of the 2016 election, a spotlight was placed on feminism. With Donald Trump uttering and defending phrases like “Grab ‘em by the pussy,” people became outraged, realizing that if a presidential candidate could say such things and still be elected, then we had not truly come as far along in the fight for female equality as previously thought. As Americans stood up to the chauvinistic, bigoted, racist and other divisive rhetoric coming out of the White House, major companies and celebrities seemed to join the cause.

As it became trendy to identify one’s self as a feminist, the need to express that became evident. For centuries we have used fashion as a form of self-expression. At New York Fashion Week 2017, models walked the catwalk in the Christian Dior show wearing expressive t-shirts, including statements such as: “We should all be feminists.” This particular shirt borrows the title from a 2014 book written by Nigerian born author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This same t-shirt later retailed for $700 and was worn by celebrities like Natalie Portman, certainly with little mention of the woman of color who made the phrase popular. We commend Dior for donating a portion of the proceeds of this shirt’s sales to the Clara Lionel Foundation, founded by singer and beauty mogul, Rihanna. While it is great to have Dior not fully profiting from feminist messaging, a new problem arises. Are people buying the Dior shirts because they believe in the message or because it’s Dior?

If you google “feminist shirts,” loads of websites pop up within seconds and he options and price ranges are vast. However, not all of them have their heart in the right place. Feminism is often sold as a commodity in textiles that doesn’t always financially benefit actual women’s issues at all.

Another potential problem in buying feminist items is in the production. Many large scale designers and companies frequently use sweatshop labor that exploit female employees by paying them unlivable wages and require them to work in harsh conditions. It’s hypocritical to wear shirts advocating for equal pay for women when the women that produced the shirt were paid pennies for an entire workday.

To be clear, I appreciate the excitement around feminism and the expression of that via apparel and accessories, however we need to be smart about how the products are produced and to what end. We should not allow companies to monetize off of the feminist movement without actually supporting women’s equality. Here are some things to ask yourself before purchasing seemingly feminist products:

  • Is any portion of this sale benefiting women’s issues?
  • Is this item union produced and free of sweatshop labor?
  • Does this company support employment of marginalized groups and women?
  • Is this item suddenly more expensive because it’s marketed towards women?
  • Is the company owned by women?
  • Am I buying this because I truly support the cause?

Identifying as a feminist is so much more than wearing shirts, pins, and buttons. At the end of the day “increasing visibility” of feminism means nothing without taking actions to improve the lives of women. While we only physically vote during elections, we vote everyday with our wallets.