I am a college-aged Filipino American woman living in an age of proliferate social media usage and I am concerned for the future of feminism.
Much like the latest diet trend, modern feminism is heading into the path of becoming the latest muse in marketing. Dove’s feel-good “real beauty” campaign and many others brandish this image of “inclusiveness” and female empowerment when they have absolutely no impact on the movement itself. What’s worse is that women buy into this image with the intention of making a difference, when they’ve simply filled these companies’ pockets.
The commercialism of feminism is an outright act of exploitation. Feminism is not a brand nor should it ever be treated as a pedestal to achieve some sort of personal monetary gain, especially when it is an ethical movement that applies to the livelihoods of so many.
Take cleaning industries like Swiffer, for example, who have distastefully brandished feminist icons like Rosie the Riveter to promote cleaning products or Beauty industries that are suddenly promoting slogans like “The Future is Female,” after previously selling oppressive ideals of the heteronormative, skinny, white woman. I’d like to believe that these feminist ideals are at the core of these companies values, but the truth is that this is merely a marketing strategy.
Some might argue that I’m being way too pessimistic about these seemingly innocuous advertisements. Yet, we don’t see feminist-fueled marketing strategies used to promote male products because quite frankly, it does not boost sales. So before another one of those Dove commercials tugs at your heartstrings, think again. They are not selling you a heartfelt message, they’re just selling you soap.
For those who can’t grasp the unethical nature of this sort of marketing, we must remember that not too long after the women’s liberation movement and the Equal Rights Amendment, a advertisement led by Virginia Slims in the 60s and 70s marketed cigarettes under the guise of female empowerment utilizing slogans like “you’ve come a long way baby.” This is yet another example of a company catering to female populations to increase their sales with little to no regard for the actual buyer.
If industries wish to exude this feminist image, they should give more opportunities for women and other minorities, play an active role in destigmatizing women’s rights, and advocate feminist ideals beyond the mere aesthetic look of being feminist.
Companies like Nastygal and Thinx, seemingly liberal and progressive faces of industry, have failed to grasp just that. Both companies exude this image of feminist agendas yet have recently come under fire for poor workplace environments.
While I encourage women to have an awareness of which companies they support, I also push women to pay closer attention to the actual feminists that are making a difference.
Today, we have celebrity feminist icons like Beyonce and Taylor Swift who have openly embraced feminism. Their presence in pop culture is certainly electrifying and has sparked a large following but then we are also presented with a bunch of bandwagon “feminists” who only express feminist views because it is “cool.”
This bandwagon following is especially relevant today as a result of the social-media savvy generations that are quick to pick up social trends. This occurrence along with blatant feminist marketing hinders feminism and with time, it will simply be reduced down to the superficial.
Most times, feminism is not glamorous. Never forget that the movement was catered towards the liberation of survivors of rape, abuse, and gender inequality. On a global scale, there are still large scale atrocities that oppress young girls who are denied an education, a voice, and the control of their very own bodies.
Let’s place our pockets where they matter. Let’s give a spotlight to women who matter. Educate our girls to look up to unwavering figures like Malala Yousafzai who took a bullet to her head for her right to an education. Give more credit to women like Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement who has profoundly exposed the Hollywood rape culture. Encourage women to read the works of feminist authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Roxanne Gay, and Alice Walker.
The notion of feminism was to disassemble oppressive and exploitative forms of male, white heteronormative power. Sadly, it seems that modern feminism has merely partnered with them, establishing roles of female power that are not any different from the patriarchy.