The word feminism has been deemed by some as “the f word”, a polarizing identification that’s reserved for the man-hater, bra burner, trouble maker, and family ruiner. To publicly identify as a feminist, especially if you were a celebrity, used to be highly taboo. Flash forward to 2016 and the word is on everyone’s lips, minds, and tee shirts. But what has caused such a dramatic shift?
Andi Zeisler, author and founder of Bitch Media, most recently released the book We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl, a piece exploring how modern feminism has become mass marketed. Ironically, one of the main ideas surrounding its conception is that feminist critique and discussion has become so accessible and instilled in pop culture that the meaning and power behind the movement is losing certain conviction.
This irony was furthered in the May 23rd issue of the New York Times, in a review by regular columnist Jennifer Senior. She describes the new classification of feminism as a “broad, promiscuous appropriation”. At first glance she may seem correct. Feminism went from gaining the right to vote to being Squad Goals with Taylor Swift. But even this version of feminism has been defended and discussed on a variety of blog platforms.
As the “trend” of feminism grows, so do the number of female artists who identify as feminists. In 2013 Miley Cyrus announced herself as one. At the 2014 VMA’s Beyoncé was lit up from behind by the word. Fast fashion brands sell graphic tees with it splayed across the front. The more feminism becomes accessible, the more profitable you can make it.
This isn’t a new idea. We profit off social injustice often. Being eco friendly was trendy in the early 2000s and conscious clothing lines and reusable totes in hemp or canvas boomed. On a heavier note, when mass shootings occur, the value of the guns used in the attacks rises greatly, due to second amendment right activist’s fear of the government banning them. Sales increase at alarming rates. While other political news such as Beyonce penning essays and releasing Lemonade might be less controversial, though more heavily covered, both sides eventually have the same outcome. Concepts that were once a radical concept are now normalized when further radical action is still required.
While many find it easy to agree with Emma Watson’s He For She campaign, or Patricia Arquette’s call for equal pay, it’s so easy to think that representation of feminism in media equates to actual progress. But the normalization of a movement does not equal its success. The trending of the hashtag #AskHerMore does not mean women are now respected fully in their respective industries. #FreeKe$ha did not do such either.
We have become so placated by the idea that feminism is trending that we stop our fight, a supposed “feminist fatigue“. With the population becoming increasingly at odds with each other and cynicism being the overarching tone, feminism’s “progress” has sadly equalled pacification. We grow in contradictions as we accept even the tiniest victories as large, in a time where we could make our biggest noise yet. Rhetoric is important, and obviously profit is going to come of it in a capitalist society where it is encouraged, but that doesn’t constitute a quitting point.
Discussion and awareness should not be feared, but the intent behind them scrutinized. This is an era of accessible activism, and people are proving they have the passion. The ability and drive is there to further push the feminist movement, to make sure the Supreme Court continues to strike down sham laws, to raise the number of women in the Senate over a 20% portion, to finally fill the wage gap. But they say actions speak louder than words, and in the case of rhetoric sometimes we need to drop the pen of the blog and pick up the pen that signs the bill. Take that meta feminist critique with a grain of salt though, it is just accessible rhetoric after all.
Cassandra Gagnon for The Untitled Magazine