It’s either very cool, or wildly problematic to be a feminist, depending on where you are in the U.S. Yet, the dichotomy which exists between its popularity and distain is the very thing which provides an expansive, and ever-growing market for large companies to take this new, seemingly benign social trend and capitalize off of it with extreme veracity. That’s what modern feminism has become: a trend. Hillary lost and suddenly the term “girl power” became synonymous with being woke and open minded and dedicated to supporting women and other marginalized groups. But it’s instantly negated by purchasing any “feminist” paraphernalia from major corporations because capitalism is inherently anti-feminist.
I struggle with the idea of buying shirts preaching about feminism because I’m aware of the fact that a shirt selling for $8.50, regardless of whether it was made in the U.S. or Indonesia, probably cost a small fraction of that price to make. Meaning, the person who stitched “Girl Gang” onto the cheap cotton garment, received an even smaller fraction of the manufacturing cost. Many of those workers are women and children: members of society who are easily exploited due to the lack of autonomy which they receive in our modern world.
In America specifically, more than half of those living in poverty are women. Though that gap is larger than in many other countries, the U.S. still has a lower percentage of its population living in poverty than that of most major manufacturing countries. People working in garment manufacturing plants tend to be poorer, less educated, and at a higher risk of marginalization. In the U.S., they’re more likely to be female, immigrants, and people of color.
Feminism, as I’m aware of it, is not in support of exploitiaion of any kind. But it’s really hard to imagine the person who made the super cute shirt on the rack in front of you for far less than minimum wage in a Los Angeles factory when you’re shopping in a loud, brightly lit, chronically disorganized Forever 21. There is such a distinct removal of products from their place of origin, that consumers aren’t forced to consider where their things are coming from, let alone in what circumstances they were created.
This type of consumer privilege is the same mentality which permits the vehement opposition to allowing immigrants to enter the United States, when we depend on immigrant labor for the majority of our produce along with various services otherwise seen as undesirable by qualified, America-born people. Consumers aren’t forced to consider the fact that, more likely than not, an undocumented worker hand-picked their food, stitched together their clothes and prepared the meal they just bought in a restaurant, which gives Americans the latitude to vote in ways and support movements that are inherently harmful to our own quality of life.
The same concept is applicable to women and girls who buy things that promote this cute, new version of an ages-long battle against the patriarchy. You don’t see the immigrant woman or the underpaid 10 year-old sewing for 12+ hours a day when you walk into H&M or Charlotte Russe. You see pretty lights, vibrant colors and pictures of a newly diverse troope of models donning trendy tees and high-waisted shorts. You see good marketing, appealing to the girl of 2018: one who would’ve voted for Hillary if she could, and buys into the idea that the future really is female. But it makes me wonder: what females do we see being the leaders of tomorrow? The ones wearing these shirts or the ones making them?
One could argue that its important to have girls wearing clothes that preach support for one another, but that support only stretches so far when you consider not only who made the clothes, but also what the impact of being a walking billboard for this new-wave feminism has on those around you. Consider who this convoluted version of feminism represents; who it empowers. Consider and compare it to the effects of investing that $8.50 elsewhere. Planned Parenthood sells shirts too. Green Box Shop sells clothing addressing feminism in the intersectional way in which it should be. There are better places and more effective ways to spend your money. Feminism should be popular and cool and widespread, but it shouldn’t be trendy. A trend is fleeting and fleeting feminism isn’t feminism at all. It’s a cool font on a cotton-polyester blend t-shirt that won’t last the winter.
Just proclaiming that “girls rule” or “bite back” isn’t really substantial anymore. What does that even mean? What girls are we talking about? I mean, this branding sustains that being a feminist by wearing clothing with poorly thought out slogans is enough. The work of being a feminist doesn’t end there. The work begins with recognizing that capitalist consumption cannot be considered activism. Serving this system of exploitation that serves to disempower women and people of color as “activism” is inherently anti-feminist. That’s not girl gang at all.
For capitalism to properly operate, there have to be tiers of society. The capitalist market thrives off of a hierarchical system which mandates that there be an impoverished population. In our neo-colonial capitalist society, people of color are confined to the lowest tiers of society. It’s no secret that POC are the most disenfranchised members of our community. Right above them are poor white people and beyond that exists the only demographic with the potential to get anything substantial from Capitalist Feminism: white people with money.
You don’t have to look far to find out who composes this bottom societal tier, on which our entire capitalist infrastructure relies. Actually, its harder to look beyond these people, seeing as there are 43 million Americans currently living below the poverty line. That’s enough people to repopulate New York City 5 times over.
Power of the purse is real. The way in which we spend our money sends a message to big businesses and continuing to buy cheap clothing preaching fake, one dimensional feminism is not the way to be a feminist. Donate, protest, read, write, resist. Empower yourself and empower other women, but don’t waste your time empowering Corporate America.