“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
So, my second blog is all about, guess what? Gender. Not only because it’s one of my favourite subjects to talk about but because Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day. And because I need a distraction from my dissertation which is due in exactly 70 days. Probably not the smartest idea but here we go…
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the commercialisation and the trendiness of ‘girl power’ and what it means to be a feminist in 2017. Feminism is finally cool and trendy, but are we missing the point? Feminism is not about hating men and wearing Topshop t-shirts that say ‘girls bite back’. Feminism is the fight for economic, political, social, cultural equality and for the personal and human rights of women worldwide. It’s equality, and choice, and freedom, and opportunity. Feminism is for the girls that get shamed for being virgins, but at the same time shamed for being sluts. Feminism is for the 700 million women alive today that were married before the age of 18. Feminism is for the estimated 60-100 million women and girls literally ‘missing’ from the planet due to infanticide, sex-selective abortion and fatal neglect. Feminism is for all of us. But have we forgotten this?
Which is why I’m struggling with the modernity of it all, and although many of you may be surprised, I’m gonna use Beyoncé as my main example. Beyhive, brace yourselves. I feel that the future of feminism and the real reasons for the importance of it all is becoming tedious and silly thanks to mainstream media and the fashion of being a feminist. Are we commodifying the issues and struggles that affect at least 49.6% of the worlds population? I feel that people are buying into the fad of it, but have no real knowledge of the point of being a feminist, or for those who don’t like the term, for the real fight for equality and lives that depend on it.
Andi Zeisler talks about the issues with marketplace feminism and the rise of celebrities jumping on the ‘feminist bandwagon’ in her book “We Were Feminists Once”. Here we have a generation of girls completely lapping up everything to do with ‘girl power’, (and don’t get me wrong, I’m digging most of it) but I’d like to think I’m quite educated on the subject and passionate about the issues surrounding gender inequality. Well hopefully, otherwise these last few years at uni were a waste and I need to re-think my whole future career. The issue that I have is that although it’s all well and good that we can showcase our feminism more, how is it actively and affectively changing our situations?
Watching Beyoncé at the O2 arena a few years ago nearly bought a tear to my eye. The words FEMINISM in huge letters behind her while she sings about running the world. Amazing. And thanks to her performances, millions of people of all genders, people like me, felt the empowerment and solidarity that feminism is all about. She’s an incredibly strong, powerful and successful woman. But she’s also a successful businesswoman and brand. And the realisation of singing a song, or singing along to a song could be all that we have to offer feminism in a 21st century was pretty poop. Although it could be a start, it’s not enough for the real struggles girls face around the world. Beyoncé is not alone, along with other celebrities, the same could be said for companies such as Always with their #LikeAGirl campaign and Pantenes’ #ShineStrong campaign, companies that are ‘femvertising’ to the fullest. Here we see the rise of hashtag feminism, likes, shares and “stories told in 140 characters”, but where videos like Pantene promotes the ideas that women are too apologetic, while having ‘swishy, shiny hair’, is this fourth wave of feminism selling the fight for feminism or selling their brands in the name of feminism? As Zeisler says “The important thing is to have a degree of literacy about it” which is something that is missing from mainstream media and those following marketplace feminism.
We have come a long way though. People are finally embracing feminism, and celebrities using their platform to promote equality whether it be women’s right or black rights is not all bad surely?
The scandal that could suggest where feminism is going wrong is the Ivy Park scandal that we saw last year. Picture this: Beyoncé and her team of all women dancers, on a stage in front of millions, with a speech by the legendary Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the words feminism in bold, big letters behind her, then on comes ‘Who Run The World?’. Meanwhile, in South Asia, are the women workers who are making Beyoncé’s (who has a net worth estimate of £216million) new clothing line ‘Ivy Park’ for Topshop (a net worth estimate of $6.7billion), for an outrageous 52p per hour in cramped conditions where they have restricted freedoms, curfews at night, no kitchen spaces and share with men. My fangirling for Beyoncé was pretty shattered at this point, and everything she did after this including her infamous ‘Lemonade’ album where she supposedly ‘embraces feminism’ but is aggressive, slates other girls, and talk about how ‘bomb her pussy is’, makes me question what on earth she wants us to celebrate. Is feminism just a platform for her and other celebrities and companies to make money and mess with the movement?
I’m not about to delete all my Beyoncé and Taylor Swift songs off my itunes, for the same reason I’m not about to stop using Dove when I shower, because as brands and as music artists, I love them, I can’t fault them there. But as feminists? I think they’ve got a few things very wrong.
Issues like this, along with analysing some of the many ‘empowering’ songs that even I have on my ‘girl power’ playlist, are some of the reasons why I’m going to ask myself, and you, to challenge the fad of feminism, to do your research, to question the trend, and to remember the importance of the real issues that girls face in the world, just because they are girls.
For the 125 million girls who are out of education, for the girls who are growing up in situations where society tells them “It is more profitable to raise geese than a girl” (Yep, a traditional Chinese saying), for your friends, for your sisters, for your mothers, for yourselves, and for everyone, let’s focus on the importance of equality.
For those of you that are interested, here are a bunch of documentaries available on Netflix and online that highlight some of the issues girls face:
- The Hunting Ground
- Born into Brothels
- The True Cost
- India’s Daughter
- Finding Home
- Audrie & Daisy
- It’s A Girl
- The Invisible War
- Half the Sky
International Women’s day is next week, Wednesday 8th March. You can join in at these events:
London – Sunday 5th March, 12pm – March 4 Women by Care International
London – Wednesday 8th March, 18:00pm – BE Unplugged ‘Disrupting the Future: Passion, Purpose and Change
London – Saturday 11th March, 12:30pm – Million Women March and Rally
Thanks for reading guys!
Feedback is appreciated 🙂