Is Your ‘Feminist’ Tee Reeaally That Feminist?

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It’s no secret that feminism, as a concept and buzzword, has shot to the forefront of popular culture in recent years. As feminism grows in popularity, just how ‘feminist’ is it? And how ‘feminist’ are those feminist prints?

The term’s mainstream popularity has snowballed since the mid 2010’s with Beyonce’s ‘FEMINIST’ back drop at the VMA’s, followed by Emma Watson’s HeforShe campaign and Chanel’s Feminist protest catwalk .

More recently, we’ve seen a serge in feminist fashion with ‘FEMINIST’ emblazoned sweaters and t-shirts by top designers and brands.

Leading the trend is Dior who sent a skinny, young, pale-skinned model down the SS17 runway wearing a tee with Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote ‘We should all be feminists’ printed across it. And, in September alone, H&M restocked their sell-out ‘Feminist’ print tee with a similar sweater and dress. This was accompanied by an advert featuring ‘real women’ that aimed to challenge conventions of femininity.  Plus size women, female leaders, women with armpit hair, muscles and women of colour were included in the ad.

Some have praised feminism’s mainstream popularity, arguing that the cause is finally receiving the attention it needs to achieve gender equality goals. This is helpful in reshaping and updating public perception of feminism. The spotlight helps open conversations of women’s issues amongst people who may otherwise never encounter them. This creates potential for new feminists to take action for equality. It allows for young women to learn and put meaning to their experiences in the social world and helps create a more accepting culture towards equality.

However, when does popularising feminism turn into appropriation?

Since the early 2000’s Dove has been using female empowerment rhetoric to market their products. Today, Chanel, Dior and H&M are explicitly capitalising on feminism to sell their clothing. These businesses are earning profit from ‘Feminist’-stamped clothing as the relevance and popularity of the movement continues to trend – an inevitable process of consumer and popular culture.

For trends to come, they must go – in one season and out the next. Trend-spotters must foresee upcoming social shifts and incorporate them on to the runway or high-street ready for us to excitedly consume. Women are becoming more aware, and, as consumers and fashion lovers, we’re waking up and no longer relating to the young, skinny, ideal. Businesses are well aware of this and, to stay timely, brands know they have to reflect that. They have foreseen a shift in what women want and are acting on it for profit.

How helpful this popular wave of feminism is to the cause lies in questioning how these trendy depictions define female empowerment.

From observation, it’s a) individual, with dominant conversation on how to empower and love oneself, b) about how women look, how to show off your body and wear what you want and, c) it’s about purchase power, buying feminist tee’s as activism, and for the #GirlBosses out there, founding their own businesses to make more money… to spend on those feminist tees.

This contrasts feminist themes that question things like the distribution of power and money in society (like, 60% of fashion brands being owned by men). Or, a version of feminism that says it is possible for women and femininity to be respected without having to prove our strength in a man’s world – as female CEO’s and bosses.

Instead, it’s creating image conscious, clothes-buying, money-making individuals. It’s a mass produced feminism that’s inherently consumption driven.

Praising brands for slapping ‘feminist’ on a t-shirt and selling it is a one-dimensional and short-cited feat. Feminist fashion is not a line of printed garments put into production by brands or designers. It is a whole culture. It’s deep-rooted in change, it’s self-aware, conscious and empowers every individual in the process – not just a brand’s accountant or the consumer’s momentary purchase pleasure.




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