I grew up in a Christian household, so I always understood the frustration at the commercialisation of Christmas. As my faith faded, my frustration decreased; it may be an excuse for completely commercialised, but it’s still a wonderful time to celebrate family and love. Valentine’s Day I never bothered about too much; I agree with the fact that if you love someone, you should show them all the time. But who am I to say no to the discounted chocolate that comes on February 15th? But when they came for International Women’s Day and started peddling “fast feminism”, that’s where the line was drawn.
International Women’s Day is held annually on the 8th March and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world. It is recognised by the UN and is a call for gender parity. Feminism goes hand in hand with International Women’s Day. With the rising trend of women declaring themselves feminists, and global social media movements supporting women, companies seem to view it as a bandwagon to jump on, and at times, exploit.
Fast Feminism: McDonalds and Mattel
This year’s International Women’s Day saw editors across the board receiving numerous PR pitches on International Women’s Day. Walking down Oxford Street, every other store had a sign in the window declaring an IWD promotion, or a range of feminist slogan tees. McDonald’s was criticised heavily after one of their stores in LA changed their M to a W for International Women’s Day. Their low wages and zero hour contracts mean a lot of their workers live below the poverty line; they were also criticised on social media for not having better maternity leave.
Mattel was criticised when it came out with a line of “Inspiring Women” which included a Barbie in a hijab, pilot Amelia Earhart, and Frida Kahlo. Not only has Barbie consistently been criticised throughout her history for having an exceptionally thin, unattainable figure and being a poor role model for young girls, the commercialisation of Kahlo left consumers, and her family, feeling uneasy. Her heavy eyebrows had been groomed, her eyes had been lightened, and she was created as a fully abled doll.
Fast Feminism: Haute Couture
Brands at an haute couture level aren’t exempt from criticism either. Dior’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists” shirts came under fire for the fact that they were $700USD a pop… Just a smidge bit exclusionary for women of a certain socioeconomic status. The fact that it got sent down the runway on a white woman of a very specific body type was contradictory; how can a brand advertise align itself with feminism when promoting one singular, abled, body shape?
The whitewashing of the runway industry is another bitter pill when it comes to brands promoting feminism – during the SS17 runway season, 76% of the women walking were white women. Karl Lagerfeld brought feminism and feminist protests to the forefront of the fashion industry in 2014. The runway ended with a protest complete with models marching with placards. However, it seemed more of a marketing ploy than an actual political statement. Karl has recently come under fire for saying women who don’t want their pants moved about shouldn’t become a model. His suggestion was that they should join a nunnery instead.
Fast Feminism: Fast Fashion
The hypocrisy of the fashion industry when it comes to feminism is seen, but perhaps most widely ignored, at the fast fashion level. I have several slogan tees proclaiming “girl power”, “women’s rights are human rights” and the like. Two of them claimed to donate a portion of the profits to a cause I support, assuaging my guilt. Go to any fast fashion store, and you can find a million variations of these slogans. There’s the classic “The Future is Female” and even Harry Styles supposedly wore a tee saying “Women Are Smarter”. Which is great, wear your beliefs across your chest and proclaim it for the world to see.
But two things to question when buying or wearing these shirts: 1. Who made your shirt? And 2. Who is getting your money from this purchase? I checked my feminist tees, and each of them was made in China. It’s not hard to guess the conditions of this workplace, and how little the person who made it was paid. Let us not forget the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013, in which 1,129 factory workers were killed – fast fashion companies like Mango, Primark and H&M all produced clothing there. Not only are do working conditions continue to be unsafe for these workers; the wages that factory workers receive are also pitiful.
Fast Feminism: Gender Parity
The gender pay gap for large fashion retailers still runs rampant. The latest results show that male employees at Next, Fenwick, Topshop/Topman, Clarks, Burberry and Fat Face are generally paid more than their female counterparts. In more senior positions, gender parity still doesn’t exist. Business of Fashion found that although women make up more than 70% of the total workforce when it comes to leadership positions in top fashion companies, less than 25% of women hold them. Female fashion designers are also still in the minority.
So in 2019, it’s time to watch out for who is promoting IWD for the extra sales on the one day of the year, and what companies actually stand for gender equality, and promote intersectional feminism – remember it’s not feminism unless it’s intersectional. Refinery29 suggests treating companies to a feminist Bechdel test—are they doing it for the day, or is this a commitment year round? Are they promoting equal pay and equality from the factory floor to the most senior positions? It’s time to see which fashion companies treated feminism as a commodity, and which ones treat it as a commitment.