21st Century Feminism: A Commercial Success?

Created: 23 August, 2017
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read

Editor’s note: This article originally published on Kate Harveston's blog "Only Slightly Biased" on August 17, 2017, and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN.

Feminism has arguably become culturally and socially “trendy” in recent years. If you go to a women’s clothing store nowadays, chances are you’re going to see feminist slogans on some of the t-shirts. TV shows and movies are making sure they have strong female leads to attract female viewers and online discussion. But how much is too much?

It’s great that feminism is something people want to be a part of, but how much of it is hollow?

Feminism is a movement — and it’s much more than wearing the word “feminist” on your cute new ball cap.

Ask yourself: How does the company that made that cap treat its workers? Does the company contribute to good causes? And most importantly — is this trend tricking women into thinking we don’t have to fight as hard?

Can The Commercialization Be Helpful?

In some ways, this new trend can be a positive development for feminism. It’s important to get the message out to as many people as possible if we want to succeed. Putting feminism in the forefront of pop culture is certainly a good way to do that. At the very least, it could get more people curious about the actual movement, and hopefully, they’ll be inspired to delve into learning about it further.

Small things can also have pretty big impacts. Putting on a fashion show and making a feminist statement shirt on one of your big pieces can get people talking. Simply wearing a feminist shirt in some parts of the world — or as we have seen in the USA — can be a big deal. It’s brave for women in hostile environments to be wearing something that boldly says they’re proud to be a woman.

At the very least, it’s getting the conversation moving. It’s making people see that this is out there, and it’s something women want.

We just have to hope that it goes deeper than how cute the shirt is.

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Can Commercialization Hurt?

In some ways, this trend cheapens the cause.

Feminism shouldn’t be something that’s used for profit. Many companies view this as something to capitalize on. Such as the pink hats worn during the anti-Trump marches, that brought focus to the commercialization of the marches and not the purpose of the movement.

It’s likely that most of these companies don’t truly care about the ideas and values behind the cause — they’re only really focused on how they can use it to make money.

And, as history has taught us, if it’s all about a trend, eventually those fleeting feminists that were in it for the cute clothes are going to stop caring. Trends die out.

Wearing a feminist t-shirt but failing to support the cause in a real way is like buying a Halloween decoration to hang up in December. Sure, it’s a nice thing to have lying around, and it might even make some kind of temporary statement. But at the end of the day, the way you’re using it is out-of-place, and essentially renders the item meaningless.

Wearing a shirt can’t be the only way you get involved with activism — nothing will actually get done. However, if you’re wearing it to rallies, protests and meetings with local feminist groups, that’s a different story. It should be used as a supplement to your feminist fight. A little addition that you like to show off now and then. Fashion and other similar social cues shouldn’t be your only claims to being feminist.

In order to make the changes to benefit women all over the world, we have to have some actual power in our hands, and often we have to fight for that. Feeling empowered is different. While it’s great, it’s not going to change the world. The shirt is the fun and attractive top layer, perhaps the one you show off. But once you dig down deeper — that’s where the greatest and most important parts are.

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