By Amber Wilkinson
As a self-titled feminist, I persistently use my platform to amplify femxle voices and bring attention to issues of womxn’s rights. I also discuss my own views on feminism, recently examining the term ‘angry feminist’ and what it means.
But I can’t say I have always identified with such a ‘loud’ image. It wasn’t until I started studying gender critical theory at uni that I was able to articulate my own struggles as a womxn living in a patriarchal system. I would not be able to have that self-confidence now if it wasn’t for my education. As a womxn coming from a poor, single parent family, I feel privileged to have had my education. Privileged to gain an education many womxn haven’t. One my mum and my nan didn’t. To be able to study feminism and be able to identify with it was in itself a privilege.
Throughout history, feminism has been linked to privilege.
In the early 20th Century, the Suffragettes fought for ‘women’s right to vote’. They were a group of upper-class white womxn. They were radical, angry, and empowering. Although, most of them, while feminists, were exclusionary and racist. Second wave feminism, following on from the Civil Rights movement, was slightly more inclusionary, when the intersections between race and gender began to be recognised. Activists like Angela Davis, through books like ‘Race, Gender, and Class’ helped make it happen. However, it was still majoritively for the educated and middle classes.
Hopefully, the Third Wave of Feminism will help to rectify this, while also including those in the LGBTQ+ community. In its current state, there are some fundamental flaws with how Feminism operates; one major issue is language and accessibility.
Language and Accessibility
Feminism needs to be more accessible. Accessible to the non-university educated. Accessible to the minimum wage earners. Accessible to womxn of multi-faith and diverse cultural backgrounds. True intersectionality. A space in which words like ‘intersectionality’ are explained. Using complex terms without explanation creates an elitist and privileged environment that excludes those without access to such an education. It is divisive, separating those with the knowledge and those without it. And as we know, knowledge is power. Just as the lawmakers use jargon to confuse the masses, so do writers and feminist activists.
We need to help womxn of all backgrounds articulate their struggles, and amplify their personal experiences. By making our language accessible, we make knowledge, voices, and experience accessible. We can work to share feminism as a movement, not close it off to only those who ‘truly understand it’. The most effective form of activism is that which is open to all.
Girlwashing and Fast Fashion
The other issue is how ‘feminism’ has been appropriated for the fast-fashion industry. How labels like Missguided preach empowerment and mass produce ‘feminist’ slogan tees while the femxle garment workers overseas continue to be underpaid. So while privileged womxn and influencers are grossly overpaid and ‘empowered’, others are forgotten and left in poverty. (Read Aja Barber’s IG post ‘missguided is the word I’d use’). On a similar note is Beyonce. While she represents an empowering message to her femxle fans, the femxle Sri-Lankan garment workers who make Ivy Park are paid 64 cents an hour.
Empowerment contained only to the western world.
‘Refashion The Future’ in a recent IG post, discussed the term ‘Girlwashing’. In their unofficial definition, they described it as ‘the act of posing as feminist in values, all in the name of good PR, whilst not acting in such a way’. Missguided, by underpaying garment workers while preaching feminism, would be an example of Girlwashing. Like greenwashing, it is performative yet not socially or financially empowering. They are not the only brand to do this either. It is a major issue in the fast-fashion industry. They are privileged and exploitative, and certainly not representative of feminist values. By boycotting them we can start to remove their stain on the feminist movement.
So before you think your feminism is inclusive, look again. If it still doesn’t include or appeal to the poor, the under-educated, the multi-cultural, and the garment worker, then maybe you need to look again. Make your language accessible. Try to directly help the under-privileged when you can, while still amplifying their voices and experience. Boycott fast fashion when you can. Don’t just let your feminism be a performative flag that you wave as and when it’s ‘relevant’.
(Art from @thatnastyfeminist)