Feminist Merchandise – Phoney Activism?

I have expressed certain doubts about expensive logo t-shirts that spell out titles of certain feminist pamphlets, such as “We should all be feminists“. I even gave a DIY-tip how to get the message across and avoid paying €600 for the shirt. I generally have a slight aversion to clothing that bears too many words. This is influenced both by Fran Lebowitz’ texts and the fact that I like to have a certain appropriateness in my clothing, because what comes out of my mouth sometimes isn’t. 

Every fashion-house has gone street lately, which means that we have seen lots of trainers and sweatshirts camouflaged as normal clothing (instead of being sportswear, which they are) and people (including me) wearing the said items to office as regular work uniform. 

Street has conveniently facilitated garments to become canvases for various messages, logos and texts. Add to that the exhilarating international notion of being woke, and we suddenly have lots of people wanting to get their messages across without having to open their mouths and actually say something.

I was thinking about this when I was fixing “Notorious RBG” -stickers on my luggage. How much does my luggage being plastered by RBG’s stylised face help the liberal cause in the US? Quite the contrary, it might actually ban me access to the country. And as you can see: while I don’t run around in a USD450 Lingua Franca RBG cashmere sweater, I still go and buy stickers with her face on them. 

Whom do I want to impress with my support to Ruth Bader Ginsburg? The airport ground-handlers? Did I secretly think that “my job as a feminist is thus done – my luggage shall bear the face of RBG on them” as I clicked the stickers into my online trolley? 

This is interesting, because it also bears resemblance to our social media behaviour. “But I already heart-liked the meme about polar bears! I’ve done my bit for the climate!” and “I share every single post where someone says something snarky and sarcastic about Trump!” – I’m politically super-active!

How is liking memes different from “I just bought these limited edition Stan Smiths that say Girl Power, which means that I don’t have to go and vote, because people can read from my shoes that I support gender equality!“? Isn’t hitting the “like” -button on your sofa the purest form of slacktivism? (Not my word)

Is it a feminist act to buy a fast-fashion t-shirt with Girlboss-something on it, made in dubious circumstances by small girls who do not get paid? Or is one more feminist by buying a more ethically manufactured t-shirt which does not say anything? 

Is the Christian Dior -house (actually Maria Grazia Chiuri, their artistic director) truly feminist, or just riding the fashion wave? Will we be presented feminist couture also during this year’s fashion weeks that are just about to kick off? And the next year? How many of the fashion houses donate and/or support girls and women’s organisations, and how many are just happy to slap on a catchy slogan on their merchandise?

Confusing as it is, I do think it’s sometimes nice when people take the opportunity to sneakily express their views on women’s genital mutilation or abortion or such by wearing clothing or jewellery that bears explicit messages or symbols about it. This is particularly interesting when it’s done in surprising contexts.

My internal jury clearly isn’t quite yet out on activist clothing, though I have a strong penchant for other merchandise (pins, stationery, stationery, stationery ad nauseam). I like fun clothes and some t-shirts with witty messages are brilliant. The only thing I’m not entirely sure of, is how much the feminist cause is currently being exploited by selling us stuff that has nothing to do with feminism. Such as stickers of RBG’s face.

Guilty as charged.

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