Is Feminist Merch Bad for Feminism?

A recent piece at the Boston Globe wonders if the post-Trump boom in feminist merch is actually helping women.

“As feminist leaders decry President Trump’s court picks and his party’s legislative and regulatory agenda, American women can show their solidarity through all manner of products,” Linda Rodriguez McRobbie wrote, but the “mass-marketing of feminist merchandise raises thorny ethical issues.”

“The question is whether this wave of feminist swag is attracting new adherents or diluting feminism’s ‘brand.’ Is feminism, the ideology, being crushed under the weight of feminism, the trend?”

It’s a delicate balance, McRobbie argues. On one hand, fashion and feminism have always been intrinsically linked, “and even the worthiest social-reform movements still need good marketing to succeed.” On the other, those producing the merchandise may not be particularly feminist in their practices.

For instance, “Critics note that some fast-fashion retailers that sell ‘feminist’ T-shirts use production methods often that rely on women in low-wage, exhausting work.” McRobbie also mentioned the “male CEO of a self-described ‘feminist’ retailer” who “fired his staff when they confronted him about how he had sexually harassed women in the past.”

(And then, of course, there’s the $700 “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt from Dior, which, regardless of where Dior falls on the feminist spectrum, is just fucking ridiculous.)

Ultimately, however, McRobbie says that the current iteration is not much different than when “merchandising and fashion helped propel women’s rights into the mainstream in the early 1900s,” only this time, it’s “happening… at a moment when corporate marketers have grown far more sophisticated at turning the cultural zeitgeist into profit.”

And unlike other message-based merch, at least these are rooted in positivity and empowerment.

You can read more about it at The Boston Globe.

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