I first read about palatable feminism in Andi Zeisler’s book ‘We Were Feminists Once.’ Zeisler refers to this type of feminism as “marketplace feminism.” She sums it up perfectly: “It’s decontextualized. It’s depoliticized. And it’s probably feminism’s most popular iteration ever.” I find that palatable feminism is the kind of feminism that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Palatable feminism makes feminism seem cool and, most importantly, trendy, which is where the problem lies.
The irony of palatable feminism
Feminism is a social and political movement striving for equality for all genders; it is not a trend. Feminism is not a word that can be used purely to sell a product. I find it ironic that companies sell this idea of watered-down feminism for the purpose of capitalism, and yet capitalism is something that actively harms women. The type of feminism marketed by big brands is not about a revolution. Rather, this feminism is just about creating an overall consensus to potential consumers that feminism is good. And the best way to show that you’re on top of these social trends is to buy this shirt.
An example of palatable feminism is a gift a received a few years ago. I was gifted a “The Future is Female” sweater from the store H&M. It’s odd to me that a company that is known for creating “unreasonable production targets and underbid contracts, resulting in women working unpaid overtime and working very fast under extreme pressure” has the audacity to start preaching feminism for profit. Or is it only the causes for white middle-class feminists (a.k.a potential consumers) that matter? Allegations have been made that the failure of women to meet deadlines in these fast fashion factories have been “sexually and physically abused.” So why doesn’t H&M put its money where its mouth is and end these inhuman practices in its factories? After all, why sell feminists slogans if you’re not actively a feminist?
Oh, right. Capitalism.
It’s important to mention that palatable feminism draws parallels with ‘white feminism.’ For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘white feminism’ is a type of feminism (and I use the term ‘feminism’ loosely) that purely focuses on the ideas and aims of white, often middle-class women. This consequently ignores the problems faced by women of color, women in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, women with disabilities, etc. Companies will sell products advocating for women’s liberation and justice. Yet they continue to profit off of women’s insecurities. There’s never been a more prevalent oxymoron.
These days, brands claim they are feminists, slap “girls just want to have fundamental rights” on a tote bag, and call it a day. Feminism has been marketed as something fun to dip your toes into with a hashtag, such as #girlpower. Yet feminism isn’t something you occasionally decide to engage with. It’s a constant cycle of learning and unlearning to become the best version of yourself, ensuring that you’re advocating for the rights of everyone, regardless of race, class, disability, sexuality, etc.
International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day perfectly captures the way in which companies like to market their feminism as trendy, and notably, as something temporary. In 2018, McDonald’s flipped its infamous golden’M’ arches upside down to create a ‘W’… for women if you hadn’t guessed. This 24-hour change of the McDonald’s logo got #McFeminism trending on Twitter. People started to criticize the company for its failings to pay female and male employees a living wage with benefits. People also reminded the company of its 2016 accusation of ignoring sexual harassment allegations. I wonder what we expect at this point; after all, advertising’s job is to sell a product, not care about a social movement.
It’s time we start holding companies accountable for their contradictory actions. We need actively stand up for women. For their reproductive rights, for equal pay, for BIWOC who constantly face both sexism and racism daily. This movement cannot become wishy-washy just to please those in charge. This movement cannot be ‘palatable feminism.’ We must stand up for ourselves, we must demand change, and we must do it now.