All I want for Christmas is liberation from the capitalist patriarchy

// 23 December 2015

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7687805718_790fd67578_zLast year for Christmas, I got a make-up set from a well-meaning family member. The slogan was, in big, red letters, “empower yourself”. I was genuinely grateful for the gift — God knows I’ve used the set to doll myself up for parties many times — but something about the “empower yourself” marketing bothered me.

After a bit of thinking, I was able to put my finger on it. As a feminist, I’ve always had a child-with-her-hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar feeling about wearing make-up: something I know I am against, but do anyway, with a hint of guilt, hoping none of my friends see the numerous tubes and bottles of paint hidden away in my bathroom. Sometimes, I reason, I just want to look “good”, even if this definition of “good” stems from societally dictated standards of beauty. The “empower yourself” collection seemed to almost work as a “get out of jail free” card for this guilty feeling: if I re-embraced make-up as empowering, I was making a feminist statement. It seemed like a sneaky way for the company to both assuage my critiques and co-opt feminist rhetoric.

At the time, I wrote off the branding of the product as a one-off and largely forgot about the experience. But since last year, the internet has exploded with gift guides and listicles for feminists that use similar language: Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, Ms. Magazine. Hell, even the Torygraph published a list of holiday suggestions for that pesky equality-fighter at your Christmas table. The gifts that made the list are largely kitsch-y fashion statements: pink, flowery pillows with “fuck the patriarchy” written on them. “Feminist killjoy” pins with sugar hearts. A tea mug with “male tears” emblazoned on it in “girly” cursive. On none was there any genuine feminist theory: no bell hooks, no Andrea Dworkin. No Audre Lorde or Sojourner Truth.

These gifts were all a bit twee. All were cashing in on this post-modernist idea of being “ironic”. But the issue with irony is that it’s in the eye of the beholder: while I may be baking cupcakes and wearing my retro 50s makeup with a hint of sarcasm, the average viewer will most likely view these things as being in earnest. They’ll see a person who dresses femininely and embraces stereotypically feminine activities like cooking. The issue here lies not with the activity (making cupcakes is great!) but rather the fact it can rebranded as feminism if a cheeky wink to the audience is added. Irony has, in many ways, become the rhetoric of compliance.

I wonder how feminism has gotten to this twee stage and I wonder whether this is largely a reaction to the still-persisting stereotype that feminists are man-hating, hairy lesbians. A “male tears” mug is sassy rather than angry: it contains no threat to radically redistribute power imbalances in society. An “empower me” make-up set holds no genuine potential to abolish the constraints of femininity on young women. To an extent, these products declaw feminism from a political movement to a fashion statement. I wonder why other liberation movements haven’t faced the same commodification. Why there is no market for a “this is what a socialist looks like” shirts, or flowery ‘black power’ mugs?

Radical left movements and racial equality movements are confident they are not cute, or twee, or kitsch. Feminism isn’t cute, and should question itself when corporations reduce it to “girl power” or “empowerment” (a largely white, middle class definition of the movement). Feminism is a political ideology which fights FGM, child marriage, rape-as-a-war-tactic… We live in a world where two women are killed a week by domestic abuse in England and the average woman still faces structural inequalities. The reduction of our movement to knitted uteruses and pink blankets is not just a shame, but a threat to feminism’s effectiveness.

I say, for the feminist woman in your life, get her an Audre Lorde book or subscription to Ms. Magazine. Because feminism is for life, not just for Christmas.

Comments From You

CHS // Posted 23 December 2015 at 5:19 pm


Ok, so this is my first visit to a feminist web site, so please forgive any faux pas – very briefly, I would describe myself as an “egalitarian” where in an ideal society people are not judged any differently by any plumbing nor what they find attractive and so on but rather are they a good person (ok so that is still subjective but everybody should be judged by the same yardstick and treated in the same way).

I do have perhaps a view of “feminists” which has been slightly tainted by the extremes and by the image that society tries to perpetuate. I am trying to understand better tho (hence being here I guess :) ). I do believe that there are good people and bad people on both side of the argument (anger and aggression are rarely a positive thing even if on the side of right).

Anyway to stop waffling and to get to the point :)

I thought that this was an interesting article which mirrored a similar conversation I had in the last couple of days about the Seekers song “Georgie Girl”. I always liked the song and the tune but was always a little disturbed by some of the lyrics. Unless I misunderstood it the principle in the song was that “Georgie” needed to dress in a more sexy fashion in order to entice a man which would then make her complete. I had consoled myself a little with the thought that this was in a different time when we definitely did not have an egalitarian society but surely in the last 40 years we have made some progress!!

Apparently not!

Well, I don’t think that is strictly true I do feel we are making progress even if we do still have a long way to go.

It seems to me that we need a whole paradigm shift of society in order to achieve a fair society and that the only way that we are really going to achieve this is to start at a young age and educate people that we are all equal – that a woman and a man both have the same potential to do great good or great harm to society and that no gender is superior nor inferior to the other just as race, creed nor colour are a guide.

What counts is how we behave toward and treat other members of society.

Well I hope this makes sense or at least the point I am trying to make is intelligible :)

All the best


PS Just as a side note I was prompted to come to a feminist website following a very good documentary by Reggie Yates which was recently available through the BBC Iplayer, it does not look to be available at the moment but hopefully will be soon – I would definitely recommend it (especially to men).

Megan Stodel // Posted 23 December 2015 at 7:58 pm

“Irony has, in many ways, become the rhetoric of compliance.”

I love this! Totally.

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