Is Feminism Trendy?

What is the new wave of feminism?  At first, as I recall, the feminist movement was enthralling, like a breath of fresh air I was inhaling after being stuck in a packed bus or something.  I never grew up with anyone claiming to be a feminist, and I had no women role models besides my mom, so I never thought much about the subject of strong powerful women.  I was in the dark as to what it meant to be a feminist.  It wasn't until about two years ago, when I started hearing more women come forward and say they were feminists, that I felt the wheel in my mind start to turn and my curiosity begin to spark.  Now we find ourselves in 2018, and the feminist movement has had a complete resurgence.  

The last time it was this relevant (feminism has always been relevant; in my use of the word relevant, I mean, the contemporary interest of the media) could arguably be in the late 1960s.  This was a time when women burned bras and marched on the streets, posters and signs in tow, in protest for the inequality they faced.  This is much like the feminist movement of today, where we see multitudes of young women losing their bras, foregoing shaving their armpits, and beginning to make bolder, less feminine statements with their clothing.  I see this on my college campus every day.  

The late 1960s was such a turning point for society and American culture, because this was when women began to turn away from the lifestyle of the 1950s, away from the “American dream” of the white picket fence, and away from the notion that a woman's sole purpose in life was nothing more than being a baby-making-machine to rear children and be a homemaker.  Women in the late 1960s and 1970s started thinking about their career paths.  Society adhered to strict gender norms that reinforced the belief that the typical jobs meant for women were only secretaries or school teachers.  Women’s salaries were less than their male counterparts, and in an effort to mitigate this President John F. Kennedy created the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as a part of the New Frontier initiative. The Equal Pay Act set to demolish workplace inequalities through means of anti-discrimination laws which made it illegal to deny women equal salary or deny entry into jobs based upon gender.  Even though times were changing, men openly scoffed at women who desired to become lawyers, doctors, or engineers.  In one instance, in 1960, a dean of a medical school, who remains anonymous, went on record saying, "He** yes, we have a quota...We do keep women out, when we can. We don't want them here — and they don't want them elsewhere, either, whether or not they'll admit it."

Women weren't meant to have a “man’s” job.  Point blank. And as a result of the stigma, women were incapable of becoming doctors, lawyers, and engineers. It resulted in less than ten percent of women holding careers in medicine, law, and science and technology.  These issues were the metaphorical gasoline pouring on the ever growing fire of inequality as women became more enlightened and self-aware about their rights in society and their struggle.      

Young people, chiefly Millennials (and now inclusive of Generation Z), started the next revolution, and it’s happening now across college campuses nationwide.  Millennials are the participant majority during social justice rallies and protests.  Rallies and protests have become the social event to attend.  I’m sure you’ve been invited to attend a protest against some form of social injustice, be it police brutality or women’s rights.  Or if you haven't been invited or gone to one, you’ve seen photos splashed across your Instagram feed.  Is it trendy to attend social injustice rallies and protests?  Do you think people attend just to get a picture to post on their social media?  Does it boil down to the appearance of doing good, more so than the intrinsic desire to actually do good?  The new wave of feminism ignites a lot of these questions for me.  

Is feminism trendy?  We see celebs like Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham, and Meryl Streep stepping forward in declaration of their feminism.  Don’t get me wrong, this is awesome.  We need women fighting for the rights of women, but is this a tactic of the mainstream media to get fans interested in an upcoming project, book, or movie?  My Facebook feed is overwhelmed with ad campaigns claiming to support women’s rights, but it’s just advertising playing off a social movement.  The mainstream media has its own agenda.  An interesting example would be Dove.  Dove sells products for men and women, like soap and body wash.  Dove’s Real Beauty campaign airs commercials centered around encouraging women to accept their true beauty and natural body shapes.  We live in a consumer society, so of course corporations need to make money.  Where I have an issue is in that Unilever, the owner of Dove, and 400 other brands, including Sunsilk, Caress, St. Ives, even food brands like Skippy peanut butter, Lipton tea, and Klondike, airs extremely contrasting content depending upon the brand and its target audience.  Unilever owns Axe.  Axe releases extremely misogynistic ads.

One Axe commercial that pops into my mind opens with an average looking guy showering on the beach.  With each scrub of Axe body wash he uses, girls on the beach are suddenly uncontrollably drawn to him.  Each time he scrubs his body, the women on the beach seem to be caught in a trance and imitate his movements.  Inevitably, by the end of his shower he notices this, so he moves his hands that were scrubbing his chest, slowly away from his chest.  Now we have about five women standing in front of him holding onto untied bikini tops with insatiable bedroom eyes- their hands covering their boobs- the guy smirks and raises his hands, hoping the girls will follow.  At the end of the commercial Axe’s slogan appears, “The cleaner you are, the dirtier you get.”  All of Axe’s ads involve the concept that the use of the their product causes women to flock to men uncontrollably.  The girls in Axe’s ads are always scantily dressed and dripping with sex appeal.  Almost all of Axe’s ads involve women becoming consumed with lust for a man right after he’s sprayed Axe body spray or used Axe body wash.  

Axe is telling us that a body wash, with one simple use, can give men the ability to control women and use them for their sexual desires.  Everything about Axe starkly contrasts the wholesome Real Beauty campaign by Dove.  Axe knows the market they need to cater to.  Women aren’t buying Axe, so it doesn't matter if Axe offends women.  The whole thing makes me think that Unilever doesn't care in the slightest about women, women’s rights, or “real beauty” for that matter.  Unilever caters to what will bring them sales.  

Dove sees the feminist movement as a trendy movement to monetize on.  Dove understands women are predominantly the ones buying their products, so they started an entire campaign about making women feel loved and beautiful in their own skin.  Women see the Real Beauty campaign, think it’s wonderful, and go buy Dove’s products.  When I see Axe’s ads I feel quite the opposite, yet both are owned by the same corporation, with the same CEO, same VP, etc.  So how can Dove, the brand, honestly support women if their CEO supports the slew of misogynistic ads and the misogynistic slogan behind Axe?  Their campaign cannot be justified now, because their CEO supports Axe.            

As I find feminism becoming more trendy in the media, I start to shy away.  I fight for the empowerment of women and for equality just like everyone else, but I don’t want to support a movement that is ran on the grounds of getting likes or dollars signs.  For example, if girls grow out their armpit hair to break down normal beauty standards, I support that.  All I see, however, is an aesthetic for Instagram.  It’s this grungy, braless, septum nose ring, hairy armpit aesthetic that has nothing to do with dismantling the stifling and impossible beauty standards for women; instead, the majority of excessive armpit hair is for attention and likes on Instagram.  Social movements are trendy enough for corporations to take note of it and monetize on it.  It’s exploitative, and takes away from how important feminism really is.  I want women to critically think about feminism, its history, how its gotten to where it is today, its main goals, and what this movement is fighting for.  I don’t support agreeing with the masses and saying, “Yeah, I’m feminist AF” -because it’s trendy to do so.  I want some conviction.  I want honest support of the movement from companies, celebs, and my peers.  To the girl with the Feminist AF shirt, has she even read any books on feminism, taken classes on women’s and gender studies, or done anything to impact women in third world countries, like donating money, time, or service?  

A year ago, I found myself pouring through books to get answers on feminism.  One book I read was Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy, a magnificent read about women’s rights in the Middle East, and then I devoured Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks.  I recently began reading I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, an autobiography about Malala Yousafzai’s.  As a child in Pakistan, Malala fought for girls’ right to an education, which caused her to be shot in the head by the Taliban.  Every day I seek to educate myself more about women’s rights not just here in America, but globally.  That’s what feminists should be doing.  Not just wearing trendy shirts.  We can’t help what big corporations or the mainstream media decide to make money off of, but it is time for millennials to stop obsessing over their social media presence enough to analyze and critically think about the trends they are following.  


All images courtesy of Pinterest.