Why Pop Feminism Isn’t Enough

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lately, it seems like the word ‘feminism’ is everywhere in women’s magazines. Headlines reading, “10 Women Who Are Feminist AF” or “Feminist T-Shirts You’ll Want to Rock” are something I see frequently while scrolling through Facebook. You can walk into a store, such as, H&M or Forever 21 and see multiple shirts with slogans like “Girl Power” or “Feminist as F*ck”, written in sparkly lettering.

While I’m glad that more women are interested in feminism, I can’t help but think that this form of pop feminism has little to do with actual liberation for all women, especially when it comes in the form of a $10 t-shirt made by an underprivileged woman in a sweatshop and worn by more fortunate women.

I’m not sure when feminism became popular. When I began identifying as a feminist, I was in high school, and at that time, women who called themselves feminists were largely seen as “feminazis” or “man-haters” by people who didn’t understand what the feminist movement, or rather what the multiple feminist movements throughout history, were about. Although I didn’t know anything about feminist history or theory in high school, I noticed that as a girl, and even more importantly, as a gay girl, I was treated unfairly compared to guys in my classes. I think this is the starting point for all women, but it shouldn’t be the ending point.

In high school, my feminism was about helping women like me feel good about themselves, but it wasn’t really about changing the societal structures that made us feel inferior.

It wasn’t until college that I began participating in feminist activism, and I realized that feminism was about more than singing Beyoncé songs and wearing slogan t-shirts. It was about examining my own actions, examining the actions of others, and the structures in place that kept women from being liberated. It wasn’t only about white lesbians like me, but every woman - women from all over the world who were oppressed. I read theory by feminist activists like bell hooks, Rita Mae Brown, Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and more. I participated in events like The March to End Rape Culture and The Women’s March. I wrote articles about women’s rights and tried to read articles by women who had differing opinions than my own.

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I used to be under the impression that if something made me feel good, it must be feminist. I love wearing makeup and heels and painting my nails. But, nothing we do exists in a vacuum. I’m aware that the beauty industry profits off of my insecurities, and even if makeup makes some women feel empowered, it won’t empower all women. Does that mean you can’t enjoy anything? Of course not! I still go to Sephora more than I should and I’m never going to stop enjoying my heels, but feminism is about more than what makes me feel good. It’s about destroying the systems that make women feel like they must perform in one way.

Feminism is a journey. I’m sure my feelings will change as I grow older and learn more.

So, of course you can participate in some of the elements of pop feminism. It’s fun and empowering to sing Fifth Harmony songs, and expressing yourself via your clothing is important. But, I challenge women to look beyond pop feminism and work toward deconstructing systems in place that oppress women globally.