We have all seen those pink, flowery “girl power” T-shirts in stores. While they may be cute, they have consistently rubbed me the wrong way ever since companies started mass-producing them.
Feminism that has been commodified and made appealing to the general public is not feminism. Cutesy T-shirts and hats will never accomplish real change. There is nothing wrong with wanting to sport a “girl power” logo in an outfit, but it is silly to think that is going to address misogynism in our day-to-day lives. Vague, optimistic slogans erase the pain all women systematically experience. It overlooks the drastic differences between white women’s votes and the votes of women of color. It claims the hard work of a few as the work of many. When so many men in positions of power are accused of abuse without facing any tangible consequences, it is vital that we stand up in ways that are not so easy for companies to sell. It is easy for a fast fashion brand to slap a phrase on a T-shirt and call it activism. But real activism? Not so easy.
Being a feminist can be uncomfortable. It is important to talk about difficult realities, like the inability of women to walk alone safely at night, the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and the disturbing number of law enforcement officers who are perpetrators of domestic violence. In addition, when a friend or family member says something hurtful, we should all try to speak up more. It can be awkward or stressful to have these conversations with people you are close to, but it is a good way to start changing people’s mindsets. It is also crucial to support people who speak up against harmful ideas and to boost the voices of minority women whenever possible.
There is so much more that society can do to advance women’s rights than just saying “girl power!” Women should not have to settle for these cheesy and empty phrases of encouragement as the mainstream version of feminism. Reality is not always pretty, but the ugly parts are the ones that need to be talked about the most.