Throw Out Your Feminist T-Shirts

Seriously. Throw them in the trash (but actually, please recycle).

Or do one better, boycott the brands trying to sell you feminist t-shirts.

Now this may seem antithetical to the feminist agenda – isn’t movement visibility important? Can’t we all be feminists? [Insert other social justice concern here]?

          Digital Art by Coral White

I get it, we want to support what we think is a good cause, but I’ll put it simply: the places selling you these shirts/accessories/feminist whatever aren’t your feminist friends. They’re using you, hun.

How do I know this? Let’s start with some basic feminist theory (as oxymoronic as that sounds).  

We’re in this groovy spot called third-wave feminism, which is more like a bunch of different feminisms which, instead of considering women’s oppression in isolation, look to a plethora of other factors that simultaneously oppress or privilege a person. This is called intersectionalism.

Now enter queer theory, which, in a nutshell, is about the rejection and subversion of the normative to undo then redo how social structures work, in an effort to eradicate systematic oppression (e.g. sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism etc. etc.).

Mix them together and we end up with a cool theoretical hybrid called queer feminism.  

Queer feminism is against capitalism – a system based on problematic identity stereotypes to structurally control access to power. It keeps the poor (the already oppressed) poor and the rich (usually dudes) rich. Queer feminism, with all its fighting for the abolishment of hegemonic power structures and for intersectional equity, is not here for capitalism. Instead, it’s for, as Nizan Shaked puts it in her chapter of Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories, “[t]he idea of making a living replacing making a killing.”

Forever 21’s co-founders, Do Won and Jin Sook Chang, who will happily sell you a sequined feminist mesh top (for only $20.90!), are making a killing. They’re estimated to be worth about $2.9 billion. Richard Hayne, president and CEO of Urban Outfitters, a store with a myriad of feminist products for your feminist lifestyle (like this $42 throw cushion!) is currently worth $1.37 billion. They don’t need your money, but they’re willing to cash in on popular social movements to get it.  

Whether we like it or not, feminism is a hot topic. Everything from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Justin Trudeau proudly identifying as a feminist has taken the word from a taboo textbook term to a sexy self-identifier. And that, in theory, is a good thing. But the problem is, most people still don’t even know what feminism is.

Big companies are banking on that. They’re banking on armchair activists not doing their homework. They’re banking on good people wanting to buy into what seems like a wholesome social movement so they can sell another shitty sweatshop-made shirt. They’re banking on you ignoring the rest of the sketchy things their company does and thinking “wow this [insert mega-retail company] really cares about the things I care about.”

Your feminist t-shirts from these mega-retail companies are doing nothing because the companies are doing nothing for feminism. Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Ardenes etc. are not about to actually support a feminist cause, they’re just exploiting something popular.

Now, you might be thinking I’m saying all feminist t-shirts are a waste of space. I’m not saying that – but buying cheap shirts from cheap places cheapens the idea of feminism in general. Buy them from an actual feminist company. Buy them from people doing feminist work in their communities. Buy them from people paying fair wages to those making the feminist t-shirts.

So, throw out your feminist t-shirts. Don’t wear them. Make your own. Or go buy new ones from some actual feminist companies:

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