We have now entered, what has been called, the ‘fourth wave’ of feminism and are on the dawn of the fifth. Social media apps actively encourage us to voice our opinions, share our dislikes and likes through tapping a little heart at the corner of our screen. With the opportunity to write short,
un-monitored statements to contextualise every post we create, the mainstream’s voice has never been as prominent and so easy to engage with.
We have become a walking ‘post’. We are a walking portrayal, not of our true selves, but our curated social media self. This can be seen in the recent trend of slogan t-shirts. Slogans that were once used as a vessel to protest, illustrating feelings of distaste, distrust and dissatisfaction, have now become meaningless. Slogan t-shirts no longer hold a divisive statement, instead they have become a way to illustrate one’s ‘best’ self. They have become a form of writing a real time instagram post on your personnel, a twent four hour caption for your mood for that day. Slogans like ‘keep it up!’ And ‘be inspired’ literally dictate to the consumer seemingly empowering phrases. The consumer has been crippled since birth with feelings of inadequacy inflicted by the very marketing system they are buying in to. Stores are now cashing in on this feeling of inadequacy that they initially created, by selling ‘inspiring’ phrases back to the consumer through slogans made to make them ‘feel better.’
This capitalising on consumer feeling is nothing new, but it is something that has been brought into my conscious this past year since that fateful us election result. Feminism has taken to the mainstream, encouraging a record number of male and females to get involved and speak up in regard to women’s rights. However, as this message has spread into the mainstreams conscious, brands have been presented an opportunity to capitalise on this message, commodifying feminism and watering it down to become sellable, to tick boxes and be seen as being one of the ‘good guys’. The reality is far from this.
Feminism should be accessible to all and should be a widely discussed topic. The problem occurs when the message has been capitalised on and muted to create a profit. Selling ‘i am a feminist’ t-shirts and in the same store selling a t-shirt that actively labels a woman as little more than a ‘feeding machine’ is problematic, and let’s not forget that the people behind the creation of these ‘feminist’ t-shirts are often exploited female workers working in appalling conditions in a third world country, feeding their whole family on less than half of the minimum wage.
With the majority of men running and owning these multi-billion-pound clothing brands, a leading example being philip green, the ceo of topshop, the feminist message is arguably being presented to consumers through the male gaze and has been given male ownership. Each girl in this series takes reference from the pose and poise of pageant girls. The pageant world is an important example of male ownership over femininity and women’s sexuality. Beauty pageant contestants who make it to the final stages have to take part in the ‘speech for the title’, comically associated in mainstream culture with vacant blondes wanting to cure ‘world hunger.’ These messages are almost always damningly overlooked by the pageant presenter and the format of the show itself. It is the women’s beauty that wins the crown, not their aspirations or their ideologies, they are merely there to be mocked and belittled.
Pageants illustrate a commercialised form of viewing a woman’s beauty and sexuality according to male expectations, which in turn, could be presented as an exact comparison to mainstream brands’ sudden engagement and investment in the feminist message. Explored subtly through gesture and stance, with a nod to zara e-commerce set up, here is a photographic series that presents the very real notion of commodified feminism with in mainstream culture