By Alice Adler
I am proud to be a feminist and am extremely aware of my privilege of entering into adulthood at a time when the successes of preceding waves of feminism have taken hold. Today, for better or for worse, there are many different takes on the word feminism. I would even go so far as to say that being branded a feminist, especially here in Scandinavia, is considered trendy. This take on feminism is a concept that I understand. It is attractive on all kinds of levels to fight against injustice and stick up for your own and others’ basic human rights. Thanks to this ‘fashionable’ form of feminism, and the ongoing transformation regarding women’s role in society, many companies and brands have modified their image in order to widen their appeal to women and market their goods.
In recent years, many actresses and actors have become more politically involved than before. Female celebrities have been picking up awards left, right and center, and in doing so, have used their voice and their platform in order to encourage their viewers to educate themselves on the subject of equality, and to raise awareness about the injustices of today’s world. A memorable example of this was when global icon Madonna delivered her fiery feminist acceptance speech at the 2016 Billboard awards, after winning Woman of the Year. She shared her account of the constant discrimination that she has suffered as a woman throughout her career, and eloquently compared this to the differential treatment that men working in the same industry receive.
There are many brands and companies who have registered the increasingly fashionable character of feminism and have taken note. When turning on the TV today or flipping through a magazine, one is exposed to a large number of advertisements, the majority of them being aimed at women. The phenomenon of ‘femvertising’ has proven to be extremely successful for some companies, with studies showing that 52 percent of women have purchased a product because of the way its advertisement portrayed women. Companies that use slogans which strive to empower women are of course needed. It is, however, the hypocrisy of many companies that brand themselves like this which I believe to be unjust. For example, the widely known brand H&M recently came out with a popular collection of T-shirts with the slogan #FEMINIST branded across the front. However, it was then discovered that the sweatshops used by H&M have some of the worst working conditions documented. Sweatshop employees in Cambodia and Bangladesh had been working in awful environments, where there was a total lack of health and safety regulation. Laborers worked extensively long days and received below minimum wage pay, violating their basic human rights.
A sweatshop is defined as a factory that violates several labor laws. The workers are forced to toil under inhumane working conditions for long hours, and usually get paid next to nothing. This makes it practically impossible for the workers to provide decent shelter, food and education for their families. Estimates have shown that women make up the vast majority of the workforce in sweatshops, with some factories displaying figures of up to 85 to 90 percent. Sexual harassment has been reported by women working in sweatshops throughout the world, although sadly these reports tend to go uninvestigated. Maternity leave is also almost unheard of in these factories, and women are expected to return to working 14 to 15 hour days within days of giving birth, risking losing their position if they do not.
All products must be produced somewhere and by someone. Unfortunately however, the clothes we wear and the goods we use can often be the product of exploitation. Many brands which supposedly aim at empowering women, and sending out a message for equality, simultaneously exploit female laborers in sweatshops and factories in poorer regions of the globe. The companies that use feminism as a commercial banner or slogan in order to make a profit are often doing so at the expense of other women, rather than acting as an authentic movement with a genuine concern for equality.
The injustice of the situation is self-evident ‒ certain companies are using feminist messages to turn over a healthy profit, whilst simultaneously reinforcing the oppression of women in certain parts of the globe. The slogans which portray such companies as ethical and moral advocates of feminism are nothing more than superficial branding. It is a case of not practicing what you preach in its most dangerous form. This hypocrisy entices consumers into wearing and using products which originate from the very core of female exploitation. I am proud to be a feminist, but if wearing a trendy t-shirt with the logo #FEMINIST emblazoned on it means that I am supporting a system which is wholly unethical, then I would rather find another way to show my affiliation towards the feminist movement.
By Alice Adler