There once was a radical commercial full of righteous body diversity that seemed to be a fist in the air for intersectional feminism, except that it was by and for H&M — and their business practices are not aligned with the feminist, justice-oriented posture they struck in this advertising campaign.
There once was an inspiring, moving Georg Jensen video about being your you’i’est you, filled with images of woman achievers and change-makers. The words delivering the message of women’s empowerment were by Danielle LaPorte. Unfortunately, they appeared to have been used without her permission and without attribution.
There once was a woman who made a speech about women’s empowerment in order to encourage women to vote a party on a mission to roll back reproductive rights, healthcare and to support a man both accused of sexual assault by his ex-wife and several other women — and who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. Yet Ivanka Trump stood by her father and used her perfect woman status to show us what an allegiance with him looked like: beauty, wealth, family, prestige, attention, affection, empowerment. #womenwhowork #forinjustice #coughcough
There once was an iconic woman entrepreneur famed for being an empowerer-of-women who counted among her friends and business mentors a famed pick-up artist who teaches men to profile and prey upon women and a self-help guru — and on live TV, that male guru told a woman who was depressed over her failed business and her new, reluctant occupation as a housewife to get in touch with her femininity by eating chocolate, dancing, and have sex with her husband. That would fix what he saw as a gender-role crisis rather than a lack of meaningful work. Back to the leader-of-women: one of her most successful affiliates and business thought-partners is a male marketer who seems to approvingly retweet explicitly anti-feminist perspectives and work.
There once was an apparently enlightened white woman – thousands of them – who wore a shirt that said Spiritual Gangsta and thought it was funny because she’s so clearly not a gangsta because she’s a nice, middle-class white lady– but that’s not racist, no, not at all. #notallwhitepeople
There was once a black person murdered by police and all the white leaders and self-proclaimed world-changers said nothing.
Who are we kidding? There were hundreds of black deaths caused by police and vigilante violence, for years and years, and still the white world-changers said nothing. Ending oppression and state violence was not the liberation they championed. They just wanted to free your cash from your wallet.
There once was a white female leader who did say something. She sent an email the day after Eric Garner’s killers went free saying that she understood how outraged we were, how we needed to do something to cope with all the heartbreak and injustice in the world, and that she had recorded a video for us to help us transform rage into action. When you clicked through, she lip-synced “All About That Bass” by Megan Trainor, goofed around with the black person powdering her nose, and answered a question from a viewer about how to deal with unpleasant coworkers. Beneath the video, the text counseled us “not to get political” in the comments — even though that’s how she got us there in the first place. With politics and hope and by appearing to promise us a way to cope with and resist and end state violence and injustice. Instead, in the place of politics, she gave us click-bait that seemed to leverage black death for personal profit.
There once was hundreds or maybe even thousands of women sick of all the negative political posts that challenged their mood but didn’t make a dent in their actual lives so what was all the fuss about? Let them eat cake.
There once were thousands of women’s health coaches who equated women’s health and personal power with semi-starvation and orthorexia and hundreds of body positivity leaders who did not advocate for bodies that weren’t white, straight, able-bodied and cis-gendered.
There once was dozens of products and thousands of dollars made from the words of Flavia Dzodan — “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” — and she didn’t see a dime of it from any of those radical empowerment entrepreneurs.
These are not the bad ol’ days. This is now. This is us. This is The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand vogueing liberation. This is ad agencies and entrepreneurs and marketers striking a pose that looks like collective liberation — but their daily practices and supply chains and cultural commitments don’t match their ad campaigns.
If we want to know how to sell without selling out, that’s where we need to look: not only at our marketing, which can be a slick posture we hold for a few seconds, but at our supply chains, our unquestioned assumptions, our partners, our enduring loyalties and our impact.
Change these and we change everything.
My thanks to Morra Aarons-Mele who seeded this idea — that justice happens in our supply chains and there’s an opportunity there to create change — in a conversation we had for her podcast, Hiding in The Bathroom.