The Emotional Labor Union
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Voices as Power

Confession: I Compromised My Feminist Values

Selling feminism

Ok, I messed up.

Despite being a democratic socialist who believes capitalism is the root of evil in this country, I somehow got caught up in the Black Friday madness. Maybe it’s because I’m a planner and love getting ALL of my holiday shopping done in advance, or perhaps it's because my partner and I are in the process of buying a co-op and so of course buying all of our paint before settling on the home is smart because duh, Black Friday (DP talked me down haha).

And then, the most egregious mistake? Feeling the pressure to come up with a gift guide right before Black Friday since “everyone else is doing it” and it was an opportunity to earn a little extra money from affiliate links. Trust me, I had good intentions when I created the feminist gift guide, but I got hella lost on WHY I created it and, more important, what it reflected of my personal and professional brand.

I’m annoyed at myself because I have to admit that:

  1. I was ultimately driven by greed to create the guide

  2. None of the products on the list are local, all on Amazon

  3. The epiphany of my error only came after getting a bunch of Black Friday emails

So I'm raising my hand and saying I screwed up and I'm sorry, but this is a terrific learning opportunity since the commodification of feminism is a MAJOR problem. It’s everywhere: Frida Kahlo “brand” nail polish at CVS, #FutureIsFemale mugs at Marshalls, that asshole Sophia Amoruso

What is going on and why should we be concerned? Isn't it a good thing that feminism is becoming more generally accepted? Women's empowerment is always a good thing, right?

When it really comes down to it, using feminism to market products not only trivializes the message, but also belittles it since an alarming amount of people don't actually know the roots or movement behind that trendy AF tee.

Another alarming factor is the mass production of these items because, as we know, when stuff is made in bulk, ethics are far from the mind of the manufacturers. So when brands dropship or get bulk items made in China, or other parts of the globe, we have to question if these "feminist" products had origins that match the values of the person about to buy it and the company looking to hawk it. Not to mention the human cost of labor on warehouse workers, like at Amazon.

I love Bitch Magazine (for so so many reasons, check them out here) and how co-founder Andi Zeisler uses the term "empowertising" and marketplace feminism to describe this unfortunate phenomenon. Zeisler says, in a Quartz article by Dr. Marcie Bianco, that the commodification of feminism is, sadly, capitalist economics 101, “Feminism’s recently skyrocketing profile is a reminder that the best way to constrain the power of a social movement is to commodify it,”

This. Is. Scary.

When we take a message or issue from an important movement and slap it on a pen, underwear, or iPhone case, we're not just touting how woke we are, we're feeding into the patriarchal and capitalist system that got us into this shitty system of racism, classicism, and oppression. As TIME said in an article, "Quit throwing this label [feminist] around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade." Can I get a hell yes to that?!

In "Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History", Nancy Fraser argues, "the feminist movement's raison d'être was to dismantle patriarchy, and with it capitalism, but the second wave of the movement in the 1960s brought with it an ideology of women's emancipation tied to capitalistic notions of power. Fraser concludes that ‘feminists should end our dangerous liaison with marketization’ and be wary of actors who push for it."

Generally, the root issues feminism looks to change are the gender wage gap, the division of labor in the home (emotional labor), institutionalized racism and sexism (for example, how in the U.S. women of color are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications than white women), structural violence, bodily autonomy (side note: screw you FOSTA-SESTA).

Feminism isn't a trend to hop onto or a phrase to throw around lightly over cocktails at a bar, it's a way of living your life and taking on the fight, taking action, to upend our patriarchal power structures. I messed up by straying from values that I hold dear, and this post has been a way for me to work through that failure, understand how the heck I got sucked up into that capitalist system, and determine how I'll be improving in the future.

I'm leaving the gift guide up because I hope someone reads it, starts rolling up their sleeves to call me out, but then sees this post and my ownership of the failure and can understand how easy it is to get tricked by the seductive allure of capitalism.

Rachel headshot.jpg

ELU Contributor

Rachel Wynn is a tenacious, poised, and creative professional in the communications field and is the Founder and CEO of both Starlight Social and Feminist Founder. Rachel currently lives next to Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC with her husband, David, and dog-child, Rufus.