Selling feminism: March's discussion event recap
This month I wanted to discuss the commodification of feminism because, selfishly, I needed a space to suss out whether or not the ELU is contributing to the problem of selling women things they don’t need under the guise of feminism, liberation and empowerment. Maybe I was seeking the reassurance through ticket sales that women saw the value in what the ELU does and stands for.
While preparing for this discussion I was laser focused on what it is the ELU is trying to do. Are we trying to commodify a movement? Are we no better than the commercials and ads we see on TV? I want the ELU to give me and the women involved a purpose - the change we want to be in the world - not just a means to a monetary end. While the ticket price to ELU events is high I’m very aware that it is a barrier to entry to some which is why those who cannot pay are always invited to join. I strive for the ELU to be a place where women can come together in real life and be intellectually stimulated and that in and of itself is a lot of work. In order to sustain that work and cover costs of the event, the ticket price is what it is.
I regret the way I opened our commodification conversation: ‘What’s wrong with this one?’ I said to kick off our discussion about in-print ads. What I should have said was, “What do we think about this one?” because our criticism needs to strive to be as unbiased as possible. The first two ads we looked at were cigarette ads from the 70’s from Virginia Slims’ ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’ campaign. Regardless of whatever thinly veiled or misguided feminist message these ads had, they were still trying to sell you something that is proven to shorten your life, branding it as something that empowers you or makes you more of a woman. That in and of itself is important to point out and an easy enough conclusion for all to come to. As we looked at more contemporary ads it got increasingly less obvious how we felt about them. Dove’s ‘Love the skin you’re in’ ads appear to hold women up all the while telling you ‘you really should firm those thighs.’ They also are the number one seller of skin bleaching creams in India. The final ad we looked at, Nike’s ‘Best Female Athlete Ever’ featuring Serena Williams was arguably the most nuanced ad we looked at. Most women agreed they liked the ad and I too think it’s empowering for a number of reasons. It shows little girls what to strive for; representation of a strong female role model is important and worthwhile. But I’ve got a problem with Nike. They use exploitative child labor and sweatshops to create their goods while outwardly trying to show us that they are empowering women. They are not walking their own talk. The ads are for their own capitalist gain. The question I’m left with is: in this case is Serena Williams indirectly helping sweatshop labor which actively holds women and children down? Are we all complicit in some way? Is there more we can be doing? The answer is yes, there is more we can all be doing and it’s through our wallets and how we choose to spend our time. I would argue that spending time with strangers, especially in our current political climate, as well as creating spaces for intellectual conversations is a path to making the change we want to see in the world.
The most important mission for me and the ELU is the walk the talk - to champion women and the help them to champion themselves. This is a human-centric endeavor that seeks to include everyone that wants to join regardless of ability to pay. I have faith that through this approach we can lift as we climb and raise each other up.
Which brings me to a huge ask. The ELU wants to do more to amplify your voices and experiences. Do you have something you’d like to share with the world? We’d love to be your platform. Next month we’ll be talking about Motherhood. Do you have a story about your mother or would you like to share your thoughts on Motherhood with the world? Let us share your story! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started. I’d also love to hear your feedback/constructive criticism/suggestions on how to improve/expand the ELU.
Want to know what it's like to attend an event? Take a look at our amazing event photos by Natasha Lamalle.
Casey is the founder of the ELU and is unapologetically navigating creative entrepreneurship. While she admits she doesn't always know what she's doing, she's fully embraced the 'fake it til you make it/everyone is faking it mentality.' She enjoys naps, whiskey and all things cat-related.