Feminism cannot and should not be sold to the masses as an object of consumption.
Nor should it be corporatized for personal gains by blood-sucking neoliberals. Unfortunately, this is a lesson yet to be learned by large retailers such as Forever 21, H&M, Charlotte Russe, Urban Outfitters, etc. All are popular retail chains one would come across when perusing their local mall. These retailers primarily target a demographic largely comprising of millennials and teenagers, arguably the most open-minded of the bunch. Therefore, the rise of feminism amongst our country’s very diverse youth is not surprising. With a year full of triumphs and (unfortunately) Trumps, we’ve seen almost every intersection of humanity tested, and this has bred a group of highly intelligent, compassionate youths that feel social, political and economic injustice and seek to change it. I would like to think that I am one of those youths.
However, like with any movement that’s caught the attention of mainstream media and pop culture, a lot of aspects of feminism have been twisted and turned to make this once seemingly organic ideology marketable and profitable all in the name of capitalism, something which authentic feminism is not too fond of.
As a 15-year-old and an avid user of social media, mostly Instagram where you can catch me ranting about all things from feminism to memes, it’s no surprise that most of my advertisements are feminism related. I’ll often come across ads for companies which sell feminist apparel, throwing around mantras like “Nevertheless she persisted” or “This pussy grabs back” and upon first glance, you fall in love with the idea of donning apparel that screams “I’m a feminist don’t f*ck with me”. Many of these brands are not huge companies — they’re usually Instagram shops run by a person or a tight knit group of people (like this one which recently made headlines), often hand-making their clothing. However, recently I’ve noticed a surge in huge companies, like my oh-so favorite Forever 21 putting out items which exclaim “Feminist” or “Women are the Future”. Other retailers like H&M, Charlotte Russe, Urban Outfitters were also quick to follow to follow in their footsteps, taking advantage of the influx in feminism amongst youths. With the word feminist being thrown around so casually by every other Hollywood celebrity and used as an embellishment for every other Instagram bio, you can’t blame retailers for using this new concept of faux “feminism” as a way to profit off of our unsuspecting, naïve youth who truly believe that their favorite stores are pro-feminism, people of color, body positivity and anti-oppression. The fact of the matter, however, is that these companies not only disagree with any concept of feminism but the basis of their companies are built upon taking advantage of people of color, usually in developing nations, most of which are women.
Stores like Forever 21 have a history of having their clothing made in sweatshops. What’s even more disturbing is that a majority of these sweatshops aren’t in some foreign nation whose name most Americans can’t pronounce or in a developing country filled to the rim with poverty and impoverished youths. It’s right here in the United States. Of course, sweatshops anywhere, in any nation no matter how foreign or underprivileged are wrong, they are an insult to hardworking individuals who need to make a living. It’s an absolute tragedy when we see the bruised hands of a 9-year-old, not from playing outside like she should be but from sewing the bomber jacket you’re probably wearing right now. I don’t mean to sound like an American exceptionalist either but for the most part Americans (including myself at one point) are under the assumption that sweatshops are not an American “thing” because we’re the nation that’s supposed to care about our workers, right? We’re supposed to have standards of safety and hygiene unlike other countries who don’t promise their workers security and assurance that they will not be taken advantage of. This is the promise America gave to its people and it’s the same promise that has led many to leave their homes and come to a country with their best interests at heart, or so they believed. It seems that America’s principles can be compromised as long as someone is becoming rich off of it.
Forever 21 is not the only retailer guilty of sweatshop use, it is, however, one of the most popular and the one I’m sure almost everyone knows or has shopped from before. They were also one of the first stores I noticed which adopted this new ambiance of pro-feminism amongst it’s demographic. Stores like H&M are guilty of this too, having many sweatshops in nations like Bangladesh with almost unbearable conditions. Imagine a 10-year-old Bengali child plastering the word “Feminist” across your shirt with their tiny fingers, hurting themselves in the process, but what do they care, in order to make a viable living, they need to make 100 of these in the next hour or so. Another cult favorite, Urban Outfitters is also guilty of having sweatshops in the Los Angeles district and we know for sure there aren’t any white folk stitching up vintage tees and mom jeans in the 100 degrees heat in these factories, they are immigrants, men and women who work in terrible conditions every day to make a wage that will at least allow them to live, to sustain life but that’s not a way anyone should be living especially in a country that promises so much. Sweatshops target minorities, immigrants, women and children and in that sense they are racially profiling people of color because they have one goal and that is to take advantage of individuals that are in need of help and use their labor as a way to create profit for companies and people who are clearly well off. Sweatshops are a prime example that no matter where you are in the world, the lust for money will always surpass the love for humanity.
I’m not telling you to not shop at these stores because, to be honest, I don’t think a lot of people including myself can afford not to shop there. With clothes running upwards from $3 to at most $30, some of the deals are extremely cheap, which is certainly enticing, but keep in the back of your mind that someone out there is paying for it. So for the love of life, please do not buy a shirt that says “Feminist” or “Women are the Future” when the whole substance of the company is based on the oppression of minorities and women. It’s ironic when the same thing feminism serves to defeat is branding feminism as its own.
So, dear Forever 21: please stop selling “feminism”.