Feminism is the theory of equality of the sexes in political, economic and social terms. As a young woman in 2017, I like to believe that those around me understand this reading of feminism. Unfortunately, I would have to argue that this is not always the case. Firstly, the word ‘feminism’ can be misconceived as a promotion of female exclusivity if it is linguistically understood in a certain way. Additionally, phrases such as ‘burn the bra’ and ‘free bleeding’ have been plastered negatively over many media platforms, to induce hesitation in many, both men and women, when considering their involvement or place in the feminist movement.
With the very word ‘feminism’ still shrouded in these negative connotations, I have recently noticed an increase in its usage as a feature on slogan tees and other such items. I for one, following a heated discussion with an older family member about the issues surrounding the topic of feminism, received a mug for my birthday with ‘feminist’ printed on it, intended as a humorous present (they laughed as I unwrapped it). The letters were printed in pink, another stereotypical feminine association, only serving to contribute to a warped depiction of the movement.
More recently, whilst browsing the Topshop ‘New-In’ section, I noticed a baseball cap with the word ‘feminist’ across the front. I admired the avoidance of the stereotypical pink feminist logos that I had noticed elsewhere (the cap was grey and white), but was nonetheless curious as to whether the same cap was to be found in Topman. Sure enough, the outcome of my search was ‘no results found’; peculiar for a movement working towards equality between the sexes rather than away from it, right?
Curious as to whether other mainstream stores had the same approach, I searched ASOS, titan stockist of multitudes of brands, to search the word ‘feminist’. My search resulted in only four results, all of them from the women’s section. The t-shirts were printed with ‘FEMINIST’, ‘YES I’M A FEMINIST’ and ‘WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS’. Whilst, yes, these are positive slogans, I again found it peculiar that they were printed only on female clothing, whilst at the same time professing to promote a movement concerning equality between both sexes.
The Urban Outfitters site was my next stop, on which my ‘feminist’ search was thankfully met by a more positive result… Finally, a male model sporting the slogan! Furthermore, a slogan similarly included in the women’s section! It was a relief to know that at least one of my favourite online retailers was using clothing to represent feminism in the way that I believe that it should be represented: as a movement of key significance for both of the sexes, hence one that they should both be encouraged to promote.
I believe that our new media environment has provided a new platform for this century-old movement to gain more attention than ever before. We should utilise this opportunity to its fullest extent by monitoring the way that feminism is portrayed carefully. The use of the word ‘feminism’ on an article of clothing may seem trivial on first glance but we must consider it in the same way that we would consider any other communication in support of the movement: when people browse, buy and wear the pieces, they are promoting a particular understanding of feminism to both themselves and others. Even in today’s world, it is evident that many still perceive feminism to be a somewhat extreme movement that involves women alone, as opposed to it being a positive and inclusive one paving the way to equality. In this context, we could consider that these ‘feminist’ articles of clothing may be harming, rather than enhancing, the perception of feminism, contributing to the misconceptions about what it really means to be a feminist.