March 3, 1913 photo at the Suffrage Parade, showing marchers (left to right) Mrs. Russell McLennan, Mrs. Althea Taft, Mrs. Lew Bridges, Mrs. Richard Coke Burleson, Alberta Hill and Miss F. Ragsdale. (Library of Congress)
German actress Hedwig Reicher wears the costume of “Columbia” with other suffrage pageant participants standing in background in front of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913. The performance was part of the larger Suffrage Parade of 1913. (Library of Congress)
Have you read about the rebranding fiasco? Elle UK partnered with three prominent advertising companies, Mother, Brave, and W&K, to “rebrand” feminism. The intended target of this advertising move seems to be women who don’t claim the word feminist. ” The posters, which are very attractive–graphically appealing, expletive-laced, bright– all use a version of the “aha! but you really ARE a feminist!” logic. Which isn’t a terrible move, as it seems that the main objection women have to the word feminist is the stereotype. Here’s the logic, as I see it:
If one can prove that I am a feminist, even though [insert personal characteristic that does not agree with stereotypical feminist image], then clearly the stereotype about feminism isn’t accurate. So it does apply to me. So I should claim the word. And in my claiming of the word, in all my non-stereotypical-ness, I will negate future stereotypes about feminism. The ranks will swell, political influence will be gained, women will get equal pay, objectification and oppression and all bad things will come to an end. Forever and ever, amen.
And it’s not a bad plan. This is what we call in class–when we’re being more than a little dismissive of the rhetorical moves that get you there–the Deconstruction Tango. The thing that doesn’t fit but is included in the whole destabilizes the whole. In this case, an individual’s assumptions about a stereotype can be brought down by revealing that the stereotype isn’t universal, and a stereotype gets its power through its presumption of universality.
Regardless, the internet, predictably, exploded. Primary objectors to this project seem to be women who already embrace the term feminist. I think Guardian writer Laurie Penny’s is most eloquent about the issue. She says:
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always believed part of the point of feminist politics — part of the point of any sort of radical politics — is some principles are more important than being universally adored, particularly by the sort of men who would prefer women to smile quietly and grow our hair out.” (quoted in The Alligator)
Penny takes issue with the idea of rebranding because feminism should’t need to appeal to people, just as women don’t need to appeal to men. Worth is not inherent in or attained by approval. Brilliantly said, and I agree.
It is troubling for avowed feminists (of whom I am one) to object to this attempt to meet non-claiming-feminists on their own ground. I think that in doing so, feminists replicate a position of privilege that feminism purportedly opposes. It’s naive of a tenured, ivory-tower professor to ignore the challenges that a first-generation college student might face. It’s naive, or worse, for someone born into wealth to think that low income individuals are there because of a personal choice not to work. And it’s presumptuous for any avowed feminist–with reading, training, community behind her– to say that the way another person reaches feminism is wrong.
I don’t know. I don’t think the Elle campaign is horrible. If women read the posters, think about their rights, ask about raises, allow their own self-reflective gaze to supplant the male gaze, is that a bad thing? Does it really matter if you found feminism in the pages of Simone de Beauvoir and the next generation finds it in Elle? Personally, I don’t think I care. It’s just a first step.
Most women use birth control. Widespread access to birth control can decrease abortions up to 71%. If you hate abortion, you should be supporting access to birth control. The reason extreme conservatives conflate the birth control conversation with the abortion conversation is that they don’t want to prevent pregnancy termination, they want prevent non-procreative sex. And not just for teenagers, but for anyone who wants to plan the timing of her family. And that’s a difficult argument to sell.
A second CDC report released on Thursday shows that 99.1 percent of sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 who were surveyed between 2006 and 2010 have used some form of contraception, up from 98.2 percent in 2002. Ninety-three percent of sexually experienced women have used condoms at some point in their lives, and roughly four out of every five women have used birth control pills.
Read the whole HuffPo article from which the above quote was drawn here.