Siyu Lily Qian ’19j
On Sept. 30, Andi Zeisler, co-founder of Bitch Media gave a speech called “From Riot Grrrl to Marketplace Feminism: Selling — and Selling Out — Feminism” in the Weinstein Auditorium, sponsored by the Student Event Committee. Bitch Media is a nonprofit and independent feminist media organization dedicated to providing an “engaged, thoughtful feminist response” to mainstream media culture.
A prolific and long time freelance writer and illustrator, Zeisler travels and speaks about her concerns about the progression of feminism and has written several works including “We Were Feminists Once,” her new book about the consumer co-optation of feminism.
At this event, Zeisler discussed the modern day marketplace of feminism, and brought the audience’s attention to the potential danger of marketing and advertising strategies for feminist products in our current popular culture.
Zeisler began her lecture by defining the concept of marketplace feminism as “the process of harnessing and celebrating the language imagery and energy of feminism while depoliticizing and decontextualizing it.” This concept is part of a larger trend which advertises and sells various products to women under the guise of feminism.
One of the ways in which this plays out is when companies use celebrity culture to encourage female consumers to imitate “avant-garde” and powerful women’s lifestyles by purchasing certain make-up, clothes and household appliances or conducting certain behavior. Women who follow such trends do tend to feel more feminist.
Another way of achieving such effects is building brands. Not only do companies produce feminist-themed products, but they create images of their brand that establish the close ties between feminism and their products.
Zeisler illustrated this concept by providing a great amount of examples, while tracing the development of these products within a certain time frame. These examples start from the earlier “Riot Grrrl movement”, to the Spice Girls and their profession of “girl power” and “girl empowerment”, to more extreme T-shirts with slogans such as “Boys are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them”, to the fact that Dove won the “Femvertising” awards by establishing solid brands for “womanhood products.”
Zeisler warned that the seemingly-appealing ideology of “marketplace feminism” may not be that effective to truly improve the social, political and economic problems that women face, and may just be a marketing method for the corporate world- a form of capitalist consumption.
Zeisler also stressed that while there are some positive aspects of the marketplace, we should also be critical of the nature of commodifying feminism. While we can appreciate the efforts that celebrities have made toward the progress of feminism, we should be aware that they themselves may contribute to inequality. She also stressed that we should care about the majority of women, who may not have as much power.
Zeisler closed her presentation by quoting from Lena Dunham, “If feminism has to become a brand to make change, then I’m all for it.” During the question session she answered a number of questions while continuing to address the importance of critical thinking.
Her speech aroused the interest of the audience. “She dived deeper into the topic and gave a lot of examples that I was previously unaware of,” said Matthew Iannoliho, a resident of Northampton. “It was a very informative talk.”
Catherine Bradley ’17 agreed, and added that she really enjoyed learning about the intersection between capitalism and feminism, and would think more about whether her own purchasing behavior is rational or not. Dayana Bulchand ’18 said, “I have never thought about that [marketplace feminism], and this give me a lot to think about.”