Comment, Feminism

The Problem with ‘Rebranding’ Feminism

It’s a difficult one, this feminism thing. Some people just don’t get it, no matter how many times is read to them, off an iPhone, during a slightly-too-heated conversation at a social gathering. According to The Vagenda magazine, it’s in need of a makeover. Brandishing a metaphorical mascara brush, The Vagenda and Elle magazine (which, presumably, like most women’s magazines, is quite evil? I don’t know, I stopped buying them when I became intellectually sentient), have teamed up to ‘rebrand’ feminism, one pink infographic at a time.

The campaign aims to ‘bringing gender equality to a larger audience’. It gives you a piece of paper, with the words ‘I’m a woman and…’ and encourages you to define in your own terms what it is be a lady. It’s notably alike to the ‘I’m a feminist because…’ campaign with a similar sentiment behind it: expose how normal it is to be a feminist, and consequently show others that they themselves are probably feminists too, or else should be.

The Vagenda’s ambition to popularise feminism is a noble one. There will always be a dichotomy between popularising feminism, and maintaining a non-watered-down definition of it. This is because some people don’t have time, understandably, to sit down and read Butler, de Beauvoir, Woolf, or indeed all the writings that you need to understand a complex political and ideological movement. Also, people are stupid. Sometimes people don’t care. So the challenge comes to reach these people, who aimlessly use the word ‘pussy’ to degrade a man, or ‘slut’ to degrade a woman, without realizing why that’s fucked up. Popularising feminism, as The Vagenda have done so bloody successfully, is a brilliant ambition, and has been what they’ve been doing for the past two years. A ‘rebrand’, however, is different.

To ‘rebrand’ feminism implicitly condemns the current ‘branding’ of feminism (which is already a reductive way to look at an important empowering movement). Whereas popularising it uses humour, social media, and penetrable subject matter to engage people, a ‘rebrand’ appeases those who have mischaracterised feminism in the past. The ‘rebrand’ has to first agree with the reductive, incorrect stereotypes that exist within society around feminism, in order to re-establish a definition. No one decided to ‘rebrand’ being pro-gay rights, because even though many people probably have homophobic misconceptions about the gay community, to appease those people with a rebranding is to let them win. It is to say ‘sure, feminism was about man hating [when clearly, it never was], but now, look! We’re in a glossy magazine so we’ve changed that all, we’re redefining it’.

It’s problematic. Feminism is about equal rights, and to re-market feminism in a simplistic, saccharin campaign, like the one in Elle, undermines a belief that it wasn’t feminism’s fault that people misunderstood it, but the fault of those too narrow-minded to think about it. It displaces the blame to the people who are pre-rebrand feminists – it’s your fault people don’t like feminism, so we’re fixing that.

I think this is nicely summed up in an article by the New York website The Cut that was (bizarrely) retweeted by The Vagenda:

‘Nobody likes feminists. Marissa Mayer famously avoids identifying as a “feminist,” as does virtually every (female) celebrity who gets asked. In a University of Toronto study, participants found feminists so unlikeable — “man-hating” and “unhygienic” — they were actually less likely to support women’s equality. Thank god Elle U.K. elected to “re-brand” feminism’

I mean, da fuq? If this campaign brings feminism to a wider audience, it does so by endorsing every bullshit idea about feminism, and encourages other to do so as well. The Vagenda has, in my opinion, been one of the most important creations in modern feminism, and I will often mindlessly imbibe anything they say like the word of God. However, what kind of self-proclaimed opinion writer would I be if I didn’t find small pedantic fault with anything that’s vaguely linked to my ideological spectrum, right? So it breaks my small, black, often unused heart to criticize a campaign they stand for, but ‘I’m a woman and’ I don’t need you to ‘rebrand’ feminism for me to like it. It was already great.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna