Two seemingly unrelated stories about feminism, sexism and social media caught my eye this week.
The first is a kerfuffle over American Apparel’s back-to-school campaign, which featured -- at least briefly, on its Instagram account in the U.K . -- a young model in a plaid mini skirt leaning into the open window of what looks like an American muscle car. Shot from behind, her skirt is hiked, offering the viewer what is essentially a suggestive crotch shot. One critic said the ad fueled "sexism and Lolita fantasies."
The second is a conversation that’s been swirling around the Internet about a Tumblr called “Women Against Feminism,” where women post photos of themselves holding up notes explaining why they “don’t need feminism.”
Maybe it’s a stretch, but it strikes me that these stories are fundamentally about similar things -- the way women are treated and how women’s power over their own lives is often subverted in the service of forces (capitalism, patriarchy) that have little interest in their true independence.
American Apparel promotes the sexual objectification of adolescent girls. "Women Against Feminism" exudes real ignorance about the struggle for gender equality.
American Apparel sells fairly basic clothes that, unlike many fashion brands, have the virtue of being made in the U.S.A. Like a lot of casual wear, the clothes aren’t anything special, so the company has distinguished itself in the youth marketplace with overtly sexual campaigns, occasionally featuring porn stars and almost always featuring models who appear to be underage. This, I guess, imbues a relatively bland fashion chain with a transgressive vibe.
As as you may have read, the company’s founder, Dov Charney, has been accused -- for years -- of sexual misconduct with employees and others, and was recently (and belatedly) ousted by the company’s board of directors. It should be shocking that a man with Charney’s record of alleged behavior toward women lasted so long as the head of a company that depends primarily on young women for its financial well being. But of course, it’s not shocking at all. In many corners of the fashion world, it's just business as usual.
As for the "Women Against Feminism" Tumblr, as the writer Amanda Marcotte has pointed out, its users are aiming their critiques of feminism at an imaginary foe, which she describes as “a pile of straw.”
What are some of the reasons these ladies don’t need feminism?
“I like sex.”
“I am not a victim.”
“Feminists want to destroy families and relationships by turning women and men against each other.”
“Being a wife and mother is the greatest source of joy in my life.”
“My husband is my best friend and he treats me like a queen.”
“I am a permanently disabled veteran -- because of what feminists did to the U.S. Military. We can’t do all what men do.”
This post, which stands out for its convoluted logic, is perhaps my favorite: “I don’t need feminism because as a woman in a STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] field, multiple professors and adminstrators have gone out of their way to help and encourage me, beyond what they did for my male peers of equal ability, because feminists have told them that we need more women in STEM fields.”
It would be too easy to demolish the warped logic of these claims. But let’s assume that women who post on the site are sincere, and have been turned off by what they imagine feminism to be, rather than what it actually is. I say that because their comments spring from assumptions that are blatantly ahistorical or just laughably incorrect.
The only cure for what ails them is knowledge. Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone with a low opinion of feminism really ought to reconsider her position. But only if she believes the following:
- A woman should earn equal pay for equal work.
- A woman should not be fired, or not hired in the first place just because she is a woman.
- Contraception should be legal.
- Abortion should be legal.
- It should be against the law for her husband to beat her up or rape her.
- A man who is a friend or a date has committed rape if he forces sex without her consent.
- She should be free to pursue a career in law enforcement, firefighting or the military.
- Wearing a short skirt, or a lacy top is not an invitation to be raped.
- NFL cheerleaders should earn minimum wage.
- She should be able to sue her company for paying male colleagues more for the same work that she does.
- That little girls should have the right to play whatever sports they want.
- That her boss should not be allowed to fire her because she is pregnant.
- And of course, that it should be against the law for bosses to sexually harass employees.
Most of those concepts did not even exist prior to the last century's second feminist wave. The major accomplishment of the first feminist wave of the 20th Century, by the way, was securing voting rights for women.
You might think you are a woman against feminism, but if you're a fan of any of those rights I just listed -- and I mean any of them -- you should have a serious talk with yourself about what feminism really is, and what it has done for you lately.
Please follow me on Twitter: @robinabcarian