What is Marketplace Feminism? Here are 5 Examples.

Feminism is having a moment. Over the last few years, feminism has become popular and cool. Everyone from Beyoncé to Barack Obama is a feminist, and one-third of millennial women identify as such (as feminists, not as Beyoncé).

This seems like progress. This seems like it can only be good news. And yet with the rise in feminism’s popularity, we’ve also seen a rise in brands trying to commodify it.

The commodification of feminism has actually been going on for at least a century, but has become even more common lately. Andi Zeisler, founder of Bitch magazine, calls this “marketplace feminism.” In her book, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement, she writes about how feminism being bought and sold has watered down feminism’s message from a political movement into a “cool, fun, accessible identity.”

As it has become cool, feminism has become more about style and personal choices rather than uprooting unequal systems. Feminism has become a depoliticized product. Actually, it has become many, many products.

Feminist Fashion

Fashion is a historically sexist industry, selling women impossible beauty standards and body types along with clothing made to last only one season by exploited workers. And yet, magically, fashion is having a feminist moment. Yes, it seems all one has to do to correct all those sins is slap “Feminist” on an overpriced t-shirt and suddenly centuries of damage is undone.

Unsurprisingly, fashion isn’t really feminist and no matter how much I like my Nasty Woman t-shirt, there’s a dirty secret underneath most self-proclaimed feminist fashion products. Take the infamous This is What a Feminist Looks Like t-shirt that became all the rage among woke celebrities and even politicians. They probably all felt pretty hypocritical wearing those shirts after learning they were made by Mauritian women working in a sweatshop for 62 cents an hour

Dior is selling "We Should All Be Feminists" shirts for $710

That’s of course not the only feminist fashion faux-pas. Connie Britton’s Golden Globes shirt which read “Poverty is Sexist” cost almost $400. Or the $700 Dior “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt that sprang up on runways and celebrities, despite fashion being an overwhelmingly sexist and racist institution. We may like a shirt, and we may like what it says, but a shirt that says Feminist on it is not any more feminist a shirt than any other. 

Feminist Makeup

Another traditionally sexist and racist industry, cosmetics companies are trying now to shake up their longtime strategy of selling products by convincing women they’re not good enough. Now, they’re trying to sell products by convincing women they’ll be empowered. Plenty of brands have been pushing the idea that women can be independent, confident, modern women if only they have the right shade of lipstick. Worse yet, are the brands that try to appropriate social movements for their own gain. Hard Candy may be the best worst example. Just days after the #MeToo hashtag started going viral, the cosmetics company attempted to trademark “#MeToo” for its makeup and fragrances. Despite the brand’s claim that it has been “devoted to women since its inception,” people were outraged that the company would try to cash in on women speaking up about sexual harassment.

They’re not the only ones, of course. The makeup brand Lipslut started as a reaction to the 2016 presidential election. They released their first product, F*ck Trump lipstick, shortly after and pledged to donate 50 percent of the proceeds to charity. More recently, they developed F*ck Hollywood lipstick, which they say will do the same. As well intended as that is, Teen Vogue astutely points out that there are probably more effective ways to combat the patriarchy than buying lipgloss.

Self-Care Products

The first time I heard the term self-care, I was in training to become a rape victims’ advocate for the YWCA. Our instructor told us that we would be doing a lot of emotional work taking care of other people, and it was important to not forget to look after our own emotional well-being too. We needed to make sure the emotional weight of the job did not start weighing us down, so we should take time for ourselves, blow off steam, relax, that sort of thing.

Since then, self-care has become synonymous with bath bombs. We’ve been sold the idea that feminism is self-care and self-care is purchasing products, and, more often than not, products related to the bathtub. This is what happens when capitalism appropriates feminist ideas. What once was a concept rooted in looking after one’s mental health has become something one apparently cannot do without dropping $28 on a bikini trimmer or $40 on a hair towel or, I kid you not, $34 on an attachment that turns your toilet into a bidet. Not only is this a corruption of an important practice, it prices out people who may not be able to spend $5-20 on a bath bomb every week. If you want to spend money on yourself, go right ahead! I literally have a charcoal mask on my face this very minute. But Feminism doesn’t care if my pores are clear or if I have a self-care mug.

Femvertising

The rise of marketplace feminism has also seen an increase in what’s known as “femvertising” or “empowertising.” As Andi Zeisler points out in her book, marketplace feminism sprang from the revolutionary notion that companies can get women to buy products without making them feel like shit about themselves. Empowerment through advertising, as it turns out, is just as effective. Traditional advertising is grounded in creating and targeting women’s insecurities.

Advertisers invented problems women didn’t even know they had and then offered them the solutions, at a price. Now, advertisers can sell women’s empowerment to hide the fact that they’re actually selling products. Many of these ads have gone viral in recent years, which is exactly why they were made in the first place. Most of us would never share a Verizon ad on Facebook, but the story of a girl being discouraged from STEM might get some attention. We probably wouldn’t tell our friend about the latest soap ad either, but if it’s social commentary on beauty standards, maybe. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer advertising have a feminist spin. But we shouldn’t forget that these ads only exist to sell products and the only reason they’re finally showing women in a positive light is because it’s profitable.

Literally Countless Other “Feminist” Products


You would not believe the kinds of products that brands would like you to believe you can buy to be a better feminist. There is an entire market of feminist underwear out there, from a pair of high-waisted granny panties that “just screams sexy” to period panties that allow you to free bleed on the anti-woman politician of your choice.

Feminist panties not your thing? No problem! How about some feminist home decor instead? Maybe feminist “shower art” will help you get equal pay. If not, there’s a feminist blanket you can buy to keep you warm when you can’t afford heat.

There are, of course, endless vagina-shaped products you can buy, or a $188 solid gold boob ring. From door mats to shower curtains, coffee mugs, office supplies, clothes for dogs and babies to a uterus plush toy, the possibilities for slapping feminism on a product exceed the imagination.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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