Fellow feminists! Would you agree that feminism today suffers from “a branding problem”? In a world of iPads and One Direction and, um, other stuff that seems frighteningly cutting edge to me, where does feminism fit in? How well does it market itself? Does it speak to the consumer? And if not, what could you be doing to help?
I ask this because this evening I came across We Are The XX. Now, just to be clear, they aren’t in fact The XX. These people are:
But anyhow, the impostor XX consists of two young women who’d like to recruit the help of just about everyone in “rebranding feminism”. How kind.
We have long known feminism has had a “branding problem”. The XX women don’t articulate precisely what this is, but you can infer what they think from their own feminist manifesto, which focuses on men being “an integral part of this community” and feminism not being “a movement of separation, competition or comparison”. Neither of these things sound bad in themselves but the overall message seems to be that feminism should concern itself less with achieving feminism goals (and, god forbid, getting angry) and just learn to be a bit nicer. So always include the men and don’t do anything that might make a person mistake you for Millie Tant in Viz. There you go, girls. That wasn’t so hard, eh?
As someone who, by the standards of what the impostor XX call “this generation”, is getting on a bit, I have encountered this before. What was 1990s Girl Power, if not a desperate but charmingly punchy attempt at feminist rebranding? To be fair, We Are The XX are undoubtedly way cooler than The Spice Girls. Their website is in black and white and rather than do high kicks while yelling “Hi Ci Ya Hold tight!” they encourage followers to draw vaguely cultish “XX” symbols on their person then tweet selfies to show their support. Their aim is to have collected 1,000,000 such pics by International Women’s Day. Judging from their gallery so far, I worry that there may not be 1,000,000 people on Earth who manage to be so cool and model-like (it’s a serious concern; such things can seriously taint the consumer’s perception of brand values).
I know it’s easy to knock these things. I also accept there’s a tension between means and ends in many people’s understanding of feminism. If too many would-be feminists avoid engaging with it because they genuinely believe it is all about exclusion and hate, then shouldn’t we work on our public image? Perhaps, to a certain degree. But then again, part of the point of feminism is that women shouldn’t have to be constantly self-branding to make themselves suitable for public consumption. We’re not cans of Coke. And if feminism truly is about inclusion and diversity, then it has space for those who might look like Millie Tant, and for those who don’t embody what the XX manifesto calls “inherently female attributes”, and for women who don’t have the XX chromosome pairing. It has space for all of us. And there’s a difference between making it more appealing to a particular demographic and undermining its core principles.
The We Are The XX mission statement claims “we can’t run from the word ‘feminist’ but we can change what it looks and feels like to get on board with it”. But changing what something “looks and feels like” involves changing its overall meaning. If feminism involves shaking up deeply-held beliefs about gender, violence, power and women’s roles, then it bloody well has to make people feel uncomfortable.
Feminism has to have the very “negative connotations” brand managers seek to remove. It’s not about wilfully going against the grain but it is about effecting real change. And yes, that’s a total pain in the arse for anyone who’s sick of being called militant, strident, shrill and all the rest, but those arguments need to take place. Feminism that’s more in line with cultural norms just isn’t as feminist.