Sep 24 2013

“Rebranding” feminism for dudes “who care that there are two genders”

Have you heard about this “rebranding feminism” contest?

I know, right? Again with the rebranding of feminism. Every so often there emerges from the fetid mists some chumpass jacknut who would take a crap on feminism by coopting it as a gimmick to help hawk thigh cream and tampons. The target? Women who sense deep down that regular feminism is a pretty good idea, but who are reluctant to admit it publicly because of the 2nd-wave taint that makes dudes hate feminists. All efforts to “rebrand” feminism involve making it more palatable to dudes. This is accomplished by repudiating feminism’s rejection of femininity.

For those who may be just joining us, allow me to reiterate that femininity is not, as women are pressured to believe, an inherited trait. It is a set of infantilizing and dude-appeasing behaviors that women are required to perform in order to designate us as members of the sex class, signal our sexual availability, and convey our degree of compliance with the patriarchal mandate.

All efforts to “rebrand” feminism involve reinstating femininity as the essential ingredient of womanly contentment.

Feminism, for example, got “rebranded” by the UK Times back in 2008 (sadly, the link is now broken and search is stuck behind a paywall, but I wrote about it here), wherein “new” feminists reassured an anxious public that the humorless hairy dykes’ reign of terror was over, and yes, you can now wear lipstick and be a feminist.

A more recent iteration of the phenomenon first blipped on the Patriarch-O-Meter a couple of days ago in the shape of some lip-curling tweets: Bitch Mag was asking what everyone thought about rebranding feminism. Not realizing that this was a reference to an organized marketing scheme newly dreamed up by some crapulent capitalist entity, I said, sure, why not? Why not rebrand feminism, if “rebranding” entails restoring it from Zooey Deschanel Mode back to the struggle for women’s liberation from patriarchal oppression? High time, too.

By “Zooey Deschanel Mode” I meant, of course, feminism’s current “brand”: a consumer-driven collection of dude-appeasing lifestyle behaviors, the flagship cause of which is the empowerful modern girl’s inalienable right to choose feminine choices. No matter what choices are chosen, choice-choosing feminism insists that its practitioners abide in a critique-free zone, immune to the jaundiced scrutiny of the humorless, hairy women’s studies cabal. Any less-than-enthusiastic analysis of the choice-choosing lifestyle is tantamount to misogyny, because they’re women, aren’t they? And they’re choosing choices, aren’t they? Isn’t that supposed to be the whole point of feminism? Who the fuck are these feminist frumps to suggest that the choice to, say, ‘project childlike vulnerability‘ is neither a feminist objective nor a high moral purpose?

Quoth the “adorkable” Deschanel herself, on the subject of feminism vs. her disturbingly cutesy affect:

“I’m just being myself,” says Deschanel, 33. “There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap [feminists] say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So what?”

Her argument, in other words, is that she’s a feminist; therefore it follows that anything she does — however objectively antifeminist it may seem — must be a feminist act. Including, apparently, the performance of femininity. So fuck you, gnarly feminists who dare to question whether collar shape should form the basis of a revolutionary platform!

With its huggy-wuggy embrace of patriarchy-approved behavior, this kind of feminism-as-fashion-accessory gets a lot of support from the unholy alliance of liberal dudes and the megatheocorporatocracy. Both are the direct beneficiaries of women’s choiceiness. Both get appeased by and profit from women who choose choices from the menu provided by the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women. Dudes get girlfriends who willingly comply with the desired heteronorms, and corporations get loyal customers who reliably shell out for compliance apparatus.

rebranding_feminism_contestWhich brings me to the “feminism rebranding” to which the Bitch tweet alluded. I shit you not, it’s a feminism rebranding contest. Oxymoron much? The prize is $2000. The logo is a skinny young white chick in corporate drag, drinking a scotch and smoking a cigar like a captain of industry. The organizers — and brace yourself for a shock: they’re a bunch of advertising hacks in league with a so-called “media platform” — want to see who can give feminism the best makeover. Omitting only two offensive stereotypes (“hairy” and “bra-burning”), the contest brochure lists the key elements of feminism’s image problem: it’s “humourless, man-hating, elitist, white, privileged, dogmatic, judgmental, and over.” Entrants are challenged to change “the perception of the idea of equality” by giving “feminism some love. Make it feel meaningful and relevant to a new generation.”

Because … the notion of feminism as a revolutionary political movement representing the interests of an oppressed sex class is … what, exactly? Unmeaningful and irrelevant? It clashes with the imperative to buy Peter Pan collars? Or what? And what is this “new generation”? Suit-wearing white alcoholic smokers?

One need not speculate, it turns out. In what is one of the most tone-deaf “feminist” statements I have read in weeks — that the proposed rebrand should speak to “men who care that there are two genders” [!] — the true purpose of this absurd enterprise shines through. They merely want to logo-ize a heteronormative dude-appeasing fake feminism, because apparently some strategist somewhere has theorized that marketing to today’s savvy female consumer involves reassuring her that the products she’s buying are glittering instruments of independence and self-determination. At the cost of enmockerizing what is perhaps their only shot at true liberation, the “new generation” must remain in thrall to the Femininity Industrial Complex.

When one of the organizers admits that the goal of her rebranding contest is “to make feminism pretty,” one is hardly surprised. And if making feminism pretty emits a familiar, foul odor, your sneer-muscle will get a workout when I tell you that two of the judges turn out to have checkered pasts. That’s right. They were involved with the heinous Dove ad campaigns.

I puke on you, Feminism Rebranding Contest.

Before I go, I must acknowledge that the aforementioned litany of feminism’s character flaws, specifically the “elitist, white, privileged” part, are of course real problems. I am sanguine that they can be solved, as more and more white feminists get with the program, stop being defensive, start listening, cop to their complicity in the oppression of their WOC sisters, and cut it the fuck out. But even if I’m wrong about that, one thing is certain: these issues can definitely not be solved by turning feminism into a marketing gimmick.


Via Flavia Dzodan blogging at Red Light Politics

Illustration from the Rebranding Feminism website


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  1. ew_nc

    “humourless, man-hating, elitist, white, privileged, dogmatic, judgmental, and over.”

    Pot, meet kettle. If ever there was a bastion of white privilege, it’s mass media. I’m truly touched by their desire to reach out to women of color with new, fun, sexy ways to say that despite all evidence to the contrary, they’re empowered now! A feminist rebrand will do so much good, because as long as you can rock an man’s Armani suit with the appropriate amount of sexiness, issues such as sex trafficking and rape no longer matter!

    And Twisty, you must be hitting the Liquid Sanctimony extra hard lately, because this post in particular is on FIRE!

  2. quixote

    If feminism was over they wouldn’t have to tell people they’re doing it wrong.

  3. XY Feminist

    Alas, Bitch Magazine. I was a big supporter of them until they jumped on the “feminist porn” bandwagon. Not surprised they fell for this.

  4. lotesse

    I lament the adherence of the capitalist term “branding,” re- or otherwise, to recent feminist discourse. Look at Hugo Schwyzer, going on about staying “on-brand.” Feminism is not a product; I’m not interested in selling it. Raising consciousness =/= getting them to “buy it.”

  5. Lidon

    On the flyer, it says “All approaches are welcome.” Oh THANK GOD. We’ll see where this goes, won’t we. Regardless of how they attempt to “brand” it, the privileged group does not want to lose its privilege.

  6. noshoes

    More Twisty awesomeness. Gosh, I’ve missed you!

  7. Lindsay

    The logo is a skinny young white chick in corporate drag, drinking a scotch and smoking a cigar like a captain of industry.

    Am I the only person who thought of the Monopoly guy when I saw that ad? All she’s missing is a top hat and a monocle.

  8. skeptifem

    Uh, so if I grok this, the re-branding idea is to still be feminism without causing offense. If we aren’t offending anyone then we aren’t struggling against the dominant social order, so what the fuck does it actually entail? Fashion choices? What a joke.

    I think I wanna rebrand butcher knives as plastic baby spoons. Its the same thing, really!

  9. Pandechion

    There’s no way to cunningly subvert this and still win the contest, is there? Because I could really use the money.

  10. sal

    They want to reimage white elitist feminism with a tall blonde white model?

    Seriously though, the campaign to blame white women for shutting out woc is a fashionable cutting disorder among young feminists. Seriously, where is all this media power white feminists have to not have woc on news shows and commentary on top shows and publications? Where are the richly funded feminist organizations hoarding money and power from woc in this zero sum game? Where are the white women feminists rubbing their hands together like mr burns over their great power and domination in 2013?

  11. Twisty

    sal, the point is that white feminists are white. With that comes privilege, whether we like it or not. There is no secret cabal of white feminists Mr Burnsing over their power any more than there is a secret cabal of white dudes plotting to oppress women, but racism, like sexism, is systemic, institutionalized, and internalized by everyone on the planet, you and me included. And the longer you deny it, the longer you’ll be complicit.

  12. Kali

    Before I go, I must acknowledge that the aforementioned litany of feminism’s character flaws, specifically the “elitist, white, privileged” part, are of course real problems.

    Character flaw of feminism or a character flaw of some feminists? I will agree with the latter, but not the former. The feminist movement has a rich, diverse, multi-racial, and _international_ history. I grew up as an Indian feminist, long before I ever personally interacted with any white feminist.

    I think this characterization of feminism as white and privileged (and therefore racist and elitist, by insinuation) is just another media manufactured myth designed to turn young women off feminism. It is as fictional as the other (humorless, etc.) stuff.

    Also, while I agree that everyone should acknowledge their own privilege, I also think that the anti-feminists have very cleverly used white women as the whipping girls for white male power. I have seen and heard too many young WOC directing all their anger about racial and class injustice at white women, while completely ignoring (or even worse, accepting) the white male power. It’s always about “that racist, white bit*h”.

  13. sal

    When it’s fashionable to use the term “white feminist” with a snarl and a sneer on feminist sites, the oppressors win by getting women into some sort of cutting disorder to the movement.

    It’s a growing fashion when a white woman gets published in feminism to piss on their achievement to say: oh, but she’s white and had these advantages: she could not be as feminist as a feminist who is …making the comment. Yeah, like they hand out book deals these days. Or if you see a white feminist invited to CNN to talk she gets blamed for ..being invited to talk as if white feminists control the media and should be properly shamed for existing on the shows. It’d be more to the point to criticize the owners and controllers. I’ve been to readings where a white feminist author got shouted at “white privileged bitch” by a so called feminist college student – where the hate was a freebie for her. Really? You’d have to have blinders to not see the heckling FROM women that white feminists get. Geeze, it’s not enough that any are brave enough to be visible and make a career out of social change, they have to take the beating from not being woc enough. And in our white people’s guilt, it’s a delicate thing to speak out and say – hey don’t be vulgar and shaming to this one person for all the sins current and past. It’s not acceptable to do it to a specific person. And it’s not acceptable to use to the term “white feminist” with a sneer and take the moral high road.

    Who needs a patriarchal oppressor when you can go onto many feminist sites and see commentary with a sneer about any current white feminist book writer, speaker, and that one that just happened to get a TV show or movie deal. It has degraded on some sites, not here but elsewhere, to the point where it’s okay to say vulgar things about white feminists, past and present, or just vaguely indict a race with a string of smack talk as if it’s a freebie to hit another woman with all sorts of hate talk. Because privilege.

    I deny the invitation to the movement shame and self-cutting syndrome.

  14. Cyberwulf

    I think this characterization of feminism as white and privileged (and therefore racist and elitist, by insinuation) is just another media manufactured myth designed to turn young women off feminism.

    It totally suits sections of the kyriarchy to divide and conquer, and to promote white privilege as the face of feminism (oh, the trifling things these ladies talk about, like being oppressed by lipstick! Surely this is proof of how good their lives are here, and how unnecessary feminism is now! Not like in brown countries, over there). But if there weren’t systematic racial problems within American feminism and Internet feminism, then #solidarityisforwhitewomen wouldn’t be a Thing.

  15. KittyWrangler

    NICE takedown.

    Maybe you noticed but chose not to mention it, but I’m pretty sure the photographic logo is a direct reference to the now-iconic Mad Men opening credits; the last shot, of Don Draper in a low-backed rectangular armchair swilling scotch and smoking in his suit, is the widely recognized symbol of the show. That, and the lighting is very Mad-Men-esque, and her makeup is that same retro era. Basically, it’s showing a woman role-playing as Don Draper. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcRr-Fb5xQo

    Of course, the most common two interpretations (often offered simultaneously) of the show are:
    1. Don is a blatant symbol of The Patriarchy, which the writers put through the wringer, criticize, and tople slowly throughout the show. Even those who would never know or reach for the word, “Patriarchy” still manage to grok that Don represents things like “the old skool white man who was supposed to be the ideal but had a lot of problems,” “sexism,” and “bad 1960s fatherhood.” It is THAT obvious. As Lindsay mentioned, he’s basically the Monopoly guy but with sex appeal.
    2. The clothes are really, really fantastic. Let’s all fantasize about being Joan / Don.

    Not surprisingly this zeitgeisty “rebranding feminism” logo goes for the second, disregarding the first, and literally shows a thin white model in the costume of a doomed Patriarchal oppressor from arguably the most anti-feminist era of recent US cultural memory. I’d say that’s pretty accurate. “Why topple the culture of dominance when you, too, can join the rat-race, ladies?”

    Oddly, this is the only example I can think of of a woman wearing pants, flat shoes, and non-form-fitting-clothes who is drinking straight liquor, smoking, posing in a way that doens’t show her body, and acting “butch,” that wouldn’t be roundly criticized by basically everyone. It’s only ok in the context of pretending to be feminist for the duration of a photoshoot. And only for a thin white model in full makeup.

  16. KittyWrangler

    Er, Don Draper is slowly “toppled,” not “topled.”

  17. thatlush

    While not germane to the meat of this conversation, I’d just like to compliment you, Twisty, on your use of “Mr. Burnsing,” as a verb. Delightful and evocative.

  18. Ellesar

    I am from the UK and immediately thought of the ‘rebranding’ of the Labour Party. It has been New Labour for about 17 years now. AS a result New Labour is NOT socialist, and its most famous leader – Tony Blair – was described by another politician as ‘a very good conservative’.

    Ergo, for me ‘rebranding’ spells more than a compromise, it spells DEATH. For me, refusing to give a shit what men think is how I maintain my feminist integrity. Obsessing about body hair and fashion is not relevant (I can understand why some feminists want to have these debates, but for me it is too trivial to care about), as these are part of Patriarchy’s toolbox – get us fighting over silly little things and we will never achieve anything.

    I read a Naomi Wolf article about 20 years ago about how important it was for her to be sexy for the man/ men in her life (why do we give a shit I thought), so even those feminists with some decent credentials fall right into the trap of ‘it’s OK, I want to be feminine so don’t feel threatened by me’. She was very positive about promoting a feminine ideal to please men, so this rebranding idea goes back quite a long way.

  19. Grace

    twisty, I am so please you are posting again!

  20. Mildred

    Oh I should totes submit my latest photocopied zine then. Its just full of pictures of shirtless male politicians (Tony Abbott is in there, Mussolini, Clinton) with captions stolen from The Daily Sport (Hot Cross Buns, CAUGHT TOPLESS). I better tell them to visit the 2-3 vintage stores + cafe’s in Auckland I left it lying around in. ho ho ho

  21. taryn

    Men seem to already care that there are “two genders”. The ones who aren’t Kinsey 6 homosexuals call the two genders People (men) and F*ck Holes (women). The gay men see the “two genders” as Superior Humans (men) and Inferior Almost Humans Whose Bodies Are Gross (women)

    I put “two genders” in quotes because it is very apparent that these new rebranders of “feminism” believe that genderqueers and intersex people don’t exist. Nope, only two genders to them.

    And, for the record, I despise Zoooey Deschannoying and her “but it’s my chooooiiiiceee to act like an infantile baby doll for the sole purpose of giving hipster dudes boners so it’s feminist” logic.

  22. jenicillin

    I used to choose choices. I got over it. Dudes are soooo boring. I’m happy you’re backish, twisty.

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