Frida Kahlo posters, bags with Simone de Beauvoir's quotes or tote bags and t-shirts being sold online with “This is what feminist looks like” or “Feminist AF”, are some examples of how feminism as an ideology, a movement has moved beyond people, communities and books to have taken a form around the commodities that we possess, hence making us overtly declare and be proud of our ideologies and politics. This essay is trying to understand three things and will be a primer to hopefully initiate conversations around these issues: firstly it will discuss what is the commodification of feminism or commodity feminism, and will move on the speak on it will talk about how capitalism uses ideologies for its own benefit and lastly if it does have negative repercussions with the feminist movement.
Commodity feminism has been defined as "commodification of feminist critique and praxis— in its cultural sense…women are encouraged to express their empowerment by purchasing commodities.” The idea of commodity feminism takes support from this very idea of purchase that is closely tied with us being a part of the capitalist society and the neoliberal economy. “Commodity feminism makes women entirely unthreatening to the status quo, yet allows them to feel like feminists through their consumption of feminized commodities and production of femininity.”
The idea of commodity feminism takes much of its ideas from Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism. It is crucial to note how Marx’s theory also involves an implicit understanding of psychology wherein the consumers living a capitalist life forget the origins of the commodities. Using this very idea of commodity fetishism, there is a current upsurge in the market wherein “feminist commodities” are sold. As Rosalind Gill writes, “It turns social goals into individual lifestyles, and has fetishized feminism into an iconography of things: a product, a look, a style.” This very idea leads to the feminist being made to purchase those commodities, forgetting the labour and origin of those bags and t-shirts, proudly worn. Am I being critical of those aesthetics? The aim of understanding commodity fetishism and commodity feminism is not merely to be critical of those products but to be reflective of our actions and to understand those purchases.
We live in an era of fast fashion, actors proudly wearing and endorsing such products that openly endorsed the word feminist. It has been rightly pointed out by Michael Billig that Marx’s analysis also involved implicit psychology of collective amnesia with regards to the origins of the commodities that are routinely forgotten. We have the urge to wear and carry those bags or wear those t-shirts to proudly assert our feminist politics. But when purchasing those commodities are we then denying the feminist politics of exploitation that those factory workers must have undergone. The superficiality and the importance that we have given to appearances is one of the leading factors in understanding this commodity feminism that we are all slowly becoming a part of. This treatment of the value accorded to commodities than the real labour dissipated is telling of the capitalist society we all live in and whose tentacles we only further.
Are we merely cogs in the wheels of the capitalist production and exploitation of the labour class? The tote bag we carry stating- Feminist- is ironic. Despite the different debates of individual narratives that feminist are criticised by society for looking at a feminist as “anti-men”, while such aesthetics used in the form of products helps to reclaim those identities. However, the larger issue is if this is helpful for the larger feminist movement or is it anti-thetic to feminist politics. At a time when feminism becomes so atomised and individualised, do we have the privilege to belie and work for larger intersectional solidarity, that exposes the different intertwinements and nexuses of discrimination?