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It is Women’s Month and women all over the world seem to be hyped up on Beyonce, but a healthy scepticism is encouraged before you buy that #BossLady handbag. Feminism as a symbol has become diluted with images of “women power,” yet nowhere is the word’s meaninglessness more obvious than in consumerism. There is a backward merging of the two “isms” — feminism and capitalism, but at what cost?

Fashion brands have developed a variety of feminine aesthetics which continue to garner a huge amount of attention. Feminism has worked its way into fashion, but what happens when #GirlPower becomes little more than a tried and tested method to get buy-in from female shoppers?

When Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Spring 2017 debut collection for Dior ended with a model wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the title of Chimimanda Adiche’s best-selling feminist book, “We Should All Be Feminists,” it sparked a for-profit feminism flame that has continued to tear up runways across the world. The question can however be posed whether the theme of the collection was an attempt to jump on the feminist bandwagon, or an authentic expression of support. When the valid issues of gender equality get reduced to a money-spinning slogan t-shirt by a mega corporation, the question should be posed whether such “movement” (or was that fashion collections?), are helping or hurting the dismantling of patriarchy.

In a recent Chanel fashion show, dubbed a “show of raw female energy,” women demonstrators protesting on the streets was seen as a symbol of women’s liberation, but all Chanel actually “demonstrated” was that demonstrations are having a moment… which immediately reduces whatever it is that feminism has become (let’s ask Emma Watson) to yet another of  this-season-must-haves.

Fashion is simultaneously a deeply personal decision, yet a public statement. Dressing is a social act (whether we care about the new midiskirt or not), it is automatically politically motivated and charged with symbolism. We are inundated with brands urging women to empower themselves by ‘getting ahead on next season’s looks.’ This form of fake feminism creates superficial confidences and surface level upliftment, rather than the deep-rooted reflection that feminism was founded upon.

Fashion has been wrought with such centuries of contradictions. One such example is Jennifer Lopez’s new single, ‘Ain’t Your Mama’ which was marketed as a women empowerment song. Unfortunately for good old Jenny from the block, the single was produced by Dr Luke, who was accused by Kesha of some pretty unempowering behaviour around her.

The latest fashion fight-back has been targeted at Ivanka Trumps’ line of clothing, named after her book “Women Who Work, which claims to be inspired for the modern professional women. Ivanka has long been labelled a shining beacon of hope for women’s rights in the Trump administration. However, a closer look at her sleek marketing strategy reveals demeaning slogans like “one well written email plus this tote bag equals #fashionmath.” Proposing that all you really need to succeed in the business world is to buy the right outfit.

Nine companies have subsequently dropped Ivanka’s brand as a result of the #GrabYourWallet boycott against her and her feminist exploitation. Ivanka, although the most obvious, is by no means the only party making money from our pro-women manifesto. Reducing feminism to fashion makes its seem like a fickle, fly-by-night trend, which will be banished to the back of your cupboard like last season’s gladiator sandals. From the academic works of Faludi, to the poetic mantras of Rupi Kaur, the core of feminism is something we should all relentlessly pursue, not just wear.

By Mikaela Oosthuizen

(Mikaela is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar completing her Masters in Media Studies. She is involved with the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa and is a YALI Young African Leaders Initiative delegate for the SADEC region. She is also a model and is aware of the beautiful irony of that but believes that you cannot change an industry without operating in it).

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