‘Girl Power’ vs Actual Feminism

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By Muvhusi Mmbara

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 1 of VARSITY News.


I’m a feminist. I also kind of hate feminism. International Womxn’s Day forced me to face the way we practice feminism. In its mainstream, commercialised form, I can hardly recognise it.


The worst thing about popular culture’s interpretation of feminism is that it reduces revolutionary ideas to catchphrases that look cool on shirts, and that are made by womxn who aren’t paid a living wage. Feminism is reduced to “girl power”, stripped of its message and used as a tool to sell things.


Nike makes inspirational adverts about female empowerment. One shows female athletes achieving greatness while the music soars and, finally, words appear on the screen: “Don’t change your dream. Change the world.” Truly, honestly, moving promotional material. They also deny their athletes adequate maternal leave, forcing them to choose between having a family and a career. 80% of the workers in their sweatshops are womxn. They’re hardly paid enough to live, are exposed to hazardous chemicals (some even during pregnancy) and are subjected to sexual harassment and intimidation by senior management staff who know that they are desperate and unprotected. Who is Nike’s feminism for? Not the womxn at their mercy.


Then there’s pop feminism’s strange tendency to pretend that when any womxn succeeds at anything, we’ve all won. Beyonce’s tour, Taylor Swift’s Grammy, Hilary Clinton’s existence, clap emoji, fire emoji. As a collective, we have conquered. But who is we? This seems to only include heterosexual, cis-gender, famous, rich womxn, reminding the rest of us that we are deviant nobodies.


Is this feminism? No. We know what this is: Marketing. Something that aligns with the brand, challenges nothing and is an easy way to go viral. Why did I call feminism revolutionary again?


Feminism is not merchandise, it is a rejection of the gender system that restricts our potential and limits our choices. It’s the statement that this is all terribly wrong. And it’s not just for cis-womxn. It’s for men too, whose behaviour is policed by the strict criteria of a “real man”. It’s for all queer people who are abused for subverting the system’s script.


Feminism sees a womxn’s choice to leave her job. It then places it into the context of a workplace rife with casual sexism, unfair pay, sexual harrassment, a family demanding that she focuses on her kids, and the exhaustion of performing masculinity to earn respect.


Feminism sees a womxn’s choice of clothing and places that into context of what she’s been told of sluttiness, style, prudishness, the importance of being attractive and the dangers of being wanted. It places her decision of whether to report a rape in that same matrix of interacting factors.


Pop feminism is sometimes called “Bubble Gum feminism” because it’s essentially the flavour without any of the nutrients. I’m not a feminist because I just stan a girl boss, or because I just hate mans-plaining or I just want everyone to know I’m as strong as a boy. When we pretend that’s all it is, we rob so many of the chance at learning real feminism and fighting for liberation. When I say I’m a feminist, I’m saying I won’t stand for it.



This section of VARSITY is a vehicle for expression on any topic by members of the UCT community. The opinions within this section are not necessarily those of the VARSITY collective or its advertisers.

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