If your eardrums were ringing approximately three weeks ago for no apparent reason, it was probably because of the earth-shattering shrieks about Emma Watson’s speech at the U.N..
YES! I screamed, YES!
My favorite witch and childhood hero suddenly evolved before the world into an activist – a warrior fighting not just for the promotion of Elvish welfare but also for gender equality.
And not just for women, but also for non-binary people who are all too often ignored in the “mainstream” feminist discussion. What!?
The feminist campaign that Watson is currently promoting is called HeForShe.
It encourages men to take part in gender equality, which is definitely important since the movement is about EQUALITY – a concept that a lot of people seem to misunderstand. And let’s face it, without men (especially those in government positions) on our side, there would never be any legislative change.
But here’s where I have to use my grown-up brain and be a little critical of even one of my favorite celebrities.
My problem lies with the name of the campaign.
By using the pronouns “he” and “she,” the campaign erases people who don’t fall within the gender binary of male and female. Although Watson claims she views gender as a spectrum, the name “HeForShe” clearly defines a gender binary.
The name totally makes sense from a marketing standpoint. It’s short. It’s catchy. It’s even easy to hashtag, which is perfect for spreading awareness of the campaign.
However, it erases non-binary people from the equality conversation.
Hashtags are playing a vital role in the modern feminist conversation and are giving voices to those who have otherwise been systematically silenced. Hashtags create mobility and accessibility for many causes, but their brevity should in no way restrict the movements’ central purpose.
For the sake of marketability, HeForShe sacrifices a portion of the population it is fighting for.
HeForShe isn’t the only example of marketing feminism. The Chanel spring/summer 2015 collection took the concept of feminism and turned it into a trend.
The collection was dotted with 1970s style references in a nod to Second Wave Feminism and culminated in a staged women’s rights demonstration, in which Karl Lagerfeld himself (head designer and creative director of Chanel) participated.
I found the whole show painfully ironic and hypocritical.
First of all, Lagerfeld is a well-known misogynist. He’s insulted countless women for their appearances from Pippa Middleton and Adele to Heidi Klum. He’s fat shamed. He’s bashed “ugly daughters.”
With such a track record, the idea of Lagerfeld suddenly becoming a come to tweed-suited Jesus and embracing the idea of female empowerment is laughable at best.
Additionally, out of 85 models, only 12 were of color. This isn’t surprising, since white supremacy is an ongoing epidemic within most fashion houses. But how can Chanel claim to stand up for equality when its own show was so severely unbalanced?
While fashion is an art, it is very much an industry. And in an industry that is very much beholden to the capitalist ideology, Chanel’s luxury fashion brand caters to its most marketable population: upper class white women. The show removes people of color from the feminism that Chanel is trying to brandish and perpetuates socioeconomic racism.
Chanel, like HeForShe, removes an oppressed population from the cause for which it claims to be fighting for the sake of marketability.
If Chanel claims to be taking a feminist stance, it needs to act the part. By keeping women of color off the runway, Chanel is contributing to the erasure of women of color in the feminist conversation.
With Karl Lagerfeld’s misogyny and his contribution to the fashion world’s overall racism, it’s hard to believe that he believes in even half of the ideas his “feminist” demonstration espoused. It’s clear that Lagerfeld isn’t interested in body acceptance. It’s clear that Lagerfeld is indifferent to the oppression of people of color.
So why does Lagerfeld seem to suddenly be putting his fingerless-gloved-hands to work on equality? Maybe the influx of female directed TV shows, more trans representation, female celebrities publicly coming out, and, of course, Beyoncé’s 2014 VMA performance has influenced his ideologies.
But I highly doubt it. Karl Lagerfeld saw the upsurge of feminism in media and joined in.
By using “feminism” as a concept in the spring/summer 2015 collection, Lagerfeld makes his feminism a trend that will be out of style in the next few months. To Lagerfeld, it’s all about being relevant to current events in popular culture, but to the people held under oppression by society, feminism is a means to fight for their rights.
Unlike Chanel, HeForShe seems to be in the feminist discussion for the long run, already having reached 1.1 million tweets since its inception. Community and world leaders are making note of the movement, meaning the possibility for serious change is that much closer.
Whether it be through instagrams of Chanel’s show or through popular boy band members tweeting about HeForShe, the word “feminist” is slowly but surely becoming less stigmatized. And it’s great.
But Chanel’s feminism is upper class racism, and HeForShe by name erases non-binary people. With the increased awareness of feminism brought by each event, we need to make sure that the word is accurately perceived as representative of the ideologies behind the movement.
Hanna Greenblott is a sophomore English language and literature major and can be reached at email@example.com.