Everyone has at least one holiday that makes their skin crawl. For me, it’s International Women’s Day.
There isn’t anything wrong with the holiday itself. But for the past few years, I have found myself becoming increasingly irritated every time March 8 rolls around. This year, I’ve decided to explore why.
International Women’s Day is a United Nations holiday which started as International Working Women’s Day in 1908 in honor of New York female garment workers’ strike against working conditions. It is celebrated in many countries, and has been used as a day of mobilization for activists over the years.
Today, International Women’s Day is most popularly celebrated on social media. People tend to post a wide range of things for women’s day, from selfies to photos of “powerful women in my life” to artwork that inspires them.
“As International Women’s Day approaches, I urge everyone to take think twice before going to Instagram to avoid falling into neoliberal feminist traps, such as minimizing your message into a short tagline.” -Julia Szabo PZ ’21
As International Women’s Day approaches, I urge everyone to take think twice before going to Instagram to avoid falling into neoliberal feminist traps, such as minimizing your message into a short tagline.
Neoliberal feminism can be most commonly understood as mainstream U.S. feminism. It is easily digestible, easily commodified and most importantly, removes itself from the power structures that traditional feminism seeks to undo. It is closely associated with white feminism, which only seeks to advance the goals of white, middle-upper class, straight women, but is more closely tied to consumer culture.
If you identify as a feminist, you need to be careful with what you put into the world while labeling it as such. Feminism is a movement about women’s liberation and equality of the sexes, but the future of feminism is much more than that.
Feminists want to advance the equality of all women, yes, but contemporary feminists have more far-reaching goals. Contemporary feminists’ goals include racialized minority groups of women, queer women and trans and non-binary individuals. They believe in the social construct of both sex and gender, and advocate for accessibility within the movement.
It is easy to follow fads and make points pithy on social media. However, identities, privilege and oppression are not concise. They are complex, and many movements are born from a history of violence. Neoliberal feminism gently removes itself from the histories of oppression, and only situates itself within elite, modern circles, with easily digestible messages such as “girl power.”
Today, this history is easy to forget. As feminism becomes more mainstream, it also becomes more commodified. Be sure to check in with what brands are profiting from your beliefs and ask them if they have the same beliefs as you. They probably don’t.
A well known example of this is the Dove “real beauty” ad campaign which promotes body positivity by using models with varying body shapes, as opposed to traditional skinny models.
However, Dove is owned by the same company that runs Axe, a male grooming brand which uses its ads to objectify women.
A few quick Google searches will allow you to uncover that many of the brands who sell feminist ideals are not practicing what they preach. These are the same brands that encourage celebrating International Women’s Day — so long as it convinces you to buy their products.
Sure, Facebook feminism and the internet are the reason why so many young girls today identify as feminists. This is a step in the right direction, but this brand of feminism is shallow.
This International Women’s Day, put energy into supporting those groups who have historically been silenced in feminist movements: women of color, trans women and disabled women to name a few.
I am not saying you should avoid posting something for International Women’s Day. Just go about your social media presence in a conscious way. Ask yourself what feminist goals you are furthering or what associations you’re creating with feminism when you distill it to a photo and a few sentences.
Julia Szabo PZ ’21 is a media studies and gender studies double major from Boston, Massachusetts. She is clinically addicted to seltzer water.