By Billy Stockwell, First Year Zoology
Billy Stockwell unveils the cloak of neo-feminism that has been continuously reinforced by 'woke capitalism'. The take away message being - fast fashion cannot, and will never be, synonymous with feminism.
Earlier this month a scandal hit the headlines, putting some of the UK’s most-loved female icons in the firing line, and exposing a sickening irony within much of the western feminist movement.
Leading up to International Women’s Day, cheap high-street retailers stack the shelves with T-shirts adorned with feminist slogans and feel-good quotes, ready to exploit the somewhat naive, but well-intentioned consumer. One such brand is ‘F equals’, supposedly an ‘empowering platform for women on the rise’, who released "Girl Power" T-shirts with the support of Holly Willoughby and Spice Girl Emma Bunton. Despite retailing at £28, the Bangladeshi garment workers making these items were receiving just 42p an hour, according to The Guardian. Further investigations by the Fair Wear Foundation, into this particular factory, heard reports by a female employee claiming that male management said she would be "killed and her body put in a cardboard box" if she protested against wage cuts.
'Male management said she would be "killed and her body put in a cardboard box" if she protested against wage cuts.'
This came just a month after the Spice Girl’s "gender justice" T-shirts promoted by Jessie J, Sam Smith and Jessica Ennis, were revealed to have been made in a factory where wages were even lower, at 35p an hour. The T-shirts, sporting the hashtag #IWannaBeASpiceGirl, were made by Bangladeshi women, sometimes working in excess of 16-hour shifts; underpaid, overworked and often abused. No maternity, no union rights, no living wage. In a Guardian exposé last month, one machinist confessed "The wages we get are very minimum. It’s barely enough to survive." She also spoke of the abusive male management who would force workers to carry on despite heavy pregnancy, heat-stroke and severe back problems. This comes in gross contrast to Sam Smith’s instagram plug late last year: "please please please go and support @spicegirls by purchasing one of these cute t shirts!!!! It’s for a beautiful cause".
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A Guardian investigation has found that Spice Girls T-shirts, sold to raise money for Comic Relief's "gender justice" campaign, were made by mostly female workers in a Bangladesh factory. The machinists were forced to work up to 16 hours a day and were verbally abused by managers when failing to hit targets. In a statement, Comic Relief said they were "shocked and concerned". Online retailer Represent, commissioned by the Spice Girls to make the T-shirts, said it would refund customers on request, calling the reported conditions at the factory “appalling and unacceptable.” The factory was employed to produce the T-shirts by Belgian brand Stanley/Stella, who said it was investigating the findings and "remained strongly committed to help this country and workers to improve their welfare." Photo: Comic Relief
But in reality, this is not about irony. If the only thing making these particular cases scandalous is their deeply woven irony and - quite frankly - comical link to International Women’s Day, then what’s to be said for the other 364 days of the year. This is not about irony; this is about social justice. And this cloak of neo-feminism, reinforced by woke capitalism, is ridden with moth holes and covered in red wine stains. If you look for it, you will see it: the latest addition to my little book of ironies is ‘The Little Book of Feminism’ sold by sweatshop giant Urban Outfitters, who received the lowest score possible on a survey, conducted by the Responsible Sourcing Network, regarding forced labour in the supply chain.
'This cloak of neo-feminism, reinforced by woke capitalism, is ridden with moth holes and covered in red wine stains.'
The 2018 Global Slavery Index revealed that $127.7 billion worth of apparel, vulnerable to modern slavery in its supply chain, is imported annually by G20 countries. This makes up 80% of world trade. And not surprisingly, 71% of the 40.3 million people snared in this modern slavery trap were women. As Carry Somers - founder of Fashion Revolution - puts in an eery, but beautiful, manner ‘We may not hear the voices of the women who make our clothes, but every garment we wear has a silent #metoo woven in its seams.’ Fast fashion cannot, and will never be, synonymous with feminism.
‘Every garment we wear has a silent #metoo woven in its seams.’
This second-wave feminist movement, described by columnist Laurie Penny as something that "speaks of shoes and shopping and sugar-free snacks", is failing to promote global equality for those who most need it. In 2013, the worst three disasters in the history of global fashion took place, all in Bangladesh - Rana Plaza building collapse, Ashulia factory fire and Aswad Mills factory fire - killing more than 1,500 and injuring thousands more. The Suffragette Movement fought tirelessly for female choice in a patriarchal system, but this ability to choose should never be exploited, or cause exploitation; as global feminist Jo Lorenz puts, "your right to choose to do something which adversely affects other women is sanctimonious conceit and a metaphorical blow job to the patriarchy".
"Your right to choose to do something which adversely affects other women is sanctimonious conceit and a metaphorical blow job to the patriarchy"
Parallels can be drawn here with the flamboyance and triumphal fanfare that is Pride ‘festival’, which is now more of a music concert than a protest. This vastly corporatised event continues to become more colourful year on year, even in spite of the growing persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals around the world, notably Putin’s anti-gay purges in Chechnya, responsible for over 100 abductions in February 2017 alone, according to Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. It seems that, in accordance with Britain’s pro-Brexit rhetoric, we’re becoming increasingly disconnected with the world outside our bubble of western privilege, independence and indeed, false self-sufficiency. Despite this narrative, we live in a global world, and we therefore need global feminism.
In the words of Jo Lorenz: "If you decide to look the other way and continue to blindly buy yet another t-shirt, then I’ve got news for you: you’re not a feminist. In fact, you’re a jerk".
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