Pop Feminism: An Analysis

In 2016, the cult classic Ghostbusters was remade. The original story remained largely unchanged, save for one crucial detail—all the leads (and a few of the secondary characters) were women. This all female reboot has inspired the recent all female cast of the movie Ocean’s Eight, a remake of the previous Ocean’s Eleven series. The remake was shrouded in misogynistic criticism from its inception. The outcry Feminism had gone too far! Women are out of place in a universe that had established ghosts as being a real thing was in the air.  Of course, much of this criticism was transparently bad and on no solid rational grounds. It seemed that the movie had inspired many of feminism’s critics to come out with more hate than usual.

Feminism today is an amalgamation of various different movements. There are many different wings in feminism and these can even contradict each other. Feminism is by no means a single idea. It is a broad umbrella term for activism against sexism. Ultimately, all feminists are united by one thing—their desire for women and men to share an equal footing. What they disagree on is how to go about it. Unfortunately, this nuanced take is not really seen in mainstream parlance. Feminism’s criticism often has little to no nuance or complexity, and the medium of HAHA! TRIGERRED SJW FEMINIST REKT doesn’t help advance any discourse.

There is an opposite side to the spectrum, however. In the popular culture consciousness, at least, a quiet and neatly packaged palatable feminism is served on a silver platter. Pop feminism is usually considered as the propagator of Girl Power. It is about the countless pop songs today that belt out on women’s rights. It is often all about the fierce and woke celebrities who parrot the most basic catchphrases of feminism—men and women should be equal, I guess? and are heralded as the perfect social change-makers of our time. It’s about the countless advertisements ranging from Dove’s natural beauty campaigns to the numerous sanitary napkin advertisements that show a woman being practically invincible on her period. It’s about wanting a first woman President of the United States, just for the sake of having a woman president, instead of critically examining the woman in question.

Pop feminism is the socially fashionable feminism. This is feminism that challenges the status quo to the most minimal level. This is about wealthy women, who are in positions of power, patting themselves on their backs. This is, to put it best, marketable feminism. It becomes quite frustrating when you see less than ethical brands selling GIRL POWER and other feminist anthems, simple because it’s the new fad, or to put it more eloquently, it’s a consumable good. In today’s capitalist society, it seems it’s all about imaging and not concrete action or activism.

The most telling example of this is Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. Most of us are probably familiar with these feel good advertisements. Over the years, they’ve taken various forms, but the gist remains same: women come in all shapes and sizes and they’re all beautiful. It is a great sentiment; however, this would be more palatable if it were not for the brand’s obvious hypocrisy. Critics have pointed out that Dove’s “naturally beauty” campaign consisted of photoshopped and retouched images. Worse, Unilever, Dove’s parent company is also responsible for two other brands: Axe (also known as Lynx), and Fair & Lovely. Axe has an ad campaign which seems to be the spiritual antagonist to Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, with scantily clad models objectified in multiple ways. Fair & Lovely’s entire brand is built on making women feel insecure about their looks. This is feminism divorced from reality. This is feminism that is built for the sole reason of consumerism.

Another quite irritable trope is the Strong Woman Character. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with strong women in media. I am only trying to point out the issues with the stereotypical strong female characters. Often it seems like the writers think that the only way to write a confident woman is to give her traditionally masculine characteristics i.e., by making her more aggressive, making her bully weaker male characters, stripping off all traces of femininity in her etc. A woman who is feminine is not often shown as a strong character. There are exceptions to every rule of course, but it seems that there are enough examples of this trope to make it irritating enough.

In the end, there are multiple stories one can cite about the demerits of the popular depictions of feminism. Whether it is the soulless corporations trying to cash in on something that’s popular right now, or writers who seem to be unable to write female characters that are complex or nuanced, it seems easy to get disillusioned by this version of feminism. It is important to realise that this skewed representation of feminism might have adverse effects on the society’s perception of the rest of the movement. Getting people to rally up to buy overpriced T-Shirts with feminist slogans is easy; however, getting them to adopt those slogans in their daily lives is harder.

Of course, it’s not all bad. Pop feminism could prove as an efficient gateway to more serious conversations on feminism. On the other end, we’ve seen examples of how these depictions of feminism can be soulless and uninspired, and that’s where we need to draw the line. As such harmful depictions of feminism might even lead to isolating people. We should focus on doing good, not bad.

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