Over the years I have to confess that I’ve spent my fair share of time wondering about things like whether my love of Barbie as a child or my long-lasting deep passion for high-heeled shoes contradicts my identity as a feminist. As a feminist in an age increasingly driven by consumerism, being drawn into commercialised arguments and debates almost goes with the territory these days.
When we focus primarily on personal decisions, as important as personal agency is to feminism as a movement, it can be easy to lose sight of systemic oppressions. When we are encouraged to see ourselves as consumers first – buyers of Barbie dolls and high heels – and people second, societal inequalities can be glossed over while we worry about whether our buying decisions mean we’re good feminists or not.
When it comes to questions about whether it’s okay to be a feminist who shaves their legs, or likes watching The Bachelor, however, the answer should really be obvious: You are a feminist – you should make your own informed decisions. And frankly, as feminists, we have bigger concerns to worry about.
Feminism is a broad church, and all feminist discourse is worthy of discussion, but it strikes me as odd that we’re made to feel guilty for not living up to a feminist ideal concocted by advertisers. When products from breakfast cereal to cosmetics are marketed as being “empowering”, the discussion has become more focused on the things we should buy to be strong, empowered women than the need for equal pay and the right to be free from gendered violence, for example – essentially, the vital elements women need to be truly empowered.
The thing is, buying pink products or deciding to wear a push-up bra won’t give us demerit points against our feminist licences, although we should be aware of the narratives and embellishments being used to target women through marketing. The gender delineations in toy stores that maintain the gender binary, for example, and the gendered fat-shaming language and images used to sell so-called “weight loss products”. Losing sight of systems of oppression, however, while we focus on personal decisions, will result in the continuation of an unequal playing field, on which women are unfairly penalised.
The personal is still the political, but it’s a two-way street.