Fade Away and Radiate #1: Branding Feminism Past and Present

Posted: October 5, 2014 in Fashion, Feminism

The 'demonstration' during German designer Karl Lagerfeld's show for Chanel during Paris fashion wee

I knew there’d be a bit of a hoo-ha about Karl Lagerfeld’s staging of a ‘feminist demo’ on his latest (Paris) catwalk show. In the Guardian and various recesses of twitter, anyway. Hadley Freeman calls the display ‘flim flam feminism’ which I rather like as an additional sub-genre of the dogma. Sounds more fun than the serious holier than thou type you get in the Graun. Hadley also demonstrates the constant contradictions within feminist rhetoric, when she says the feminist themed catwalk show is apt, since feminism is currently ‘fashionable’. Because there remains a loud refrain amongst her sisters that feminism remains unfashionable, ‘taboo’ even , and so it is brave women of conscience who are able to come out and stand up with the sisterhood. The slipping between ‘we are strong! we are powerful! we are a mass movement’ and ‘we are weak, we are castigated, we must fight the power’ may not be consciously designed by feminists, but it is an important discursive weapon in their artillery. The weak, isolated image of feminism allows the myth of  big bad’patriarchy’ to be perpetuated, whilst  the ‘we are legion, we can /and have change(d) the world’ rhetoric allows feminists to galvanise the troops, and take credit for what some of us think is socio-economic change beyond the influence of Hadley Freeman, flim flam feminists, et al. Caroline Criado Perez embodies the dichotomy well – she plays poor weak victim of abuse, patriarchy, misunderstanding, and also powerful crusader and winner of feminist campaigns, set to take over the world. and, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did just that.

Whilst I’m not a keen follower of fashion I do find this catwalk show interesting. I think it is playing on, building, the ‘brand’ of feminism and probably especially on the feminism hadley dislikes. But I would say flim flam feminist/ ‘girl power’ fashion icons such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham are more widely known and liked by girls/women than any Guardian columnist and more relevant influences to Lagerfeld’s show. But it is also playing on a favourite theme of fashion and 21st culture more broadly – nostalgia. Or faux-nostalgia. The Times described it as a ‘women’s lib’ themed show and that is what it looks like to me – a post-ironic nod to 70s bra-burning husband-leaving feminists. The models holding the placards are doing so with a nod and a wink, and a ‘this shit is O.V.E.R. we’re it now’.

In our current age, the past is continuously referenced, regurgitated, but not necessarily with any real valuing of its content, it is much shallower – more Baudrillard ‘surface’ than that. I do wonder though what the future holds for culture when our present is such a scrapbook of high resolution replications of previous eras, shown on catwalks, lap tops, iphone screens. I fear it will be just more of the same, on different more high tech screens. As a true Nostalgic I know that Blondie knew all this and saw the future back in the late 70s/early 80s:

‘ooh baby, I hear how you spend your time, wrapped like candy in a blue blue neon glow’

Feminism is a brand. Lagerfeld is profiting on it.  It’s a successful brand partly because it is nebulous, malleable, and in the end, can be all things to all women. From Hilary Clinton to Emily Watson to Hadley Freeman/The guardian. As a commenter under Hadley’s article pointed out, ‘flim flam’ feminism is no less real than Guardian hand-wringing variety. But not quite all women buy into any of it, thankfully. Whatever type is in this season.*

*I Loved how Hadley said that the show is as feminist as a ‘ fruitcake’ – when I coined the term ‘mumsy cupcake feminism’ https://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/mumsy-cupcake-feminism/ just for those power-women who love to bake in their cath kidston aprons in their spare time between writing angry articles on their laptops on the kitchen table. Fruitcakes are feminist too!

  1. Nice to see you return to the fray. Hope you’re doing OK.

    Not entirely sure how a “brand” can be nebulous. The “brand” that is feminism must be a very limited and specific variety of the thing. CCP exemplifies this brand of feminism very clearly, but I would think her position was very far from nebulous, whatever one’s view of it. Her particular success in defining what feminism entails for the mainstream media in 2014, fearless crusader/victim as you say, suggests to me a brand that is quite sharply defined.

    Anyway, all the best.

    • Elly says:

      hi thanks.

      Good points.

      I think what I’m getting at is how feminism’s ‘brand’ does use contradictory elements and so can be maintained by slipping between different positions, ‘styles’ etc. as I expect some other successful brands do – I am not a marketeer so cant think of any offhand. even all the ‘infighting’ in feminism e.g. pro sex/sex work v anti is part of the brand. it suggests a willingness to debate, disagree within the sisterhood whilst at the end of the day teh wimminz are always the main priority

    • innegative says:

      The essential energy that underpins this new feminism is individualism and the self. The machine of ‘feminism’ becomes nebulous because it can create many selves and therefore many branded identities. Feminism itself is a brand insofar as it is a single word – like a logo – but it can produce infinite individuals, infinite market-places, infinite identities, all with a radical vitality fit for screen-life and information conflict. It accelerates the image of the individual beyond the anonymity of the screen and the mass.

      By the same system though, it energizes its shadow too – anti-feminism – which is the mirror-form container for all the antithetical feelings, emotions and behavioural forms feminism excludes. Every symbolic truth-system oppresses something else thereby vitalising the space of its symbolic opposites. So now we have shadow-identities in the form of MRAs, trolls, anti-feminists etc. Isn’t rape fantasy the black mirror of rape-culture’s being identified and repressed? The fixation on men’s rights is surely a response to the fact that the acceleration of the women-image’s value means the overshadowing of the man-image’s value and therefore hurts men? Sexual liberation wounds the parent and destroys family values; and the troll, fighting for identity in anonymous screen-space, is compelled to become increasingly extreme in his search for symbolic violence so he may exist negatively amongst all the other competitor signs of radical positivity.

      (Might blog this comment myself actually… Seems to be a pretty good portrait of where I see the internet and culture as being at at the moment and may make me feel better about spending the past hour or so writing it!)

      Good article this though, and thanks for that Blondie track. Didn’t know about that one. A fine track that is.

      • Elly says:

        not sure i agree on ‘the troll’ as ‘the troll’ seems to be whatever – normally middle class media and social justice types – want ‘him’ to be.

        but yes individualism and marketing are vital to feminism and all culture now. i guess the comments here bring into question whether a brand is a single entity or something more fluid. or, if it is to be a moveable feast do we have to use an awful term – that feminists have used about their movement – ‘rebranding’?

        • innegative says:

          ‘Troll’ is certainly a term used to try and marginalise and neutralise characters who try to make oppositional arguments, but there is also a legitimate, self-styled practice of trolling too.

          There is also whatever guys like Weev are. Quite extraordinary when you are willing to get yourself thrown in jail for your on-screen theatre.

          As for feminism, it might be worth making distinctions between feminism and the identity- or screen-feminism. To some extent, maybe a legitimate, real feminism has just been co-opted by a trendy screen feminism of the middle-class. We’re a long way from those women’s groups of old that collectively tried to make the lives of marginalised women better or draw attention to problems that were exclusive to women. The feminism of the working-classes may have a more dignified history than what’s bloomed among the middle-classes.

          Re branding, you could represent rap or various sports through Adidas. Or maybe it’s a political ‘genre’ 😉

        • drunicusrex says:

          Feminism as a “brand,” or as an idea that needs promotion, is not at all about real individualism.
          Real individualism is about self reliance, not alimony or welfare benefits.
          Real individualism is about making your way entirely on your own merits, not on victimhood. Nor on employment or educational preferences, nor due to special laws and policies that make one group’s life easier at the dear expense of all others.
          Real individualism would not make stay at home mother’s feel guilty for not working, nor make working mothers feel terribly about seeing less of their families.
          And while one should certainly be able to make reproductive choices, perhaps the worst violations of the individual are of those individuals in the womb, who deserve love and a chance at life, rather than be seen as inconveniences.
          Individualism is VERY different from selfishness, which is really what feminism sells. And selfishness is a very thing to sell.

    • Ginkgo says:

      “Not entirely sure how a “brand” can be nebulous.”

      Not sure how it can survive if it is insufficiently nebulous. Certainly the taglines that go with branding are about as nebulous and feel-good as it can get. “Things go better with Coke”. “The Pepsi Generation”. “Wide-tracking’. (This one is so nebulous I bet no one recognizes it as being about Chevrolet.) I purposely chose 60s examples to show this is inherent in branding, not some new degeneracy.

      The political equivalent of this is sloganeering.

  2. redpesto says:

    The other reason that the show looks retro is, of course, Twitter. Demos and placards are so twentieth-century, darling (see also the repeated trope of dressing up like a suffragette).

  3. drunicusrex says:

    I was a little boy in the seventies, but I remember the 1980s and nineties well enough to see first hand the fallout from the bra burnings and broken homes.
    It wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t an adventure, certainly not for the deeply confused and hurt ex-husbands and children of these women. I saw men broken on the wheels of family court, and I remember more than a few of my friends at uni whose parents divorced.
    Nearly all of the children of divorce whom I knew had deep hurts and insecurities. They seemed far more likely to drink to excess, or to pierce or tattoo their skin, or to avoid sensible, middle class studies and jobs – and small wonder, when they saw how nuclear families can be torn asunder by a dissatisfied person’s “strange stirrings.”
    The feminists writers of that era nearly all had serious neuroses. Many were hospitalized or underwent therapy. They divorced, thinking it would bring freedom and liberation.
    Instead, it brought many women poverty and loneliness. It led directly to “hookup culture,” where marriage is delayed indefinitely for careerism and carousing, as marriage became not just optional, but downright dangerous.
    It was nothing like the opulence and glamor of the catwalk. It was really nothing more than the heartlessness and deprivation of the courtroom, and while it certainly hurt the middle classes, it has nearly destroyed the working classes and the poor.
    The seventies were an era that should have taught us more, that should have taught us very painful lessons about the disastrous consequences of promiscuity, selfishness, and the nanny state. Sadly, it did not, and it left a deep keloid scar across the pysche of Generation X.
    Children need two parents, not a village and certainly not an indifferent and unaccountable bureaucracy. Men and women need each other, as they always have since the dawn of time, for we are neither fish nor bicycles.
    Nor are we enemies at war, competing for very questionable and superficial prizes, all the while using children and the state as tools of coercion.
    Karl Lagerfeld, whom I strongly doubt ever entertained the notion of heading a nuclear family, could find far more noble things to celebrate than the zeitgeist of a failed and squalid era.

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