Feminist Times can be proud of what it did in promoting a brand-free feminism

If we put up with the co-opting of feminism by big business in 2015 we will be waving goodbye to the fourth wave by 2016


An anti-brand, non-brand not-for-profit that tried to monetise anti-capitalism. With what could be mistaken for Orwellian doublespeak but with the purest of ideals, Charlotte Raven’s Feminist Times wanted to save women from advertising and in doing so ensured its own downfall. After 12 months of being run as an online alternative to the glossies – with no advertising or big-brand partnerships and while paying its contributors (unlike many others) – Feminist Times was yesterday put on ice. The problem is that today’s mainstream feminists are no longer suspicious of advertising; in fact we are in an era where feminism is becoming advertising.

I was the Editor of Feminist Times for its last seven months. I’m too young to have been a libber or a Marxist feminist before the wall came down, and yet I’m pretty old-fashioned in my capitalist scepticism. I just don’t trust big business. I have this instinctual feeling that big business is bad for women. It undervalues us, sells ruthlessly to us and takes no prisoners in the name of profit or progress. Yet I am a massive hypocrite, because while I can spend hours watching disturbing Youtube videos of industrialised farming practices there’s nothing I love more after a couple of pints than a Big Mac. It’s like some knowing joke – yes I know I’m being bad, but because I know, that makes it all right. Doesn’t feel so right the next morning.

Feminist Times wanted to give women a brand-free space. Like Spare Rib before it, the founders believed that much of advertising is harmful to women. But would women pay for an ad-free alternative in Feminist Times? The answer was yes, but not in high enough numbers. If everyone who read Feminist Times had paid, it wouldn’t be on ice, it would be a hot new publishing model. But while people loved the content they didn’t want to pay for it directly and rather than this being a clear cut case of the ongoing issues of online publishing I think this is a sign of these feminist times.

Unlike feminist movements of the past, the current revival, the Fourth Wave, is not anti-big business. It is inspired by big business. By Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and the Tories’ Louise Mensch. One of the new wave’s most high-profile campaigns was to get a picture of a woman on our banknotes. Could there perhaps be nothing more telling than that?

In 2014 we like to think we can change the systems from within rather than burn them down. We are happier than ever to work alongside brand partners who “share” our values. Compromise is no longer a dirty word, it’s seen as smart campaigning move. Feminism is a long way from the ranty outsider woman, though she may be due a return.

Big business wants a piece of the f-word. Feminism is officially one of the biggest trends in marketing to women for 2015, which is why we are witnessing the phenomenon that is “feminist” shampoo and why I’ve been reduced to tears by an advert for sanitary towels. We know these brand “values” are new, so this is clearly the co-opting of the feminist renaissance. It’s hip. The only reason these ads exist is because they will work, and by working I mean sell. Feminism is being sold back to us. Feminism is big business.

I’ve learnt the hard way that trends don’t last. I’m the person tweeting about The Sopranos seven years after it ended. You thought it was tragic that David Cameron thought LOL meant “lots of love”? I still don’t know how to pronounce “meme”. It’s embarrassing. So I am painfully aware of the “what was once hot is now not” principle, and if we put up with the co-opting of feminism by big business in 2015 we will be waving goodbye to the fourth wave by 2016.

Feminism 4.0’s mantra is “choice”. We believe we choose to wear high heels or lipstick, that we can choose to work alongside big-brand partners, that the repercussions will be minimal and the benefits massive. Those old women’s libbers of the past – with their bra-burning – they seem like weirdo dictators to us now. Why shouldn’t we wear a bra? Why not advertise that bra? Hell, we’re shareholders in that bra company!

And I’m almost convinced. If I could go back in time would I try and persuade Charlotte Raven to cut a deal with some lovely feminine product? Perhaps. Would I say that the compromise is worth it and we can deal with the equal pay and the living wage later? That being fully able to exploit feminism’s moment in the limelight is the best thing we could do for women and get our message out to millions? It’s an intoxicating thought. But, like trends and beer, what goes up must come down. And what a comedown it could be. If all these brands revert to their un-feminist ways as soon as the f-word becomes taboo again it just could be the mother of all shameovers.

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