Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Rebranding and guilt

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett of 4 Privet Drive Vagenda Magazine is proud to say she's perfectly normal, thank you very much. She likes normal stuff, like the Mail Online, diets, twerking in the kitchen and updating her popular feminist website. But trouble looms on the horizon! Other women - feminists no less! - appear to have suggested that a life that is not constantly 110% dedicated to the Advancement of Women People, every second of the day, might not be the life of a feminist at all. This is a problem for Cosslett, who describes herself as a "half-arsed, accidental feminist" and who therefore cannot conform to the impossible standards of full-arsed, on-purpose feminists. The conclusion is that feminism must be rebranded to accommodate the myriad of women who, metaphorically or literally, are missing 50% of their bums.

The "rebranding" of feminism is a concept that's been doing the rounds for a few months now, and it's fair to say that its a bit divisive. It kicked off with Elle Magazine's decision to team three feminist groups with three ad agencies in order to make some pictures that the average Tumblr user could probably have done in half the time and none of the budget:

The shapes! The colours! The mention of gender pay gaps! I have no doubt that this will be a game changer, thanks Mother.
The Vagenda was one of the organisations which participated in the "rebranding" exercise, resulting in an advert which looks pretty much like the one above but with more words and using white instead of yellow. They also started an "Iamawomanand" campaign - which needs to be said really fast, as one word, for the full effect - which might look similar to the "I need feminism because..." placard campaigns that have been running since well before this reblanding (that was a typo but you know what, let's run with it) but it isn't the same thing because this was an "Iamawomanand" campaign.

Anyway, those things happened, almost two months ago now, and everybody cared for about five minutes about the campaigns themselves before they disappeared into internet history, probably to be reinvented again as completely new and exciting ideas in a few months time. As far as I'm concerned, nothing about Elle's campaign or the people involved in it was wrong except for the word "rebranding", which turned out to be a pointless word anyway because the end product was about as generic and already-been-done as it comes. Taking the f-word out of pro-women messages and putting them in a mainstream magazine doesn't change the fact that this has all been done before.

And, hey, you know who has done all of this before? Feminists. And probably not full-arsed, on-purpose feminists either. Because when Cosslett starts comparing her part-time feminism to people who allegedly give all of their internal organs to the Matriarchal Conspiracy when they join the movement, she is in fact comparing herself to people who do not exist. No teenage girl wakes up one day and goes "You know what, I'm a feminist now, I will devote my life solely to the sisterhood and do nothing except smash patriarchy for the rest of my natural life". We all have to divide our time between smashing patriarchy and living in the actual world. 

It is a necessary difficulty of feminism - a necessary difficulty of being a person! - that living in the actual world involves a certain amount of Getting It Wrong. We are tuned into a struggle for equality in a world full of systemic oppression, which is designed so that many of our choices reinforce that inequality no matter what we do. And it's a normal human reaction to feel guilty about those choices, even if there's nothing we can do about them. Feminism can't exonerate even the most full-arsed activist from sometimes screwing up and feeling bad about it. All we can do is try to balance minimal damage with maximum activism whilst making sure to take care of ourselves and the people around us.

This is not a defence of feminism's status quo, which does have problems with inclusivity both because of patriarchal misrepresentation and more importantly because it still lets down women on the margins, who are then told that their infighting is part of the reason the movement needs "rebranding" in the first place. But these glaring problems are unlikely to be solved by advertising agencies and Elle magazine, and working towards solving it is not going to make the Rihannon Lucy Cossletts of the world feel any better about reading the Mail Online sometimes. We are all going to have to bite the bullet and accept that, metaphorically, perhaps we are all a little lacking in the arse department.

NOTE: I just had a culturally impaired friend question my decision to "dox" Cosslett, so for anybody else out there who doesn't recognise the opening line from Harry Potter on sight: 4 Privet Drive is not the address of anybody in this article, it's the address of Vernon and Petunia Dursley, that is the joke, I swear upon my honour that never ever ever will I threaten the privacy of another person on this blog unless they are a fictional character from a popular wizarding franchise. This is a nice blog with standards, innit.