Capitalism is co-opting, & ruining, the feminist movement

Capitalism is co-opting, & ruining, the feminist movement

We deserve better — This week, Gillette shared a mawkish film paying lip service to the #MeToo movement. But, like many clumsy multinationals before them, they got it all wrong.

What a comfort it was this week to wake, brew coffee, browse Twitter and head to my bathroom to discover that the brand of razor I use on my legs promotes women’s rights and feminism. Each time I epilate I can bask in the warm glow of knowing that my barely conscious consumer choices are part of the onward march of progress. The fact that three men who sexually harassed me still work in the same industry as me and have faced no consequences needn’t bother me. That me and practically every woman I know has been sexually assaulted and is unable to walk home at night in anything other than a state of terror barely concerns me. The fact that Gillette have made an advert paying lip service to the #MeToo movement is far more important than the fact barely anything has changed materially for women as a result of the conversation.

Brands’ incursion into modern culture wars is scarcely new: Dove and Pantene have historically been keen to cast themselves as empowering for women, with advertisements focusing on “real beauty.” What happens when Gillette, Dove, or any other brand decides to thrust themselves into the shallows of cultural debate with a poorly executed film short? The ads are shared online, garner praise and now, with the inevitable bore-fest of the Twitter cycle, attract criticism that can be eked out into a news story for several days.

Yet I cannot bring myself to feel anything other than a soporific weariness each time a multinational bounds onto the stage with a similarly mawkish stunt. Most companies tend not to have a conscience, only an agenda: to make as much money as possible, and sell as many products as they can, by tapping into whatever zeitgeist they deem most palatable currently. That increasingly means portraying themselves as the face of responsible, feeling capitalism: something that many would argue is an oxymoron in itself.

The brand of soap or razor you buy will have little impact on anything other than Proctor and Gamble’s profit margins, and the argument that these adverts are harmless and only helpful to the broader cultural conversation is persuasive on a surface level. But the messages are always so unthreatening – different people can be pretty! Men, be a little nicer! – because actual structural change to challenge sexism, domestic and sexual violence is impossible without also shaking the foundations of capitalism, and taking direct action.

Why have so many women been assaulted and abused by wealthy and powerful men? Because the value of a human life is intrinsically entwined with their economic worth under capitalism. Why do working-class women, and women of colour experience far higher levels of sexual violence, and the men who abuse them far fewer consequences for their actions? Because women’s work is grossly undervalued, and men in positions of power seen as uniquely gifted and irreplaceable, and their victims disposable.

Very little has changed in terms of prosecuting rape and sexual assault, and the increased precarity of work and erosion of workers’ rights increases the risks for women in the workplace and allows victimisation and violence to go unpunished for years. Column inch after column inch has been written on the outpouring of testimony on sexual assault from women globally, with almost no action as a result. A small handful of men have had their careers quietly dialled down after decades of behaving despicably with impunity, while others became worried their moment of public reckoning may be on the horizon. But far more women are almost catatonic with weariness when accepting the fact that men who’ve targeted them in the past will almost certainly never face anything approaching justice.

Cynical, poorly made marketing campaigns such as Gillette’s, designed to whip up arguments within late capitalism’s culture wars, aren’t harmless: they suck the oxygen from the room, failing to demand any recognisable structures change, bandwagon-jumping on social movements to flog a few more razors. I promise, next time I’ll take my own advice and try to lead by example: ignore the clumsy, condescending attention-grabbing of the huge multinational soap-floggers, and protest instead.

Follow Dawn Foster on Twitter

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