It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single day set aside to celebrate an event, a person, a gender or a cause, must be commercialised by corporations. I can get behind the commercialisation of certain days. I love presents, so I’ll give into the commercialisation of Christmas. I’m never not eating chocolate, so I’ll obviously I support the commercialisation of Easter. But if I have to see one more company selling an ‘empowering’ water bottle or notebook for International Women’s Day, I may just scream.
International Women’s Day, March 8, seems to have hit a new level of commercialisation this year. I walked into Paperchase and was genuinely annoyed when I saw a table full of products clearly marketed for International Women’s Day. It included things like lilac canvas bags with Sisterhood stamped across them, notebooks saying ‘GRL PWR’, ‘girls just wanna have freedom’, ‘yes you can’ and ‘be a girl with a mind, a woman with attitude and a lady with class’.
Afterwards, I went on their website and found that their messaging around the ‘Sisterhood’ collection is: “We’ve got everything you need to feel inspired and fight the patriarchy in style, from statement-making gifts to fearless desk accessories. Grab your sisters, pick your power slogan and take on the world with one look at our glorious collection below.” My favourite was the descriptor for a water bottle – apparently water tastes better when surrounded by a proud sisterhood print. Hate to burst your bubble, but my guess is that it’s going to still taste exactly like water.
I think it’s great that people may see products from collections like this and feel empowered, that people will make the purchase and feel encouraged to fight the patriarchy. Marketing can, both fortunately and unfortunately, make a movement accessible to a wider range of people. A truth I must acknowledge is that I’m a sucker for a girl power slogan tee – I own four and have another being shipped to me as I type this. However, a lot of companies (and Paperchase is not alone in this, it’s just the one I saw for my own eyes this year!) seem to be jumping on the bandwagon – feminism is now seen a marketable movement.
My issue is that I don’t want it to be another marketing ploy – I want to know how these companies are supporting women every other day of the year. Personally, I’d love to see companies put a percentage of proceeds from their ‘empowering’ products go to a cause that supports and celebrates women in need. I want to know what their production line is like – if they rely on outsourcing, are the workers they outsource the labour to being paid a fair wage, are the conditions they work in safe? What is the company’s pay gap like? What’s their parental leave like? Do they have women in senior level roles?
Like I saw on Twitter – peddling merch with bad puns sloganising feminism is not real empowerment – it’s capitalism in a wig.
And for International Women’s Day events – I’ve seen a lot of them floating around recently, and just as many complaints regarding them – pay the women you’re asking to speak at your events. Empowering women involves paying them what they’re worth. Get a diverse range of women with wildly differing experiences on your panels. Open your event to women who may not often get the opportunity or privilege to attend – ones who can’t afford £16 tickets (doesn’t sound like much, but that’s a week of groceries in my world). Are you celebrating equality and women’s empowerment if you’re essentially excluding women due to their income?
I love International Women’s Day, and I love feminism. In a perfect world, I want companies and consumers to love the same. For International Women’s Day 2020, I’d like less consumerism and more context.