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Letter: Feminism should be political, not paraded

To the Editor:


Robyn Sundlee’s excellent opinion piece (“Sundlee ’16: Selling out the patriarchy,” Sept. 30) identifies numerous oft-ignored points about the intersection of feminism and capitalism.


Sundlee points out that when we buy “F*** the Patriarchy” t-shirts, we are probably “courting mega-corporation employers.” I agree. I think that such shirts are also representative of a second problem from which Brown’s mainstream feminist population suffers, whose root lies in capitalism: that of self-branding and identification.


I note a disturbing trend on the Internet and in person of self-identification for the very purposes of (one) branding and (two) self-aggrandizement. How often do we say that we are feminists, or wear t-shirts saying we are feminists, in order to signify that we are willing to sit down for an expert and meaningful conversation about ideology? I think we far more often wear those shirts in order to earn a theoretical gold star, a pat on the back from some amorphous, unnamed ordainer of social justice.


I suggest that the commoditization of ideology reaches beyond our literal buying power. The mindset of personal branding, self-labeling and self-association with broader movements — along with the strong impulse to prove to the world that association — all stem from a very corporate and capitalistic climate. Indeed, the very idea of a “personal brand” is obviously capitalistic in nature.


(Of course, there is nothing wrong with identifying as a feminist, and any social justice movement requires some amount of self-labeling, if only for practical purposes of organization. But it is not for practical purposes that most of this type of self-identification occurs. Instead, we don our feminist t-shirts while we eat in the Ratty.)


I consider myself a feminist. But I don’t go around parading myself as one, because I’m not in the business of showing off my social justice prowess, and I’m not cocky enough to presume that I ought to educate every person I meet about my ideology. I’m also not involved in any on-the-ground activism right now. I’m not volunteering at Planned Parenthood or a rape crisis center.


I share in feminist ideology. I am not ashamed to be a feminist (insofar as feminism is defined as sharing in the basic ideology that women and men ought to be treated in fair and equal manners and in the belief that, as of now, women are not treated thus). But I would be ashamed to shout that I am a feminist from the rooftops, because I don’t believe that simple act of assertion does much more than ask to be rewarded for my opinion.


We ought to ask ourselves not only from whom we buy our t-shirts, but why we buy them at all.


Margaret Shea ’19


An earlier version of this letter was incorrectly titled 'Feminism should be personal, not paraded' instead of 'Feminism should be political, not paraded' due to an editing error. The Herald regrets the error.

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