The Future Is Not Female in Capitalist Culture

The first “The Future is Female” T-shirt appeared during the early 1970s. The design was inspired by Labyris Books, which was the first women’s bookstore in New York City, owned by Jane Lurie and Marizel Rios. Established photographer Liza Cowan took a picture of her musician girlfriend Alix Dobkin wearing the T-shirt. The photograph was then used for a project called: “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear.”  
The empowering slogan created significant impact at the time, when female-identified bodies challenged a dogmatic system of gender binaries.  Fifty years later, we witness the reemergence of the iconic clothing; unfortunately, this time it is not within the essence of female empowerment, but rather under the exploitative functionality of a capitalist-driven industry.

During the last few years, feminism as a movement has gained popularity among the pop culture community after artists like Beyonce and Taylor Swift identified themselves as ‘feminists’. On one side, it could serve as a great advance towards equality to have famous icons believe in and promote progressive ideologies. On the other, it is unfortunate when public figures like model Emily Ratajkowsk and U.S President Adviser Ivanka Trump misuse the movement to serve their advantage of building their brand and image on the back of female empowerment.

It is this same self-serving incentive that drives clothing manufacturers like Topshop, H&M, Stradivarius and many more to sell feminist-inspired apparel. The hypocrisy of this transaction lies in how the clothes are made, which often includes the exploitation of women working in sweatshops under prison-like conditions while earning considerably low wages. Women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers, and some girls lie about their age to get the job as it is their only means to earn a living.

Case in point: ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirts of high street brand Whistles are made in a Mauritian sweatshop by women earning 62p an hour.

So how can a product support women’s rights while violating them simultaneously?

It doesn’t. Profit generated from selling those ’empowering’ items is not donated to a charity foundation or an organization that promotes equality, unlike the original ‘The Future is Female’, which donated 25% of shirt sale proceeds to Planned Parenthood—a nonprofit organization that provides sexual health care in the United States and globally. Unfortunately, money made off selling feminist-inspired clothing is generally fed back to billion-dollar companies, completing the capitalism chain of exploitation. In early 2017, Forbes reported Swedish stake owner of H&M Stefan Persson had a net worth of $19.3 billion, making him the richest person in Sweden.

An attempt to capitalize on struggle isn’t a groundbreaking scheme. We witnessed the immensely tone-deaf Pepsi commercial starring famous model and reality star Kendal Jenner earlier this year. The advertisement was criticized for trivializing a resistance moment while under the context of serving white privilege. Capitalism is a system willing to construct various forms of stratification to maintain control. Indeed, it has impacted women and marginalized communities the most, which is why there cannot be a future of women’s liberation within its oppressive confines.

Visibility and awareness are the first steps needed to address issues of concern and oppression. That being said, we won’t be seeing any of those ‘feminist’ T-shirts next year; Fashion changes are seasonal, and so will the mainstream exploitation of feminism be.

“A movement that began with the intrinsic goal of women’s liberation has connected that end goal to capitalism, a system that oppresses already marginalized communities the most.” CAMERON GLOVER


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Joana Aziz is a Syrian Barcelona-based freelance writer. She was the Arts & Culture Editor for Time Out Magazine (Beirut) and has written for Home Magazine, Conatus New, Middle East Eye and Freethought Lebanon.

She has a BA in Communication Arts from the Lebanese American University, an MA in International Studies in Media, Power and Difference from the University of Pompeu Fabra and is currently pursuing her PhD in Communication at the same university.

Aside from having a writing career, her ambitions for the future include teaching, researching, and activism.