The past few years have seen a wave of articles and essays about ‘fake feminism’. Some use the term to refer to conservative women (Ivanka Trump, Sarah Palin) who pay lip service to female empowerment while actually working to undermine it; others apply the term to ostensibly progressive male politicians (Justin Trudeau) who ultimately restrict or constrain female progress. Some see ‘fake feminism’ in the work of those who are only marginally attached to the movement; others use the terms and strategies of feminism to advance seemingly contrary positions (for example, ‘New Wave Feminists’, a movement founded as a Christian rethinking of gender identity which works actively towards not only ‘making abortion illegal’, but ‘making it unthinkable and unnecessary by supporting women’). And finally, some critics apply the ‘fake’ label to what many have described as ‘feminism-lite’. Bhakti Shringarpure, editor of the website Warscapes, writes:

I am very much opposed to feminism-lite… There is a desperate need to proclaim feminism as cool and trendy, but all the while there is also a desire to limit feminist discourse by claiming it’s about personal choice… If you’re a feminist, then all these personal choices should somehow be honoured. Well, absolutely not. Feminism is fundamentally communal and fundamentally bellicose in how it resists white heterosexist patriarchy. A T-shirt does not solve the problem. Nor does it help to submit to consumer-obsessed celebrity versions of feminism, which are primarily interested in selling you stuff and are not really invested in issues of the economic, social or political justice. 

Shringarpure warns that choice, the expression of individual agency, does not necessarily overlap with progressive feminist politics. Indeed, there are many examples of women who willingly choose self-subordinating positions: while they cannot be condemned simply for exercising their right to choose, they can hardly be characterised as ‘true’ feminists. Equally important is Shringarpure’s argument about how consumer culture latches onto ideologies as profitable commodities. Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, who herself was targeted for her collaboration with Dior to design a shirt that read ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, worries about the ideological hollowness and artificiality of feminism-lite, arguing that a superficial and conditional engagement with feminism only downplays the urgency of the movement. 

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