|This essay talks about the "white savior" complex of feminsim and how capatlisim benefits from this.|
Companies are always trying to be first on the market for the biggest trends. That can mean a new color scheme, design pattern, or socio-political movement. With the rise of the 2nd wave and now, the 3rd wave feminist movement, big brands are coming back to their roots by trying to capitalize on anti-women’s oppression. We’ve seen it everywhere, with shirts from Forever21 and H&M having stylized feminist logos and quotes on them, to Nike forming charities that push the western feminist ideal onto non-western women. From an outsider perscriptive, and the all too common white savior perspective, it all seems like a totally normal and fine idea. We want western, and more so, non-western countries to take part in our feminist movement against patriarchal oppression. But what does that entail exactly?
In Maria Hengeveld’s article “How Nike’s Neoliberal Feminism Came to Rule the Global South”, she dives into the idea of what exactly these companies do, and what their ideas are behind the pushing of westernized feminist ideals onto non western countries, specifically the global south. Nike has a large and vast history of outsourcing its production and manufacturing of it’s clothing and sneakers to what the western world dubs as “third world countries” on the global stage. The women in these factories, which are mostly located in South Asia, are stuck with harsh working hours, low wages, and unbearable working conditions. “As much as Nike tried to brand itself as concerned with women’s wellbeing, the sweatshop scandals made it crystal clear that Nike profited from, rather than, railed against patriarchy. As Cynthia Enloe pointed out in her ‘Global Sneakers’ article in 2004, the outsourcing countries that appealed most to Nike were those where women were most economically disempowered. That’s one of the reasons why Nike, in its earliest outsourcing days, chose South Korea, a country that was ruled by a military government that was all too keen to suppress workers’ unions, and where gender norms allegedly measured women’s morality by her willingness to work hard for her family.” (Hengeveld, 2015)
With its special eye for untapped resources, Nike saw these women as a fabulous labor force. Nike uses neoliberal feminist ideas to market to women in America, such as the 1995 “If You Let Me Play” campaign. The ad targeted men in specific, while portraying women as ‘savable victims’, and if they were allowed to play they would; “I will like myself more. I will have more self-confidence. I will suffer less depression. I will be 60% less likely to get breast cancer. I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me. I will be less likely to get pregnant before I want to. I will learn what it means to be strong.” (Nike, 1995 AD). The ad was met with pushback from journalists and writers, claiming that it was only American consumerist women who get to benefit from these things. “It showed the public that Nike reserved the ‘Right to Play’ for the consuming woman only. The producing woman on the other hand, whose 70 hour work weeks and toxic working conditions were captured vividly by publications such as USA Today, the New York Times, Mother Jones and the Oregonian, had little to no time to play. Neither could she afford the type of sneakers to exercise any such rights in style; her monthly pay didn’t even meet the price of a children’s pair of Nike Air Max.” (Hengeveld, 2015)
While Nike has made many changes since the 1990’s and even started a charity for women in “third world countries”, the fact that it is still benefiting from a supreme capitalist global market has not changed. Nike still builds and utilizes factories in less well off nations, and still uses neoliberal feminist ideals to not only benefit from their market, but also as a way to disguise that what they are doing is okay. They attempt to mask the exploitation and oppression of these women from behind white savior rose colored glasses. It really does say a lot when they spend millions of dollars on advertisement campaigns to try to benefit off of 3rd wave feminism, but refuse to pay all their female workers a decent wage.
When we have conversations about feminism, we must remember that just like everything else, it is capitalised on by companies. Brands like Nike do not truly care about full feminism or women's well being, rather they just playing a market monopoly. Wearing shirts from Forever21 with cute “girl power” quotes of logos on it will not make a difference in terms of feminism on a large scale. Instead, learn about brands that you shop from, thrift clothing, try to purchase from hometown brands if you have the economic means, and most importantly, don’t give into neoliberal white savior ideology. If you truly care about “third world countries” and the women there, donate to charities which will provide the economic means to build up their countries and people the way they want/need to. There is not one way to be a feminist, and there surely isn’t one way to have a culture.
Hengeveld, M. (2015, September 14). How Nike's Neoliberal Feminism Came to Rule the Global South - The Feminist Wire. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.thefeministwire.com/2015/09/nike-neoliberal-feminism/