White Mans Burden: Today
if you are seriously conscious of the social justice issues surrounding you, and the international community, you have probably seen or heard from those people that insist on freeing and liberating the "oppressed Middle Eastern women" or "poor, suffering Asian women" or the "abused, mistreated women of Africa". The reality (and irony) of this however, is that these people that preach "liberation", have probably never been to the region themselves, studied the religion, or met someone personally "opressed", "suffering", or "abused". By feeling the need to liberate these unknown peoples of the East, the Westerners ulimatley start imposing their own political beliefs, norms, and viewpoints on the East, only assimilating them, creating a unique form of imperialism to place them under, and reintroducing the idea of "White Mans Burden".
The articles I focus on below show extreme cases of these kinds of strides taken by "international feminists" whether it comes in the form of big brand corperations or individual people.
In Maria Hengeveld's article "How Nike’s Neoliberal Feminism Came to Rule the Global South", she reviews the history of Nike’s involvement in feminism from the mid 1980’s into today. Maria takes us through multiple examples of Nike claiming to be feminist and time and time again, contradicting themselves and inevitably (maybe even subconsciously), taking on an imperialistic, oppressive, and insensitive role towards women who they are employing, as well as potential consumers. Examples of inappropriate, insensitive, and absurd tactics by Nike to try and seem like they cared about women's rights or gender equality, were their commercials. In 1987, Nike aired a commercial featuring a famous triathlete, Joanne Ernst, in a locker room saying, and i quote, “it wouldn’t hurt if you stopped eating like a pig.”. By airing this commercial, Nike hoped that it would attract women to become more “sporty” and get in shape.
With many women finding this form of advertisement unappealing and I’m assuming quite offending, the commercial was a complete failure and hence taken off the air. The second commerical however, had a greater audience and impact. This commercial aimed to be more sensitive, tugged at the heartstrings, and provided real numbers and statistics (perfect combination of pathos, logos, and ethos). This commercial displayed young girls and a recurring motif: “Let Me Play”. Although I personally don't appreciate this commercial because of its victimizing nature, and the concept that girls have to ask for permission to play, it was a success. The 1995’s commercials script went along this lines of: “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.”
Internationally however, Nike had a different point of view on women. Nike had been advocating for “gender justice” here in the U.S., but had been benefitting from putting women in sweatshops in countries like South Korea. Strategically and explicitly taking advantage of these women by targeting countries where there is a pre existing patriarchy and women’s economic disempowerment; ultimately making it easier for Nike to step in and exploit women with the support (or silence) from the rest of the community. In response to these scandals, “Nike spokesman Dusty Kidd argued that without these jobs, women would only be “harvesting coconut meat in the tropical sun”.-- Ignoring evidence from the International Labour Organization (ILO) that showed that 88% of the minimum wage workers in these factories were, in fact, malnourished, he argued that women were much better off because of Nike.”.
With efforts to correct these previous scandals, Nike, in collaboration with others, launched the “Girl Effect” which ideally was a “poverty-reduction theory that argues that the economic empowerment of poor adolescent girls is the magic bullet to solving global poverty because, according to the theory, ‘girls give more back’ than boys (apparently a difference of 35% vs. 90%). -- Multiply that by 600 million girls in the developing world and you’ve just changed the course of history”. “It’s called the Girl Effect.”
The problem with this however is that it paints a perfect image for you, that in reality is probably far fetched and unachievable in many countries. Researchers are able to prove, unsurprisingly, that “the implementation of Girl Effect programs in countries such as Uganda, Egypt, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Brazil expressed concern about the efficacy of these programs, the self-reliance they instill, the unjust vilification of men they may contribute to and the burden they place on girls by falsely portraying societal images of girls, and girls’ own perceptions of themselves, as the cause for poverty.”
In relation to other things we have studied in class, this brings me back to the idea of “White Feminism” and their need to impose their views, beliefs, and culture on the rest of the world, generalizing women from multiple countries, unable to accept that multiple forms of feminism and intersectionalities exist. Nike’s international feminism only depicted girls as “resources, instruments and victims, waiting to be saved by consumption and business. And women’s supposed intrinsic desire to take care of their families and communities is still treated as an economic asset, rather than a problem of gender norms.”.
According to the 2016 Fourth Quarter and Full Year Results released by Nike, Nike made an approximate 32.4 billion dollars in sales. Nike Sneakers in the United States are sold at an average of $100 per pair. What they dont tell you is that these shoes are literally worth about one fifth of that price, allowing the company to make four times more the revenue. With that in mind, Nike employs about 38,000 people. Mostly women, that are paid 20 cents per hour and work an average of 77-84 hours a week. These employees are placed in unsafe working conditions, under scrutiny and stress, and find themselves on thin glass, always threatened with being fired.
in 2016, Nike released an income statement that read as follows: "Our consistent growth is fueled by innovation, which is why fiscal 2016 was such a breakthrough year for NIKE in everything we do,” said Mark Parker, President and CEO, NIKE, Inc. “From product to manufacturing to how we serve our consumers – more personally and at scale – we’ve raised the bar of what’s possible. It’s a great time to be in sports, and the NIKE Brand has never been stronger. Fueled by our unrivaled roster of athletes, fiscal 2017’s calendar of sport moments promises to build on our business momentum and inspire consumers.”
How can a company that explicity supports and applauds women, hardworkers, and progression act upon the exact oppisitite actions in other countries in which the shoes are manufactured? Women in Nike factories have repeatedly reported being hit by managers, thrown shoes at, and sleeping on concrete floors.