seven feminist t-shirts and what they really mean
What's in a slogan?
Fotografia di Liza Cowan (1975)
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
Feminism has, over the past half-decade, become trendy. Inevitably, what's trendy becomes expensive. Most notably, Dior's spring/summer 17 "We Should All Be Feminists" T-shirt, endorsed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author of the phrase, which was the title of her TED Talk and was sampled in Beyoncé's Flawless. Proceeds from the $710 T-shirt have gone not only to Dior but also to the Rihanna-founded anti-poverty charity, the Clara Lionel Foundation.
Generation Z's wokeness has certainly trickled up to the lofty echelons of high fashion, guaranteeing column inches and regrams alike. In one article, Adichie defended her collaboration with Dior: "Feminism is not that hot. I can tell you I would sell more books in Nigeria if I stopped and said I'm no longer a feminist. I would have a stronger following, I would make more money. So when people say, 'Oh, feminism's a marketing ploy,' it makes me laugh."
But now that righteous sloganeering has percolated down to the average fashion-conscious high-street shopper, can the same be said of the T-shirts tiling the interiors of fast fashion stores? What's the point in a worthy feminist slogan if none of the income it brings in leads to improving the life of women? Well, at the very least, the T-shirts raise awareness. So in lieu of official explanations from the shops, here's a rundown of the slogans on today's T-shirts and the actual causes behind the words.
'Femme' can easily be mistaken as shorthand for "feminine", but it's as much part of lesbian identity as its opposite: "butch". Femme women — not just women in this T-shirt, but lesbians who identify as a bit more feminine on the spectrum, face homophobia just as their butch counterparts do. And, on top of this, they live with the expectation that, because they're feminine, they must be attracted to men. You can find out more about femme women's realities at stonewall.org.uk.
NOT YOUR HONEY
Workers at Honey Birdette, an Australian-based lingerie company, burned their bras in protest against the "sexist working conditions and policies" they alleged the company to have practiced. "Not Your Honey" was the campaign they deployed for the right to, say, have their employers listen to their complaints of being sexually harassed by customers. Here's a way to help make women's working conditions better.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
This phrase is wonderful and it all started with a T-shirt worn by musician Alix Dobkin in 1975, pictured by Liza Cowan and shared more recently on Herstory, an Instagram page of lesbian history. Otherwild, a graphic design studio and retailer, worked with Herstory, Cowan, and Dobkin to ensure the royalties reach the creators, who continue to promote awareness of lesbian history. You can get the T-shirt here.
Monki's T-shirt, according to Monki, "stands for the truth — that the world would be a much better place if we all just chose peace, love, and hope. Ya know — the sorta world we want for all of our Monki babes." And it's made from 100% organic cotton. But the original "Choose ... " T-shirts made famous by designer Katharine Hamnett and Wham in the 1980s have had a revival. You can buy a 'Choose Love' T-shirt for just £19, and while part of the proceeds whizz their way towards Help Refugees, who worked on the shirt with Hamnett, you can trace where the T-shirt was made.
THE FEMALE BOSS T-shirt
The Female Boss wasn't only the name of Tulisa Contostavlos's album, it was literally tattooed onto her arm. But Tulisa isn't really a female boss anymore, as her limited company The Female Boss Ltd. was dissolved after her finances suffered following a series of legal fees. First, she settled out of court with an ex-boyfriend who released a sex tape of her (without her consent). Then there was a sting from The Sun's fake sheikh, who was eventually found guilty of perverting the course of justice in a bid to make Tulisa seem a lot dodgier than she ever was. You can support the Revenge Porn Helpline here and also support making newsrooms a bit less sexist over here.
GIRLS TO THE FRONT
Yep, it's using the Stranger Things font, but more importantly, the slogan here was invented by Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of Riot Grrrl band Bikini Kill. The idea was, instead of guys at punk shows doing all the moshing, girls could go to the front, let loose and actually see the band they cared about without being kicked about/or harassed. "All girls to the front! All boys be cool for once in your lives go back." Kathleen would tell crowds: "The more girls up front the better and if anyone is fucking with you at this show because of certain reasons and you need to come up front, come up front and sit on the stage and get away from them. Because it shouldn't be one person in the crowd's responsibility to deal with fuckers." A generation or two on, Girls Against are fighting for the rights of women and girls to go to live music without experiencing harassment. Find out more here.
DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A WOMAN
We all know women are capable of power, but we also know the patriarchy gets in the way. If you want women to have political power, you might be keen on our government being 50:50 men and women. After all, the country is. Find out more here.
And considering Amnesty research shows that black women — overwhelmingly high profile ones like Diane Abbott — face more online abuse than any other MPs, you might want to check out Operation Black Vote, which as part of its remit seeks to increase the political representation of BME people.