Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

“Branded feminism is a bloodletting of the movement and it can no longer continue”


Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. This week, journalist and Mushpit co-editor, Bertie Brandes discusses why she's fed up with brands jumping on the feminist band wagon. 

bertie brandes

Feminist Bertie Brandes says:

In recent years, feminism has become very visible.

I don’t know if you can tell, but that’s me trying to be nice. This visibility does not mean all people are now comfortable with feminism, but as a concept it has become front row, phone case, sweatshirt and Instagram-bio-relevant.

You could argue this is progress; I’m not so sure.

The fascination with feminism currently playing out across the fashion and beauty industries feels far from pro-active or political. Instead, it appears to be largely down to an exchange between brands, celebrities and media platforms; each fuelling the other’s desire for content.

The discussion of what does and does not fly within the individualist feminism sold to my generation is highly charged, unrelenting and not particularly interesting. You only have to look at the frenzy caused by a partially bare Kim Kardashian selfie (you can hardly grant that collage of censorship the term “naked”) to see how eagerly the media cover every sexy sexy aspect of it. And while this mainstreaming of feminism appears on the surface to signify a widening of our movement, scratch deeper and you’ll see how it’s having a rather less worthy effect.

ask a fem

"This is a feminism that portrays a placid, Instagrammable, largely white, well-spoken portrait of liberation."

Yes, suddenly everyone’s interested in what makes a worthy feminist; from the bathroom mirror to the bathroom cabinet to the boardroom and back to the bedroom – and where the media leaves its footprint, along come the brands with their magnifying glasses and direct line to the head of their factory in Thailand. Now it’s all so simple: wash your hair with #WomanPower and when you shave your armpits don’t forget to #UseYourAnd.

At the moment as far as I can tell the general ethos of on-brand feminism is about charging inaction with meaning. It’s about focussing in on the inane aspects of an apparently ubiquitous daily routine and encouraging women to see it as a vehicle for self-improvement under the questionable guise of a political movement.

This is not a feminism that is interested in issues like paternity leave or sexual health – this is a feminism that is interested in leg hair and lip fillers. It portrays a placid, Instagrammable, largely white, well-spoken portrait of liberation; a liberation which hinges on its community being in work, being in to grooming, being aspirational. I don’t buy it, especially when it’s being sold to me by a company who also happens to sell razors.

From here, the question is: ok, it’s disingenuous, but does that matter?

Surely, every little helps. Surely discussing feminism with a wider audience is a good thing, regardless of the platform being a bit corporate and the edges being a bit blunted. Sure.


"The mainstream is scrubbing our feminism clean when in reality we should be daubing on war paint."

Except, this isn’t really feminism is it? Feminism is a movement which (yes, I know, Google it: equality) and, say, Brand X is a company which sells various soap products wrapped in different coloured bits of plastic. Brand X does not share its sole objective with feminism, it is using feminism as a USP in order to flog various forms of an ingredient and by doing so it places the movement within a capitalist framework.

This is where things become slightly less straightforward – the mainstream is scrubbing our feminism clean when in reality we should be daubing on war paint. I’ve been in meeting rooms with marketing managers, I know how scared they are of all things even remotely provocative, messy or unpredictable. The emergence of feminism as a branding tool is a bloodletting of the movement writ large on billboards in central London.

Under the veneer of democratisation, we are seeing our generation’s feminism diluted, depoliticised and dangerously slick-ified.

If there’s one thing brands aren’t comfortable with, I would assume it’s encouraging radicalisation. Why then, are they so happy to co-opt a political movement which at its very core is fighting for radical change? Probably because women are savvier and more engaged than ever and brands know they need to at least appear as though they’re keeping up.


"Multi-million pound corporations should not be championed as feminist activists – feminist activists should be. "

Unfortunately, by re-packaging feminism so cleanly you can hear it squeak from outer space they simply reinforce the same capitalist (and inherently patriarchal) tropes of self-made success and individualism that we need to push back against.

In an interview on Democracy Now about her book Lean Out, writer Dawn Foster describes what she terms “lifestyle-feminism” as “toxic”; “you have to be careful not to expend energy on lauding that soap manufacturer or cereal manufacturer” she adds. I think energy is a really good way of quantifying the damage that the commercialisation of feminism might inflict on the wider movement.

Multi-million pound corporations should not be championed as feminist activists – feminist activists should be. Foster’s right about their insignificance and she’s right that we shouldn’t waste time thanking them for apparently liberating our morning routines from the patriarchy.

These brands have nothing to do with feminism, and when it comes to praise they are unequivocally not worth it.

Send your feminist dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.  



Why our clique called feminism won't accept Kim K's naked selfie


Two women, two very different experiences of abortion


Why feminists should vote ‘remain’ in the EU referendum

Femojis plus words_Line6.jpg

Grace Dent on why we need ‘femojis’ to break period taboos

cinderella proposal.jpg

We don’t need permission: why it’s time to abolish leap year proposals

sexist semantics.jpg

The semantics of sexism: why we need to change the way we talk

sex education feminism.jpg

“Compulsory sex education is a vital tool for the feminist movement”


Just who are the Women’s Equality Party and what do they stand for?

hijab feminism.jpg

Why I stopped wearing the hijab



“No more excuses: Why it’s time men joined the feminist fight”

We need to stop seeing gender equality as just a women’s issue

by The Stylist web team
11 Apr 2017

“The Daily Mail is proof that no woman can escape objectification”

It doesn’t matter if you're the Prime Minister: sexism will continue to plague you.

by Moya Crockett
28 Mar 2017

How to win every sexist argument: an 11-point guide

“What’s wrong with catcalling? Can’t you take a compliment?”

by Laura Bates
08 Mar 2017

Harriet Harman: “Don't turn back the clock on gender equality”

“For years we've battled against male chauvinist attitudes”

by The Stylist web team
06 Mar 2017

“The phoney outrage at Emma Watson’s breasts is laughably transparent"

“Emma Watson’s breasts don’t make her empowered– or a hypocrite”

by Harriet Hall
03 Mar 2017

“Access to civil partnership is a feminist issue”

Katie Russell explains why the institution of marriage does not serve women

by The Stylist web team
22 Feb 2017

“Disgusting and overrated: we should all be the women Trump despises”

by Anna Brech
27 Jan 2017

“Women are scared to run alone, but running groups are not the answer”

New research suggests that a third of women have faced harassment while exercising outside.

by Moya Crockett
12 Jan 2017

“Let’s make 2017 the year that we take action against sexual violence”

Issues about consent, healthy relationships and online pornography should be mandatory in schools

by Laura Bates
03 Jan 2017

“It is vital that MPs vote to end violence against women this Friday”

Why we must ratify the Istanbul Convention

by The Stylist web team
15 Dec 2016