If you've been online at all in the past month, you've probably seen images from the "This is what a feminist looks like" campaign. The Fawcett Society and Elle magazine joined forces to create a rather cute and stylish t-shirt that says "this is what a feminist looks like," and photograph many celebrities wearing it, including Emma Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and Benedict Cumberbatch. All proceeds from t-shirt sales go to the Fawcett Society. After years of seeing celebrities say "I'm not a feminist," or not speak about the issue at best, it's so refreshing to see my tumblr dash filled with these images. And yet, more and more, I'm seeing really negative reactions to the campaign. Part of this criticism is based on allegations that the tees were made in a sweatshop -- which I'll come to later -- but before that news report, many people were dismissing the campaign because it is too shallow. Because it sets the bar too low. Because some of the famous t-shirt wearers have done un-feminist things in the past. Because it waters down feminism in order to make it fashionable.
But making feminism fashionable is the entire point. Feminism has a bit of an image problem, especially for teenage girls, who might be more reluctant to do anything that makes them stand out or seem "uncool." The campaign's main goal is to change how people view feminism, and what they imagine when they think of the word "feminist." It says it's cool to be a feminist. It's the thing to be. Your favorite actor, your favorite pop star, the people in the posters on your walls? They identify as feminist. They wear this t-shirt, they're willing to make a statement. So why aren't you?
In fact, celebrities and public figures have been challenged for not wearing the t-shirt -- most notably British prime minister David Cameron. Even if people end up wearing it without really supporting the message, the image is a powerful one. Everyone is calling themselves a feminist, and if they aren't, they are the ones with a problem.
There's no such thing as "diluting" feminism. It needs as many people to believe in it and promote it as possible. The more celebrities involved, the better. And sure, people who already consider themselves feminist might say "my feminism doesn't include THAT person's views and actions," but their individual stance doesn't matter that much. Somewhere out in the world, there's a young fan of that actor who's seen the Elle t-shirt picture and questioned their previous impression of feminism. There's someone who's gone "wait, but isn't feminism about hating men?", done a little research into why their favorite celebrity is wearing the t-shirt, and changed their stance.
Heck, even if people only adopt the term because their favorite celebrity did, it's still progress. It's far better for a movement to be fashionable than to be painfully unfashionable. The more people who can say the words on that t-shirt with confidence, the more discussion we'll be able to have, and the more progress we can make.
Sure, you don't only want to have slogans on t-shirts. But the popularity of this campaign is a very good thing.
Then there was the recent controversy reported in the Daily Mail, that the t-shirts were produced in a sweatshop in Mauritius. Again, people have been using this report to say that the campaign is shallow and meaningless, and that those running it are hypocrites. First, let's note that the Fawcett Society did their own research into the factory and found that sweatshop claims were false, a development that has barely been mentioned when compared to the initial report. But even if the shirt had been made under unethical conditions -- and, considering the nature of the modern garment industry, the odds were always high -- this anti-campaign outcry would have been incredibly misleading. The company behind the t-shirt were first promised that it would be made in the UK. When they questioned the "made in Mauritius" on the label, they were assured that the factory met their standards. At worst, they were duped, and the British newspaper equivalent of Fox News uncovered the "truth" in order to make the entire campaign look bad, and shift focus onto how these "feminists" don't actually care about real issues like human rights, but only superficial, silly, "first world problems."
Otherwise, why isn't it major news that the clothes in almost every high-street shop are at least partly made in sweatshops too? And why isn't the discussion about how even an ethical charity unwittingly ends up with sweatshop-produced goods, despite their best efforts to the contrary?
It's not a flawless campaign. But it is highly effective at removing the stigma around the word "feminist" and making it a positive talking point. And that's a really powerful thing.