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Mar 8, 2016

Happy Feminist Christmas, brought to you by our corporate masters

Our foremothers who marched in 1907 would probably not be overwhelmed by the feminist progress of ANZ, David Jones and Unilever.

If you’re unfamiliar with International Women’s Day, perhaps the best shortcut to understanding is to think of it as Feminist Christmas. For many years on March 8, groups of people with little in common have congregated, made agonising efforts not to yell at each other and then completely drank away the memory of the holiday’s origin story — now believed by many not to be the fight for dignity in toil, but unhindered publication of nipple shots on Instagram.

But it was never a sell-out like December 25. For decades, feminists were able to celebrate, or mourn, this day outside the margins of commerce. This year, though, there will be gift bags, private funding and substantial corporate interest. Just like Christmas, IWD has become far less a moment to address our noblest potential and much more a way to sell women pointless shit.

Currently running on network TV in time for IWD are the maniacally tasteful short films made last year by director Jane Campion for ANZ. In an affecting series shot largely in black and white and scored by an angry feminist flautist, these works bear the shareable hashtag #equalfuture and have as their subject wealth equality. Which is a fun twist for a bank, one of those institutions that largely shapes our nation’s unequal financial playing field.

In a behind-the-scenes special, where Campion can be otherwise observed introducing her young female actors to the concept of the “safe space”, the voice of ANZ’s global wealth CEO is heard. Says Joyce Phillips: “When women help themselves, they naturally help others as well.”

Phillips can be read in two ways, here. And neither of ‘em is, in my view, much chop. Either she means women are more inclined than men to be helpful, which is sexist hearsay, or she’s basically upchucking the worst of Adam Smith.

My money — or what little I have of it, #AsAWoman #equalfuture — is largely on the latter. This is the new meaning of Feminist Christmas, borrowed from the oldest and most damaging traditions of male liberalism. If only we are permitted to act freely in the market, the market will act benevolently. Unfettered commerce means freedom for everyone. And probably nipples freed by the invisible hand on Instagram as well.

Similar campaigns by large corporations are routinely  applauded as Teachable Moments. The world’s second-largest consumer goods company, Procter & Gamble, received plaudits for its #LikeAGirl campaign, devised to sell scented sanitary pads to teens. The world’s third-largest consumer goods company, Unliever, has employed a group of “self-esteem experts” in its latest efforts to sell scented soaps and empowerment. Department store David Jones has just posted some videos in time for the big day. Watch a group of ladies in immaculately pressed linen engage in the feminine fresh work of talking “about what it really means to be a woman in today’s society”. Or, if you prefer, cheer the good work of French luxury goods manufacturer Kering, which has partnered for feminism this week with luxury liberalism manufacturer the UN. Recently, Kering confirmed that it would not use child labour in the outsourced production of its high-end clothing. The women textile workers who marched in 1907 against child labour would, perhaps, not be tickled pink to learn about a century of such glacial progress.

There is a strong view, though, that progress toward equality is being made — the many well-regarded critiques on poverty by monopoly data providers notwithstanding. There is a view that campaigns like ANZ’s #equalfuture are, at worst, evidence that interest in true material equality is at some kind of fever pitch and, at best, offering a positive message to our youngest women. You’d be a Grinch today for suggesting otherwise.

Well, colour me greener than the meanest anti-holiday ghoul, this is not the true meaning of Feminist Christmas. Just as one corrodes the hope for Christian generosity by commodifying it, one negates the spirit of IWD through erasing the memory of its foremothers who forewent their factory wages to march for bread and roses.

Self-esteem and uncensored nipples are not qualities antithetical to the aims of feminism — a movement that remains, at least nominally, focused on material equality. But when this brief ecstasy comes at the cost of sponsorship by the very institutions that ensure material inequality, it’s time to revive the tradition of yelling at each other over dinner about the boring stuff of politics.

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8 comments

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8 thoughts on “Happy Feminist Christmas, brought to you by our corporate masters

  1. gwen

    Thank you Helen! Finally! Finally, finally, finally! Someone who can see dung beyond the luxury glitter coating, and call the progression of this day for what it has become – “… far less a moment to address our noblest potential and much more a way to sell women pointless shit.”
    Your closing remarks really does hit the nail directly on the head,
    “…this brief ecstasy comes at the cost of sponsorship by the very institutions that ensure material inequality.”
    …and don’t get me started on the underwhelming #equalfuture ANZ campaign. Whoever let that one go out to market ought to be stabbed with a blunt instrument. It doesn’t, at all, identify how giving their professional women a top-up on their super-contributions links to the narrative of the young girls calling out the unequal of access to education and opportunities. Sorry – yes, I realised that I just got myself started on the ANZ campaign.

  2. Dog's Breakfast

    Yes, IWD might regret the day that they decided to take ANZ on board.

    I find the ads somewhat execrable, partly because I am an analyst and hate statistics used in such a meanderingly obtuse way, but also because I have a daughter who is so far beyond this stuff that it appears antiquated at best, and probably demeaning.

    Big corporates are the problem, not the solution

  3. Peter Darco

    There is no doubt that women in the Western cultures that I know, are not treated equally in many areas.

    The questions I have never answered is why mothers have not tackled this as they bring up the next generation of boys.

  4. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Nice one Peter; blame the mothers. In fact, look at your first sentence – it may provide the answer to your second sentence.

  5. AR

    I am constantly grateful that I do not have a TV.

  6. Norman Hanscombe

    AR, I am grateful that I witnessed only one ‘feminist’ pantomime today.

  7. CML

    I am in my very late 70’s, female and a feminist!
    Further…what is all the fuss about? I have been a feminist since I was seven years old…that was the only way I could survive being raised with three brothers, in the bush.
    This came about after my brothers and I were playing ‘William Tell’ with dangerous bows and arrows we had secretly made and hidden down on the river flats (so don’t blame my parents here…I never have). Guess who had to be William Tell, with a pie melon on their head?
    The upshot of this story is that I lost my right eye that day…yes the arrow missed the pie melon, and went straight into my eye…sorry for the graphic detail.
    Anyway…as a result of this event, I resolved NEVER to be told what to do by a male ever again. I have lived by that credo, and my wonderful husband has adjusted accordingly!
    Just get on with NOT settling for second best…but be nice about it!!

  8. John Henry

    ” Guess who had to be William Tell, with a pie melon on their head?”

    Nice rant CML, but it was n’t William Tell who had the pie melon on his head. It was his son. William Tell shot it off his son’s head. And it was a cross bow, bot your standard bow and arrow. So you would have had to play the role of his son.

    Cheers
    Gessela