More Than Just a Slogan: The Commercialization of Protests

 collage by Sarah Tadjana

collage by Sarah Tadjana

“The Future is Female,” “Pray For —,” “I Stand with Immigrants,” and several other trendy messages of empowerment or acknowledgments of societal injustices have now become a form of slacktivism. All one has to do is repost the latest GIF, add some buzzwords and you’re on your way to being the next figurehead of the movement — all in 140 characters or less. And while these small acts might help bolster your social media following, this growing trend of lackluster activism is failing those who need our help, to the benefit of those who don’t deserve it.

On March 8th, we celebrate International Women's Day, but in recent years, many stores and brands are using the day as an excuse to promote discounts for women and increase consumption in a major market. In March 2017, a Quartz article detailed how International Women’s Day had been rebranded in China as a day to celebrate via mass consumption, essentially ignoring the movement towards social justice that kickstarted the day as a meaningful and valiant cause to support. It begs the question: do you really need another pair of shoes, another bag or fifteen more eyeshadow palettes? How meaningful can all that stuff be?

More importantly, we must ask ourselves who benefits when we give in to the relentless marketing. Yes, everyone loves a discount (especially us students!), but when that discount comes disguised as a celebration of this historic day, backed by generations of suffering and fighting for equality, it’s time to ask ourselves how we have strayed from the powerful rhetoric of positive change onto the current gluttony of consumerism that marks this momentus day. Because let’s get one thing straight: maxing out your credit card on March 8th (whether or not you’re female) is not going to help or empower the women of the world!

What’s more, nearly every fashion tycoon — from Amancio Ortega of Zara to Leonardo Del Vecchio of the Luxottica Group — is a man, while the majority of their workers are underpaid and horribly exploited women. Frankly, wearing a shirt proudly stating that you’re a “feminist”, while ignoring the plights of the woman who made it, is a grievous act of hypocrisy. A new word has emerged to describe this recent trend of corporations and businesses jumping on the feminist bandwagon as a way to sell their products or services: femvertising.

Each year, an award is given out by SheKnows Media to recipients like P&G, whose products you likely use every day (think: Gain, Tide, Herbal Essences). A key ingredient in many of these products is palm oil, which is used in a vast array of products, from soap to ice cream. What few consumers realize is that palm oil plays a major role in deforestation around the world. What’s more, huge corporations, like P&G, buy their palm oil from a supplier called BW Plantations. Known for causing widespread environmental destruction and displacement of Indigenous peoples, BW Plantations is one of the most notoriously corrupt businesses in the industry. By engaging in blind acts of consumerism, we are unknowingly allowing these dispicable corporate behaviours to go on unchallenged.

Does this all sound depressing to you? Well, perhaps it is. But it is my hope that by fostering true awareness (rather than just tweeting out #BoycottBW or some other hashtagged act of slacktivism), I might be able to encourage you to wield the incredible power you hold as a consumer. I encourage you to get concerned and get angry, and then voice those concerns by carefully choosing how you spend your hard-earned money. I encourage every single one of you to make waves, rather than ripples. And I beg you not to let any other significant occasions become just another excuse to spend. I urge you all to do your research, to think before you spend, and to be aware that everything is connected, so every choice you make has the ability to affect someone around you. Finally, remember, as a consumer, you have a choice and no one can take that away from you.