Dior T-shirt A/W19 Collection Photo: Daily Mirror
As pandemic re-opening strategies roll out, anxiously we move past the trauma and reemerge as survivors with the hope of higher consciousness for a better future. The dominant narrative over the past two months has been centered around the importance of reemerging through the crisis with deeper values followed by transformed behavior.
In an open letter, a collective of global fashion leaders said, “We agree that the current environment although challenging, presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our business, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers’ needs.” What the letter did not specifically address is equitable values based in diversity and inclusion for all humans regardless of gender, sex, race, ethnicity, age, and size.
According to the December 2019 S&P 500 list, women currently hold 29 (5.8%) of CEO positions at those S&P 500 companies. This same inequality can be seen in the fashion industry with the lack of women artistic directors, CEOs, executives and board of directors. In July 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri arrived at the house of Dior as the first woman artistic director in its 70-year history. Since then, Maria has been using her platform to preach feminism in her collections and on the runway–as seen with her famous feminism themed t-shirts. So what is feminism anyway?
Socialist and French philosopher Charles Fourier coined the word “Feminism” in 1837. As a movement, it is a collective of people who fight for gender equality on many women’s issues that include reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, and support women in oppressed societies. Feminism philosophy, at its core, holds a belief of fairness between the sexes. The movement, often described as having ‘waves’, believes that all women have rights and a voice to be heard; a sisterhood, celebrating individual differences as a collective power. The new wave is called social justice feminism– a focus on change for all who are oppressed including women of colour, poor women, and queer and transgender women.
The notoriously outspoken late British writer Dame Rebecca West said, “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” I suppose one could say that anyone who fights for a social justice cause can be seen as difficult or aggressive since by its nature is a visible display or protest that typically involves a collective voice loudly demanding change. There is power in community.
While feminists were busy fighting for basic women’s rights, like voting, over the past century, western world fashion editors were standardising young, white, thin, women as the epitome of beauty. This marginalized view was commercialized by the idea that a woman’s value comes from her sexualized desirability- a dangerous objectification that diminishes the power of a woman’s voice. The new zenith of beauty honours a woman’s intelligence, compassion, self-assurance, and celebrates the power of her voice over her sex appeal.
Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, says, “You have to use your privilege to serve other people.” As a world, justice is still a fight for many people of a certain gender, sex, race, ethnicity, age, and size. I’m with Maria Grazia Chiuri, may we all be feminists. Our unity is our power to transform-women’s rights and gender justice belongs everywhere including fashion!