Hold on to your “Nasty Woman” t-shirt printed in Bangladesh, and your Thinx period-proof underwear: there’s no such thing as a feminist company. As fervently as we, harbingers of women’s rights, want to believe that we can consume things in line with our moral compass, we absolutely cannot. In order for capitalism to succeed, it is imperative that feminist principles be sacrificed.
This is not to say that many have attempted to conflate the ideologies of feminism and capitalism in some form or another. Many companies and organizations (male-dominated) have claimed to advocate for women at one point or another. In a more recent phenomenon, companies are structuring their entire self-concepts around the principles of feminism — or, more accurately, branding themselves with a feminist identity to serve a capitalist purpose.
The former — pre-existing organizations later claiming to advocate for women — is a laughable concept at best. In our society, most major organizations have managed to construct themselves and thrive on notions that are inherently damaging to women. In addition to the rampant de-valuing of women’s labor, there is the notable lack of women in leadership, there is a construction of motherhood that places the burden of child-rearing on women, but then simultaneously revokes women an entrance to motherhood in a supportive way.
These sorts of companies make a case for themselves that no, capitalism is inherently prohibitive of the feminist agenda. Yet, the second type of company, one that is theoretically rooted in feminist principles from its inception, is a newer phenomenon and one that makes that blends feminism and corporatism into a mix even more toxic towards the greater good for all women.
In the past five years, a slew of companies have emerged with a feminist ethos explicitly tied to their corporate identity. Clothing retailer Nasty Gal developed its concept around the principle of being a “Girl Boss,” or a young, independent woman who is creatively fulfilled and also happens to enjoy purchasing an assortment of confusing crop tops.
Underwear-maker Thinx took this concept slightly further, with a feminist agenda tied not only to their marketing strategy, but to their product. Thinx sells underwear to be worn while on one’s period, providing a new and innovative solution to an issue that has long been considered too taboo to be worth reconfiguring with any major financial backing or publicity. Yet Thinx managed to create a high-profile product, and even established themselves in a feminist light after winning a battle with the MTA of New York City for the right to display advertising with explicitly yonic references.
And yet both of these companies, within mere months of inception, began to expose themselves as something much more sinister. Employees of Nasty Gal anonymously tipped off news outlets to the fact that women were being fired while on maternity leave, or forced out of the company after having surgery that the company’s policy supposedly should have covered without incident. This was all made more dubious by the fact that Nasty Gal’s founder Sophia Amoruso’s personal brand and wealth continued to flourish during this time, with book and television deals lining her pockets as her employees struggle to keep their jobs.
Thinx, meanwhile, became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal involving the company’s female CEO, or “She-E-O” as she evidently insisted on being called, Miki Agrawal. Yet even this corny moniker points to the problem at hand: one cannot simply take corporate structure, brand it with pink flowers, and claim that it works for rather than against women.
It’s possible, even likely, that Nasty Gal and Thinx enabled such scrutiny of their company due to their woman-first mission statements. But such specific scrutiny ignores the larger picture: the regimes of Nasty Gal and Thinx are standard in corporate culture at large. That said, it’s absolutely in no way shocking that company models based on patriarchal values and the creation of financial inequality are bad for women.
One could argue that focusing on only the highest-profile examples neglect the many smaller woman-owned-and-operated businesses that succeed every day under a capitalist regime.
In some ways, yes, these smaller companies are afforded a certain number of privileges outside of the capitalist structure. Women who run and work for these businesses are afforded more individual freedoms in how they conduct themselves, and balance their lives as women and as individuals outside of a business environment.
At the same time, small business that lack resources may be even more likely to participate in anti-women practices such as the exploitation of hourly workers, or the trafficking of products that are at a much higher risk of harming female workers in sweatshops or other high-production, low-cost factories.
In this sense, small businesses — who must maintain even slimmer profit margins in order to support their fragile existences — are actually more at risk of female exploitation. Many are content to neglect this exploitation, though, because it occurs in overseas factories. This type of outsourcing remains a sinister vestige of capitalism through and through. The fact that many choose to ignore it proves just how much Western society values wealth over women.
No, boys and girls, a feminist company is but a fantasy. Yes, it is possible that a company or organization can feature women in leadership roles, or brand itself in a feminist light. Still, the very notion of supply and demand, the foundation of our capitalist/consumerist society, will always place an undue burden on women.
While it is very much essential that companies create equitable working conditions, the emphasis on a “feminist” corporation only commodifies and de-legitimizes a movement that has already been twisted and tainted to fit so many substandard notions of the ideology.
Rather than contorting feminism to fit pre-existing (and therefore patriarchal) structures, those who truly want to revolutionize the workplace must develop radically new business models. To alter the current framework is not enough. Entirely new frameworks must be developed. It is not easy, and it is not profitable, but it is right.