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Activism is not a commodity. It is not a product to be bought and sold and advertised. It is not a successful marketing strategy, either. Activism can neither be consumed with dollar bills, nor can it be used in advertising to sell goods. To involve activism with capitalism is to invalidate it; social justice doesn’t carry a price tag. Police brutality continues despite Kendall Jenner gifting a Pepsi to a cop, catcalling will not stop because Gillette put out a new ad campaign, and stereotypes refused to dissipate after the #LikeAGirl campaign by Always. Regardless of what today’s commercials and billboards might lead one to believe, it is impossible to put in place effective social change by merely consuming products.
Wallets carry a vote. However, this vote exists to promote better business practices, stop corruption in companies, and encourage business owners to be socially aware. This wallet vote does not actually carry any weight in legislation. Paul Ryan is not going to notice a spike in Nike sales after their partnership with Colin Kaepernick and decide to change how law enforcement officials are trained. Wallet votes affect companies, not Congress; they do not actually enact social justice. The only exception would be when organizations like Planned Parenthood sell merchandise in order to raise money for a cause. This, however, is different from mass commercialization because Planned Parenthood is a women-centric organization that produces merchandise with the end goal of helping women; the commercialization of activism is perpetrated by big businesses who funnel money into the CEO’s pockets, eventually spent on stocks, beach houses, and yachts.
Not only does the commodified feminism neglect to bring real change; with it comes the reduction of the movement. Turning feminism into uterus pins and pussy hats devolves a radical movement into merchandise meant to be worn for the sake of fashion. Capitalism turns social justice into something edgy and cool, rather than a serious and impactful attempt to further equality.
Activism is based in DIY. It is based in ripped cardboard and permanent markers. It is based in thrifted clothes that defy modern expectations of the female aesthetic. It is based in tearing down and rearranging social structures, not buying into them and supporting them all because they’ve decided to feign interest in equality. A shirt with a Venus symbol is not a step towards equality if it comes from sweatshops that abuse workers. It is a purely visual attempt to appeal to other white moderates. There is no substance, no intensity, no passion in the commercialization of social justice.
It is easy to buy a t-shirt and think you’ve done your part for the cause. But what is easy is rarely effective. Police brutality does not stop because you’ve bought a coffee mug from Anthropologie. The wage gap still lives on despite your purchase of a tote bag from Forever 21. The KKK will not disband simply because you decided to buy some socks from Urban Outfitters. In order to keep social justice alive and breathing, its commercialization must be stopped. We can’t let ourselves be distracted by fashionable products; our focus must always be equality.