Andi Zeisler was born in the 1970s and she witnessed the intense backlash against feminism in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1995, the same year that WomenArts was founded in Massachusetts, Zeisler co-founded Bitch Magazine: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture in Oregon.
Since pop culture has such a deep influence and is so pervasive, Zeisler and her colleagues believed it had tremendous potential as a tool for advancing feminist ideals.
Twenty years later, we are seeing something unexpected. The word “feminist” has become popular again – it has been embraced by female celebrities like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Emma Watson, and marketers are trying to use it to sell a wide range of products.
But in spite of the growing acceptance of the word, the cause is still under fire. Women still earn 77 cents or less for every dollar that men earn in the same jobs, women’s reproductive rights are under attack, and heaven help us, Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination for President in spite of (or maybe because of) his numerous misogynist and racist comments.
In her new book, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement, Andi Zeisler calls this new phenomenon “marketplace feminism.” She acknowledges that in some ways, it is great that pop culture has embraced the term “feminism,” but she is troubled that a substantial movement for social justice is now being presented as “just another consumer choice.” In particular, she points out that “marketplace feminism” is about advancing yourself as an individual usually by buying some product. This is in sharp contrast to traditional feminism, which was about lifting up the entire community of women through political action.
Andi Zeisler draws on more than twenty years of experience interpreting popular culture to show us how feminism is being co-opted and watered down. She looks at movies, television, advertising, fashion, and more, and finds that in spite of all the talk about “empowerment,” women are still coping with sexist attitudes and institutions every day. She traces our history and suggests positive solutions.
For more information, check out the great interview with Andi Zeisler about her book on Huffington Post or watch the hour-long video below where she talks about the connections between feminism and pop culture.