Going Beyond Performative Feminism

In this digital age, where information is so readily available and easily accessible, and at a time in which our desire to be ‘on trend’ has increased exponentially, performative feminism has emerged – and it is both pervasive and deeply damaging to the gender revolution.

Spurred on by celebrities and opinion leaders, the feminist movement has been popularised and commercialised in recent years, resulting in a pandemic of performative feminism. From politicians such as Hillary Clinton using feminist values to garner support for their electoral campaigns, to fashion designers such as Dior plastering the word ‘feminist’ across their clothing, the feminist movement today seems a far cry from its humble origins. Surely being a proponent of gender equality goes beyond simply asserting that you are a feminist, declaring an allegiance to a celebrity who states they are, or donning a t-shirt which expresses your support for the movement? 

The real question is – how do we begin to apply feminist principles to everyday life?

We should begin with education. Being able to apply feminist values to everyday life is a near impossibility without having an understanding of them in the first instance. The issue of performative feminism stems, in part, from passivity. People acknowledge that their favourite celebrity supports the movement, so they do too, but they fail to acknowledge its underpinning principles, and have only a superficial comprehension of it. It involves active participation and some critical reflection in order to take it further than the performative. What’s more, since much of the discourse around feminism unfolds online, a great deal of information about the movement is unregulated. Again, this requires us to not simply digest and accept what we read about feminism, but to look over it with a critical eye in order to ensure that what we understand is accurate, and thus its principles can be applied accordingly.    

Another way to ensure feminist principles are upheld is to hold the institutions claiming to support equality of the sexes to account. In order to allow gender equality in the workplace to really flourish and go beyond the performative, it is imperative that corporations translate their ethic across to practice, and that they are held to account in doing so. All too often, businesses fall short in adhering to the feminist principles and practices they vow to support, as demonstrated in the pay inequity that still exists in such large companies as Amazon and Sainsbury’s. In order to tackle this institutionalised sexism, and encourage businesses to take their support of feminism beyond the performative, we should hold corporations to account, scrutinising and challenging both their composition and their pay roll. 

The easiest yet most overlooked way to apply feminist values to everyday life is to stamp out the everyday sexism that is deeply embedded in cultures across the globe. Telling someone to not behave ‘like a girl’ or using ‘woman’ as an expression of exasperation is something many of us may be guilty of – after all, such attitudes appear to be ingrained in our global cultural fabric. However, they are not to be trivialised for the flippant manner in which they are often expressed because, in actual fact, they perpetuate misogynistic sentiments, and insinuate that being a girl or a woman is something to be ashamed of. 

Making small adjustments to the comments we make, or paying particular attention to the implications of our remarks will ensure that such sentiments are eradicated, and take feminism far beyond the performative.

Alexandra Bray

Image: Toowasted