Dealing with the Fact that Feminism is ‘Trending’

Sociologists, multicultural millennials and public relations professionals are all in agreement that things become ‘cool’ in Ireland approximately 18 months after
they are ‘cool’ in a more modern country. On our island, when people say; I liked that before it was cool, they’re probably lying – they probably just liked it when it was only cool in New York.

Fashion, movies, videogames and the newest albums get released in the US and the UK long before they get released in Ireland, and we were about a year slower than everybody else to start actually using Instagram stories. It seems like Irish law and regulation is largely decided on by what other EU countries already do and it took Victoria Secret until 2016 to announce that it would someday have a presence in Ireland beyond the duty free in Dublin Airport.

I recently became educated on the concept of fast fashion. To sum this up, there is an issue in the fashion industry that only came into existence as we entered into our digital age. In the olden days, designers would debut their work in fashion weeks around the world to only buyers. The buyers would make their picks, and then the designers and teams would go into hiding for about six weeks where they would work to produce all of the clothes that the buyers had purchased. When these designs appeared in shops, they were new, never-seen-before and inspired.

Now, designers have become the victims of the digital world. Their fashion shows where they debut their lines are broadcast within seconds from tiny devices to every piece of technology in the world. High street and online retailers use mass production techniques to run away and produce cheap copies of this work, and to have it out on the market in less than days. The designers with the original ideas are left to compete. In order to match the speed of their competitors, they produce their stock in advance so that they can get it out to buyers before cheaper retailers can launch their collections. But what happens to the pre-produced stock that doesn’t sell? It ends up in dumpsters, or selling for a fraction of the price, wasted and forgotten.

Since mid-2016, it has been difficult to shop the high street without coming by slogan t-shirts that exclaim some politically liberal statement. It has escalated from mere peace signs on the breast of jumpers to being full-on, in your face declarations of ‘Feminist’, ‘The Future is Female’ and so on. When I see these, I think of how I would have loved to have seen them three years ago, when I was only discovering the movement and needed that declaration. I also think of the Paris Fashion Week Chanel show in September 2014, with images of Cara Delevingne leading her feminist protest down the catwalk, and wonder if that was the beginning – is that the reason feminism is fashionable? Is it just another case of small players copying the big, of us all gradually learning what’s cool?


The first time I listened to Beyoncé’s song ‘Flawless’, I didn’t do it for Beyoncé. Rather, I had heard about the message of this particular song. Beyoncé could inspire anyone to get into formation, but I couldn’t reconcile her feminism with my own. Dance as I may to Single Ladies on a night out, I don’t believe she represents the gender neutrality that I think is essential in the world. So, when I became obsessed with this song and listened to it on repeat for days and days, I did it for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller
We say to girls: "You can have ambition, but not too much
You should aim to be successful, but not too successful
Otherwise, you will threaten the man"
Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important
Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are
Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political
And economic equality of the sexes.”

This song, while introducing me to a revolutionary author and thinker, made me think about Beyoncé, and her movement. In the years that followed, I thought about Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham and watch debates unfold about whether Selena Gomez’s music was feminist enough. I read Teen Vogue as it became more involved in the revolution, and eventually grew into older media outlets, until every day I read the opinion articles in the Irish Times, where I experienced the same broadcasting of feminism. I watched as every aspect of the feminist movement was represented through fashion choices, TV shows and which songs hit number one on the charts. I wondered what the point was of feminism infiltrating every trivial part of my life if it couldn’t seem to infiltrate the political and economic spheres of the world.

The impacts of feminism being a part of pop culture are varied, ever swaying between positive and negative. When I first noticed the phenomenon, I only saw the inherently negative. I predicted that this trend, like any other, would pass. And as happens with trends, the steady rise in uptake would be interrupted by the decades in between where people weren’t sure whether they were ready for the movement to make a ‘comeback’. Eventually, if we were lucky, feminism could be like Adidas - loved and then hated, until it was loved again later after a reinvention. If we were unlucky, it would be similar to the attempt at a comeback made by flared jeans, before everyone decided that they, at least for now, should remain in the 80s.

I also associated the pop-culture version of feminism with hipsters, fearing that once it became too big or too ‘cool’, everybody would hate it. The t-shirts I saw made me worry that it had ‘sold-out’, and you can’t get much less cool than that.

Ultimately, I decided to look at the positives. The most important thing about this era is that, for the first time in history, feminism as a word and as a movement is being celebrated. Even when feminism did its best work - when we won the right to vote and work after marriage and be our own property, when rape in a marriage was criminalised and we joined men in third level education, when we were elected to government and represented our country and took up our place in the world and not in the home, when the last Magdalene Laundry was closed – feminism as a word was ignored and as a description was taken as an insult.

So, it doesn’t make me feel weird that I liked feminism before it was cool (in Ireland) and that now people say ‘hashtag feminist’ in casual conversation – it makes me feel proud to be a woman and a feminist and part of something that is going to change the world.

I’m relieved that another young teen girl in a small town in Ireland won’t grow up thinking that feminism is for girls with greasy hair who can’t talk to boys, like I used to think before anyone showed me otherwise. Like all of those t-shirts and iPhone covers say, the future is female, and now we all know it.

Most of all, I’m optimistic. I think that one day, in the near future, all of that ‘feminism’ merchandise will go out of fashion, but the movement never will. Even now, I have to notice the way those clothes don’t fly off the shelves. It’s as though people don’t need to wear a t-shirt saying ‘I’m a Feminist’, because everyone is a feminist. It doesn’t need a declaration. By default, almost all of us want what feminism fights for. The sales won’t stop because no one believes in the statement, but because everyone does. Feminism won’t be ‘cool’, it will just be the way of the world.