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Brand Feminisme: Eksploitatif atau Memperkasa?

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Penterjemah: Syahirah Wahed

Adakah anda bersetuju bahawa kesedaran mengenai ideologi feminisme kini semakin meningkat dalam kalangan gadis muda dan wanita? Jika dahulu perbincangan tentang perkahwinan bawah umur amat jarang namun, kewujudan media sosial memberikan masyarakat satu platform untuk mengutarakan pendapat dan kemarahan mengenai hal tersebut secara terbuka. Jika dahulu tertanam di minda masyarakat bahawa golongan adiwira hanyalah dalam kalangan lelaki “macho”, kini wujud pula adiwira yang berjantina perempuan seperti “Supergirl”, “Wonder Woman” dan kesemua ahli “Ghostbusters.” Adakah anda perasan akan kenaikan kadar bilangan iklan yang mempunyai mesej yang mengagungkan para wanita dan dipenuhi dengan pelbagai emosi, pada masa yang sama, mereka mempromosikan produk mereka sendiri? Atau adakah agenda ideologi feminisme ini dicanang oleh selebriti seperti Emma Watson? Atau personaliti terkemuka seperti  Kim Kardashian dan Ivanka Trump yang menggelarkan diri mereka sendiri sebagai usahawan yang menjadi idola wanita muda?

Istilah “feminis” yang digunakan dalam konteks artikel ini atau yang digunakan secara meluas adalah untuk melambangkan idea atau nilai yang berkaitan dengan pemerkasaan dan pembebasan wanita. Gerakan feminisme telah menjalani sejarah yang getir. Namun begitu, kita kini telah melepasi zaman di mana nenek moyang kita yang berani terpaksa berjuang untuk mendapatkan hak asasi manusia yang paling asas untuk golongan wanita. Perkara ini telah menyebabkan feminisme diketepikan dan dianggap sebagai tidak relevan. Feminisme juga telah diburukkan sebagai satu agenda berbahaya yang bukan sahaja setakat memperjuangkan prinsip keadilan dan kesamarataan tetapi juga menginginkan wanita menguasai dunia yang dimonopoli oleh golongan lelaki sejak berabad-abad lamanya.

Dengan adanya feminisme dalam kalangan selebriti dan iklan feminis korporat, kini feminisme telah diubahsuai kepada sesuatu yang lebih mudah diterima dan menarik malah terhadap golongan lelaki. Feminisme kini sudah mengikuti arus perdana atau sekurang-kurangnya hampir menjadi kebiasaan di Malaysia.

Mari kita perhatikan iklan korporat yang mempunyai unsur feminisme sama ada baik atau buruk. Masih ingat kempen dalam iklan Dove, #SpeakBeautiful (2015)?

Iklan kempen yang berbaur feminisme ini ditujukan untuk pengguna masa kini. Isi kandungan iklan yang penuh emosi itu berkait dengan tanggungjawab sosial korporat oleh syarikat itu sendiri telah dijadikan lebih mudah untuk diakses dan dikongsi melalui laman sosial seperti Facebook, Twitter dan YouTube. Kempen yang dibuat oleh Dove bukanlah sekadar iklan yang mengandungi mesej sosial yang berkesan tentang bagaimana wanita melihat diri mereka sendiri. Ia merupakan kempen yang mendapat banyak respons positif  daripada khalayak ramai dan seterusnya, kempen tersebut diteruskan dengan kempen Dove yang terkini iaitu Dove Real Beauty Campaign (2017).

Harus diingatkan bahawa Unilever PLC, syarikat yang memiliki Dove dalam kalangan jenama pengguna lain, adalah sebuah syarikat produk pengguna yang mempunyai kira-kira 2.5 bilion orang yang menggunakannya “untuk merasa baik, kelihatan baik dan mampu menikmati kehidupan dengan lebih lag”. Unilever menyertai syarikat-syarikat lain yang telah berjaya memjadikan feminisme satu komoditi dengan menggunakan faktor feminis untuk meningkatkan pendapatan. Usaha Dove untuk meningkatkan keyakinan diri wanita mungkin merupakan salah satu contoh positif pengiklanan feminis korporat, namun kita tidak patut mengabaikan fakta bahawa kempen seperti ini telah dijalankan secara strategik untuk menggabungkan aktivisme penjenamaan (brand activism) untuk mendapatkan sokongan pengguna untuk produknya. Dalam erti kata lain, inisiatif ini akan gagal atau tidak mempunyai masa hadapan jika ianya tidak memberi keuntungan.

Dove, sebagai contoh, tidak begitu mendukung matlamat feminis yang mencetuskan kontroversi seperti kebebasan wanita untuk menamatkan kehamilan yang tidak diingini. Mesej yang diterapkan oleh syarikat sebahagian besarnya ditentukan oleh faktor-faktor pasaran dan tujuan korporat tradisional: kewanitaan dalam pengertian tradisional dan apa yang dianggap sesuai dengan budaya masyarakat setempat. Keyakinan diri adalah komoditi yang mudah dipasarkan kerana ia adalah yang paling mesra pada agenda feminis.

Itu semestinya  bukan satu perkara yang tidak baik – kempen iklan positif dari Dove, kempen “Always’ #LikeAGirl”, kempen Nike Women’s Believe in More yang mungkin cenderung  mementingkan diri, merupakan alat bagi menjana pendapatan untuk syarikat besar dan bukan semata-mata satu usaha untuk mencapai cita-cita feminis untuk mendapatkan hak kesamarataan sosial. Namun, kempen-kempen tersebut adalah jauh lebih baik daripada omong kosong patriarki penuh dengan stereotaip yang pernah digunakan dalam sektor pengiklanan yang sememangnya salah tetapi diguna pakai kerana stereotaip terhadap jantina adalah lebih mudah untuk disampaikan dan digunakan untuk mempromosikan produk. Maaf, atau lebih elok saya katakan perkara tersebut pernah terjadi dahulu – jangan lupa bagaimana syarikat telah menggunakan kuasa pengiklanan mereka untuk mempromosikan golongan seksis dan pembenci waniti walaupun pada zaman sekarang, contohnya iklan Blackface Raya Watson dan iklan Reduction Butt Firefly untuk diskaun tambang penerbangan.

Sekiranya pengiklanan yang berunsur feminisme berupaya membangkitkan dan menyentuh emosi para feminis, maka golongan selebriti pula telah menjadikan ideologi feminisme ini sebagai suatu ideologi yang bergaya dan mengikuti perkembangan semasa yang perlu dihargai – atau sekurang-kurangnya brand feminism.

Lihat sahaja Kim Kardashian – selebriti yang mempunyai 100 juta pengikut dari seluruh dunia yang juga dijadikan idola oleh wanita muda kerana kejayaannya yang begitu besar, beliau berulang kali menyatakan bahawa beliau merupakan seorang wanita yang mengenali kekuatannya sendiri – segala perkara yang dilakukan oleh beliau merupakan satu pilihan yang diambil berdasarkan pengetahuan dan kesedaran beliau. Konsep feminisme  yang dibawa oleh Kardashian muncul bagi menyokong wanita untuk memperoleh bentuk badan yang sempurna (dalam DVD “Fit in your Jeans by Friday”) sambil memanjakan diri sendiri dengan makanan manis seperti kek cawan ( dalam Kim Kardashian’s Vanilla Cupcake Mix from Famous Cupcake – dapat diperolehi di atas talian, untuk pengetahuan anda)

Pilihan Kardashian walaubagaimanapun agak anti-feminis. Ayuh kita lihat contoh gambarnya dalam majalah Paper yang mengingatkan tentang seorang wanita Hottentot bernama Saartjie Baartman yang diarakkan dalam pertunjukan aneh kerana punggungnya yang besar pada abad ke-19 Eropah. Berlainan dengan zaman yang sebelum ini yang menganggap wanita yang berpinggul besar adalah pelik, Kardashian muncul di majalah tersebut bagi menunjukkan kebebasan memilih dan mencontohi struktur patriarkal dan misogini yang bercanggah dengan pemerkasaan wanita. Tidak sukar untuk melihat bahawa Kardashian mendapat manfaat sebagai selebriti  seperti yang ditulis oleh Andi Zeisler dalam artikelnya, We Were Feminists Once: “Individual celebrities are great at putting an appealing face on social issues. But the celebrity machine is one that runs on neither complexity nor nuance, but cold, hard cash.” (halaman 132-133) (petikan daripada buku Janell Hobson, “Celebrity Feminism: More Than a Gateway”).

Namun, ianya tidak tepat bagi kita untuk mengabaikan keupayaan menggunakan selebriti untuk membangkitkan isu-isu feminis: contoh positif yang boleh dilihat ialah Patrick Stewart yang menekankan terhadap keganasan rumah tangga, Michelle Obama dalam kempen ‘Let Girls Learn’ dan Emma Watson yang menyokong kesamarataan jantina. Tidak seperti Kardashian, selebrit-selebritii ini tidak bersikap individualistik dan mementingkan diri sendiri. Mereka mengemukakan isu-isu khusus dan sukar yang termasuk dalam lingkungan agenda-agenda feminis yang bukan sekadar masalah yang memberikan keuntungan atau populariti kepada mereka. Mereka telah memberi inspirasi kepada wanita-wanita muda untuk mengikutinya dan membuat pendukungan feminisme dalam isu-isu penting seperti keganasan terhadap wanita dan pendidikan dengan penuh gaya.

Tidak perlu diketengahkan lagi bahawa feminisme, tanpa mengira cabangnya, masih belum mencapai hak kesamarataan yang didambakan mahupun masyarakat yang adil dan saksama. Walaupun sudah banyak penambahbaikan telah dibuat untuk wanita dan kanak-kanak perempuan sama ada dalam bentuk kemajuan sosio-ekonomi dan perlindungan undang-undang atau yang lebih baik dari hak asasi mereka misalnya, masih ada perkara yang perlu diperbaiki. Sesetengah orang mungkin melihat pengiklanan selebriti dan korporat sebagai manipulasi prinsip feminis untuk mendapatkan keuntungan atau publisiti. Perkara ini tidak dapat disangkal namun kita tidak boleh mengambil ringan bagaimana jentera korporat dan selebriti juga boleh digunakan untuk melunturkan persepsi negatif terhadap feminisme dan membawa perhatian yang sangat diperlukan kepada subjek yang dianggap taboo atau jarang diperkatakan dalam kalangan masyarakat kita. Feminisme telah dilihat sebagai anti-feminin dan telah disalah anggap oleh ramai orang. Mungkin apa yang diperlukan ialah penjenamaan semula feminisme yang mungkin menjadi trend sementara. Perkara ini perlu diberi perhatian sebelum pihak syarikat dan selebriti beralih ke isu-isu lain pula, tetapi itu tidak seharusnya menghalang golongan feminis daripada memanfaatkan platform yang kini tersedia kepada kita. #MaketheBestOfIt.

 

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Brand Feminism: Exploitative or Empowering?

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There appears to be a rising “feminist” awareness amongst women and girls in this country – wouldn’t you say? Where there used to be very little discourse on issues  such as child-marriages and child-brides, there is now, thanks to social media who gave people a platform to express their opinion and public outrage. Where traditionally superheroes were generally of the “macho” male persuasion, we now see more female-led superhero flicks: think “Supergirl”, “Wonder Woman” and the all-female “Ghostbusters”. Have you noticed an increasing number of advertisements with empowering messages for women, replete with emotional appeals for a cause, while at the same time subtly pushing a product or brand? Or the feminist agendas that are now being trumpeted by celebrities such as Emma Watson? Or  well-known personalities such as Kim Kardashian and Ivanka Trump, self-proclaimed entrepreneurs who appear to be styling themselves as role-models for young women?

The term “feminist” in the context of this article is used rather broadly: to denote ideas or values associated with women’s emancipation and empowerment. The feminist movement has endured a difficult history. Now, of course, we’re past the times when our valiant predecessors had to fight for the most basic of human rights for women. This led to feminism being cast-aside as obsolete and unnecessary. Demonised even, as an agenda that seeks not for equality and a just and equitable society, but one that desires for women to rule the world and assume the throne of oppression – as men have for many centuries.

With celebrity feminism and corporate feminist advertisements, feminism has now been repackaged, if you will, into something far more acceptable and attractive – to even men. Feminism is now mainstream. Or as close to it as it possibly can be in Malaysia at least.

Let’s consider corporate advertising appropriating feminism, both the good and the bad. Remember Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign (2015)?

 

 

Feminist advertising campaigns are designed for the new-age consumer. Relatable content containing emotional appeals that invariably link back to the company’s own corporate social responsibility, is made accessible and shared through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Dove’s campaign was not merely an advertisement with a strong social message about how women viewed themselves. It was an advertising campaign many people reacted to positively and actively participated in and which, to Dove’s credit, it has consistently followed-up with subsequent campaigns such as the recent Dove Real Beauty Campaign (2017).

We would be wise to note that Unilever PLC, the company that owns Dove amongst other consumer brands, is a consumer-products company whose products some 2.5 billion people use “to feel good, look good and get more out of life”. Unilever joins a slew of other companies that have successfully commoditized feminism by employing feminist causes to increase revenue. So whilst Dove’s efforts to address women’s self-esteem may be one of the positive examples of corporate feminist advertising, we would be remiss to ignore that campaigns such as these strategically incorporate brand activism to garner consumer support for its products. In other words, these initiatives would fail or never would have seen the light of the day if they did not promise to be profitable.

Dove, for example, is unlikely to espouse controversial feminist goals such as a woman’s freedom to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The messages corporations adopt therefore, are largely dictated by market-factors and traditional corporate goals: femininity in the traditional sense and what is deemed culturally acceptable to the local community. Self-esteem is an easily marketable commodity simply because it is the friendliest on the feminist agenda.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – positive ad campaigns from Dove, Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, Nike Women’s Believe in More may be self-serving, revenue generating tools for big corporations and do not necessarily seek to advance the feminist ideals of social equity and equality. But they are infinitely better than the patriarchal nonsense that advertising used to rely on: gender stereotypes that are false but easy to convey and promote. Sorry, did I say used to – lest we forget how corporations have used their advertising power to promote sexist and misogynistic tropes even in modern times, here are a few select examples: Watson’s Blackface Raya advertisement and Firefly’s Butt Reduction advertisements for air travel discounts.  

If feminist advertising tends to evoke and rally emotional responses to the feminist cause, then celebrities have made it cool and trendy to embrace feminism – or brand feminism at least.

 

Consider Kim Kardashian – with 100 million followers worldwide many of whom are probably young women looking to emulate her success – repeatedly demonstrates that she has agency and is an empowered woman – everything she does is (or at least appears to be) an informed and conscious choice. Her brand of feminism would appear to advocate for women to strive for the perfect body (try her “Fit in your Jeans by Friday” DVDs) whilst treating ourselves to beloved sugary treats like, cupcakes (try Kim Kardashian’s Vanilla Cupcake Mix from Famous Cupcake – available online, just so you know).

Kardashian’s choices however are quite anti-feminist. Take for example her picture in the Paper magazine which was reminiscent of a Hottentot woman by the name of Saartjie Baartman who, in 19th century Europe was paraded around as a freak show because of her large buttocks. The image, whilst it appears to demonstrate an independence of choice, epitomizes patriarchal, misogynistic structures that are antithetical to female empowerment.  It is not difficult to see that Kardashian benefits from her celebrity and as Andi Zeisler writes in her article We Were Feminists Once: “Individual celebrities are great at putting an appealing face on social issues. But the celebrity machine is one that runs on neither complexity nor nuance, but cold, hard cash.” (at pages 132-133) (excerpt as found in Janell Hobson’s “Celebrity Feminism: More Than a Gateway”)

And yet, it would be nearly criminal for us to disregard the potential of using celebrities as poster-children for important feminist issues: positive examples include Patrick Stewart against domestic violence, Michelle Obama on her ‘Let Girls Learn’ campaign and Emma Watson advocating for Gender Equality. Quite unlike Kardashian, these celebrities are not purely individualistic and self-interest motivated. They forward specific and difficult issues that fall squarely within the ambit of the feminist agenda, not just issues that bring them certain kind of profit or popularity.  They have inspired young women and girls to follow in their stead and make feminist advocacy on important issues like violence against women and education, cool and trendy.

It need not be highlighted that feminism – all waves of feminism – has not yet achieved equality or a just and equitable society. Whilst many advances have been made for women and girls everywhere in the form of socio-economic advancement and better legislative protection of their fundamental rights for instance, there is work yet to be done. Some may view celebrity and corporate feminist advertising as the hijacking of fundamental feminist principles for monetary gain or publicity. This is true but we cannot ignore how corporate and celebrity machinery can also be used to neutralise negative perceptions of feminism and bring much needed attention to subjects that are taboo or under-represented. Feminism has been viewed as anti-feminine and misrepresented by many as misandry. Perhaps, a re-branding of feminism is exactly what is needed. It may be a temporary fad, before both corporations and celebrities move on to the next cause but that shouldn’t prevent feminists from capitalizing on the platform now available to us. #MaketheBestOfIt.

One of Us Needs to Be Kept Off the Streets, and It Isn’t Me.

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S had just stepped out of a bar with a girlfriend. Both ladies walked at a brisk pace to S’ car, a short distance away, clutching their handbags tightly. “Nice big backside ah…” yelled a taxi driver as he drove close by, leering. A nearby parking attendant looked at them and shrugged whilst other bystanders, affluent-looking pub-crawlers, appeared nonchalant or pretended not to notice.

V, a social worker, walked out of a police station with her client, a domestic abuse victim. The husband of the victim accosted them – harassing both women using obscene language and physically intimidating them. The husband was even bold enough to threaten to divorce his wife and “marry V forcefully” to teach her a lesson. All of this took place in the presence of security guards and other bystanders who were content to watch the drama unfold and laugh at the women whilst a man publicly humiliated them.

A young Muslim girl, still in her teens judging from her nondescript secondary school blue-white baju kurung and headscarf, was standing next to me in the train. We were in the middle of a relatively uncrowded train car. She was unremarkable in every sense of the word – her dress, her mannerisms, her general state of exhaustion – and did nothing to draw any attention to herself. The LRT en-route to Ampang stopped at Chan Sow Lin station – this time though, a little longer than usual with the doors to the train remaining open for passengers to walk in. Loud laughter erupted. Wolf-whistling and sucking noises followed – I look up from my book to find a group of Malay men attempting to “make eyes” at the girl. She looks dead-ahead and is unflinching – believe me, whatever tension or fear this girl felt… it was palpable to me. The men continue. “Tak nak tengok ke… alahai.” “Pergi mana lewat petang ni?” Their focus was on this young lady, mind you, a young schoolgirl, modestly dressed and in a train-car with adults – yet, they were unafraid, unabashed. I could have sworn the headscarf-clad lady seated in front of us was looking admonishingly at the young girl, as if to say, “Why are you going home so late?” or “It’s your fault that they are behaving the way they are…”

We’ve barely skimmed the surface when it comes to examples of public harassment, in the Malaysian context, of women and other minorities. Unwanted sexual (or just unwanted) attention from strangers, unwanted physical contact (touching, stroking, groping, grabbing) or any kind of pressure to cooperate sexually or show a favourable response to the harasser is street harassment. A distinction can be made when harassment manifests itself in a physical form – this becomes actionable in law, if and only if a victim is brave enough to pursue legal action against their harasser. What, then, of non-physical forms of harassment? Wolf-whistling, catcalling, crude sexual jokes or remarks by strangers – or otherwise sexist or discriminatory behaviours and micro-aggressions intended to make a person feel uncomfortable or fearful of being in public spaces?

What about the men who do not or would never harass a person, whatever his personal scruples about the way a woman or effeminate man dresses or behaves? A number of men express their disapproval (albeit tacitly, for the most part) of harassment only because they are able to relate it to a close family member or friend who happens to belong to a victim-group. “I would never do such a thing! Imagine if it were my mother/sister/wife/daughter?” Sound familiar? The trouble with this rationale is that men require a personal reference point when it comes to determining their attitudes and actions towards women or LGBTQ persons. The rationale fails simply because it tells us that men in our community do not regard women and LGBTQ persons as human beings with the right to occupy and enjoy public spaces without fear of embarrassment or any kind of harm, in the same way that men do.

We, Malaysians, pride ourselves on upholding ‘traditional’ Asian values. Respect for women and our elders in a family-orientated society would be consistent with this value system, one would say. What, then, would trigger a person (or a group of people) to engage in behaviours that are contrary to this value system? I have a number of male friends who swear that some harmless forms of harassment (catcalls, wolf-whistling) are really meant to compliment women. This, of course, is not much different from that all-too-familiar explanation for why men engage in crass and vulgar behaviour (even if it manifests itself in subtler, seemingly innocuous ways, but are essentially micro-aggressions) – that an unaccompanied young woman, or a person who dresses or carries themselves in a certain way (in our culture, an effeminate boy or man or transgendered person, for example, are not exempt from street harassment) or, is “asking for it” or “deserves it”.

Perhaps we are due for an examination of the problematic aspects of the ‘traditional’ Asian value system: paternalism (an anachronistic concept in itself) and male chauvinism . On the one hand, it emboldens and encourages men to publicly humiliate women or LGBTQs who do not conform to what is perceived to be consistent with our values. Some men consider themselves self-anointed moral policemen with the “power” and “entitlement” to chastise and humiliate victims they view as outliers – women who do not conform to “modesty” or ethno-religious codes and our social mores, for example, and LGBTQ persons who are viewed as deviants. In recent times, several campaigns by morally-conscientious men intent on warning women to dress/behave appropriately or suffer the consequences have received publicity. Think the Thaipusam spray-paint group and the National Muslim Youth Association’s warnings to avoid using emoticons and wearing perfume (amongst other haram activities) on Valentine’s Day.

On the other hand, you have men who may not directly engage in street harassment but, by their silence or non-action, fail to outwardly oppose or make it known that such behaviours are unacceptable, whatever the circumstance. This failure is untenable because it is tantamount to what street harassers may view as tacit approval or endorsement of their actions, and normalises their behaviour. This is the bystander effect: when passers-by who witness harassment and have the capacity to interfere or at least attempt to protect the victim fail to do so – and in some cases, join in. This includes those in positions to lawfully interfere – note the security guards and/or police officers in the examples above.

A measure of how civilised our society is, is how we treat those who are victimised and oppressed. We pride ourselves for being Asian-centric in our values, in observing customs built on courtesy, respectful and dignified behaviour. Or, don’t we?

It appears, in 2017, we are still battling the prevalent view that the victims are culpable when they find themselves in the path of harassers. Our society has a tendency to victim-blame and victim-shame instead of addressing systemic factors that continue to embolden harassers – and worse, inadvertently endorse harassing behaviour in an effort to regulate the private choices of women and LGBTQs. This is endemic of a society that has yet to achieve one of the most basic tenets of any civilised society – the freedom for everyone to live their private lives and occupy public spaces free from harm. Women and LGBTQs in Malaysia are especially vulnerable because they lack power and self-determination, and have been conditioned to view themselves as the problem.

We are not alone in our struggles, however. India, for instance, has had “eve-teasing” laws since the 1970s. Scotland, as recently as 2016, is attempting to make “wolf-whistling” a hate crime and Argentina is considering the criminalisation of “catcalling”. Some may view these measures as being excessive and harsh, as they involve penalties. A discussion on whether legislation may serve to adequately solve street harassment merits a detailed study. Laws may not be the be all and end all, and they certainly cannot effect meaningful change in our society if they do not go hand-in-hand with a socio-cultural re-engineering or reconditioning. However, it is an excellent catalyst to generating much-needed discussion on street harassment and how it must be viewed as impinging on the fundamental human rights of women and LGBTQs.

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