Feminism can’t be reduced to a “trend”

I decided to do my midterm essay on H&M’s new ad campaign, the video of which can be found here: H&M’s New Advert

Honestly I came across this advertisement on Facebook, as it was part of an article that was actually critiquing the extremely popular and praised ad. The article was by Gemma Clarke who founded this website called “Global Hobo,” which is described as “a space for writers to share original views on destinations, experiences and social trends. Our aim is to open our readers’ minds to fresh perspectives, show them new parts of the world and have a good laugh at ourselves and each other.” Clarke’s article can be found here: Gemma Clarke: Don’t Fall for the New H&M Campaign

Ultimately, H&M created an utterly badass video that people have said is redefining the way we view femininity and ideals of what it means to be “ladylike.” The ad includes a wide and diverse range of models, all of whom go against the social norms of what it means to act like a lady. It’s phenomenal, and if it weren’t for all of the underlying, deep-rooted issues with H&M as a company and their morals in general, I would be just as obsessed with this ad as everyone else is. But Gemma discusses quite a few points that raise the question – does H&M truly stand for women, or are they simply taking advantage of this new wave of feminism as a marketing strategy? Staff exploitation, child labor, and stores failing to actually stock a plus-size range are some of the issues she talks about. How can a company preach one thing but act in a completely different way? Well I guess that’s actually quite easy but it’s also disturbing and disheartening. H&M had the opportunity to do something truly remarkable here, but it seems as though they are just trying to capitalize on the current “trend” of feminism for their own profit.

Honestly, it just blows my mind. It blows my mind that huge companies, famous individuals, and people with such a great deal of power just sit silent on the sidelines. The people whose voices could be most heard are the same ones who fall discouragingly quiet. And I’m not going to generalize that statement to everyone with a great deal of power, money, or following, but for the most part, I’m afraid that this is our sad reality. It’s just so unfortunate because those that could actually have the most impact fail to stand for something bigger than themselves. H&M is just one of many, many examples, but if the company actually cared about gender equality and women’s rights, wouldn’t you think they would first make some fundamental shifts in their morals and actions before presenting this image of “we love all women” to the world? I guess that’s just me being idealistic but I thought, as humans, we were better than that.

I spent 6 weeks this past summer in India, among the most genuine, kind-hearted, compassionate, and selfless group of individuals I’ve ever met – the Tibetan monastic community. Those 6 weeks helped me gain a lot of perspective and gave me some insight on what it being to simply be a “human being.” It’s absolutely crazy to think of the millions, probably billions of people that don’t go about their days in the same way – with a genuine and compassionate heart for every individual that crosses your path. Again, I’m being idealistic and I know how remarkably unrealistic that thought it, but is it really that difficult? Is it really THAT hard to just be a good person? Sometimes I swear I keep myself up at night thinking about things like this, because all of the hate, injustice, anger, and violence in the world just doesn’t make any damn sense.

The Crossing – Reaction

Honestly the quote that began this article truly struck me. “ In the Congo you grow up thinking about escape. When I was little, no one asked me what I wanted to become. They asked me where I wanted to go.” Can you imagine being 5, 6, 7 years old and having your friends and family asking you where you wanted to go? I was only ever asked “So Mikaila, what do YOU want to be when you grow up?” and I would respond eagerly with, “I want to be a veterinarian and open up my own animal shelter, Grandma!”

Sometimes it’s just absolutely crazy how disconnected we are from the rest of the world, let alone our own world. It’s crazy that we don’t know about some of these life-altering events that take place right next to us. It’s crazy how much of a bubble we allow ourselves to live in – and not only live in but be content with living in. This is not how it’s supposed to be, this is not how life is supposed to work. We weren’t put on this planet to go in one direction for our entire life and individualize the world that we live in to the extent that we have become so naïve about the world that we actually live in.

Upon some of the boys showing pictures of their “heroes” Dr. Alexander writes, “One wears the uniform of his “good job,” where he works as a prep cook in an overcrowded kitchen. Another is standing beside a cement mixer on a dusty construction site. “They are living our dream,” I hear one boy say over my shoulder.” Is this not unimaginable? The fact that most people in the U.S. would look at these men in Europe and accredit their situation as poor or lower class, and there are boys who consider these men their heroes, living the dream of many, is absolutely absurd to me. Why do we have such extravagant, outrageous definitions of success and life in general? This is one of the many questions of the world that just blows my mind. The fact that the majority will define success monetarily or materialistically is something that I’ve been struggling with more and more. There are these men in the world who just want to cross over into a better life and would be extremely content and even ecstatic about a job as a cement worker and we are concerned about what new sports car we’re going to buy next? I simply cannot wrap my head around this idea.

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Picture taken from Dr. Alexander’s article “The Crossing”

I’m sorry – but is this picture real? The contrast in this image is so shocking but also something I’m vaguely familiar with. You have a group of men – beaten, bruised, and painfully abused emotionally and physically, climbing over a razor-wire fence as the backdrop to an image of a gorgeously groomed and bright green golf course, where two individuals are fully dressed, playing a game of golf. It’s actually unbelievable. When I was in India this past summer I experienced a very similar situation. My class was taking a field trip to the Dalai Lama’s temple, but in order to reach it you had to walk this mile-long path along the mountains.

Of course we were all ecstatic to be visiting the temple and everyone was laughing and smiling until something stopped us dead in our tracks. I’m not sure if you can tell from this picture but impoverished families lined the path we had to walk. Naked children held babies in their arms and all at once they came to us asking for money. They poked us with their fingers as they pleaded, “Ma’am money, money please, money hungry, ma’am money.” But our professor told us that we weren’t allowed to give them anything because if we gave to one we would have to give to all and it would end up turning into an aggressive situation.

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View of Himalayan mountains from path to Dalai Lama’s Temple

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View of the families that lined the path to the Dalai Lama’s Temple

So we walked. We walked with our hands around our bags and ignored these children for an entire mile. I walked away from these kids that I desperately wanted to help. I bring up this example because on this path to the Dalai Lama’s temple is the backdrop of the most incredible view I’ve ever seen, the Himalayan mountains, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, the Dalai Lama’s temple, alongside the most crippling poverty I’ve ever witnessed.

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Front view of the Dalai Lama’s Temple

It’s just so hard to wrap my head around these things; it makes me feel so ignorant and naïve about my world – it also makes me feel so confused. It’s absolutely crazy to think that stuff like this happens every single day; it’s even crazier to think that not enough people care to do anything about it…