Writing for The Independent on 8th April, Joan Smith ponders the important topic of appropriate frillies for feminists*. In her piece, Joan, quite rightly, asserts her right to wear any knickers she jolly well chooses. And that’s fair enough, I’m a fan of nice undies myself, and can fully see her point. However, Joan then drifts off into some very murky territory.
In describing the opening of a new high street clothing store in London, she dismisses it’s customers desire for cheap but stylish garments as some strange quirk of the English, whom she believes:
“…like a bargain, even if the fabric is horrible and it was made by women working for 5p an hour in cramped factories in Bangladesh.”
Apparently, all these bargain hunters should be forking out for designer labels, just as Joan does, because said labels are produced ethically. This notion brings two points to mind.
Firstly, most of the women frequenting the store Joan mentions do not have the necessary disposable income to shop at the kind of outlets she favours. They don’t buy cheap clothes because of some strange, national idiosyncrasy, they buy them because it is all they can afford.
Secondly, since when have designer labels been more ethical than cheaper ones? In the last ten years I have read numerous reports of extremely high profile (and expensive) brands being produced by people working in the very same conditions as those who produce less expensive (and lower status) items. And even if a specific brand does treat it’s workers ethically, it does not mean that the materials which are used in the manufacturing process are from ethical sources**.
The clothing industry is rife with exploitation. That isn’t to say that all companies are the same, many have made concerted efforts to ensure the people they and their contractors’ employ receive a decent wage, and work in good conditions. Some have even turned these efforts into a marketing tactic***. However, it is wrong to assume that simply because one garment is more expensive than another it has been produced fairly.
So yes, Joan can call herself a feminist even if she does wear designer clothes, but her credentials look a little shaky when she derides other women for the contents of their wardrobes.
** Read about the inequities in cotton production
*** An example of a fair trade clothing company – ironically this company have a line at Top Shop, one of those cheap high street stores
More information about the clothing industry’s use of sweatshops.
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Do you remember my post last year about an article on the Indie website in which it was claimed that women don’t blog? It seems they haven’t learnt anything from the backlash to that, and yesterday posted this little gem. So now it seems we bloggers are just a bunch of horrible misogynists – well not me obviously, I’m a woman and therefore don’t blog.
I’m not suggesting that there is no misogyny in the blogosphere – unlike Joan Smith, I don’t believe in making blanket statements about entire groups of people who may or may not be alike. However, I will say that such views are found everywhere, both on and offline. Maybe, Joan doesn’t get out much so isn’t aware of this fact.
Kathy Sierra’s experience is dreadful, but it is hardly typical. Yes, there is a sub-section of male bloggers who get their kicks by belittling women, but in my experience they are a minority. I spend a lot of my online time in a techy, male dominated environment, and for every man who has suggested that I should worry my pretty little head about something other than coding, there have been a hundred others who have helped and supported me.
Many of my regular readers are men, all are pleasant and articulate, and extremely unlikely to harass me, or any other woman. Maybe, I just struck lucky, but I don’t think so. In fact, I suspect the clue to the real reason for Joan’s rant can be found towards the end of her article.
“In this pseudo-democratic universe, the novel that has just taken me nearly five
years to finish has no more value than a blog that someone dashed off in 10
minutes. The sheer quantity of words available on the internet has prompted a
false analogy with the enclosures of common land in the 18th century, in which
novelists, poets and historians are cast in the role of wicked landlords.”
Joan isn’t railing against supposedly misogynistic bloggers at all, she is worried about her book sales and, casting around for an excuse for the lack of success of her novel, her eye has alighted on bloggers. Well Joan, I hate to break it to you, but the blogosphere has no bearing on the success or failure of your book, or at least it didn’t. (Now, you are likely to get some stinking reviews.) I have found bloggers to be voracious readers, and, being realistic, nobody is ever going to think reading a blog post is the same as reading a book, any more than they would read a newspaper or magazine instead of a book. It’s extremely patronising and elitist for you to suggest that anybody would.
You may be surprised to hear that many, many writers, both famous and less so, are amongst the bloggers you so despise. Why? Because they recognise the value in holding a direct conversation with their readers. Maybe you should try it.
Oh, and who has cast novelists, poets and historians in the role of wicked landlords? Any suggestions? Can’t say that is an analogy I have ever come across.
This article was originally published at itisi