"This is what a feminist looks like"

Young women are wearing their feminism across their chests. Is that a bad thing?

Published February 24, 2006 9:12PM (EST)

How do you know you're a feminist? If it says so across your chest. Women's eNews features an interesting story about the most recent feminist slogan being worn on T-shirts across college campuses: "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like." Although my first reaction was "I have got to get me one of those!" some women find that such a message blazoned across a woman's chest strikes a discordant note.

ENews reports that "the Feminist Majority Foundation began formally selling the T-shirts through their store in 2003. Since October 2005, the women's rights advocacy group based in Arlington, Va., says it has sold about 650 different types of shirts that say "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like" at $20 apiece to about 80 campuses. Campus chapters, however, can buy them in bulk at $10 a shirt and can then resell them at fundraisers."

In case you hadn't figured it out, the idea behind the shirt is that there are all kinds of feminists. Feminist Majority hopes that by selling the shirt in all sizes and styles (including a baby tee), it will appeal to younger women who might not otherwise embrace such an overt statement of feminism. Of course the irony in this, and what some women are finding so problematic, is that in order to "dismantle stereotypes" about what feminists are like, the Feminist Majority is investing in tight T-shirts that attract attention to the chest in the same way a sexist Abercrombie T-shirt might. Author and journalist Pamela Paul made the point clearest, telling eNews, "I think these T-shirts feed into anti-feminist rhetoric that says that women who stand up for their rights are somehow unattractive, not sexy, humorless and not getting any  Why shouldn't a strong woman look good?  I think it's kind of a sad way to represent power."

This Broadsheeter is not convinced. Feminist Majority has made it clear that it is targeting the shirt to younger women, and while there is certainly a risk that the shirt plays into mainstream expectations, doesn't its message ultimately subvert those expectations? Wouldn't it be refreshing, dare I say powerful, to see a teenybopper wearing that on her chest rather than "So Many Boys So Little Time" or "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"? A shirt with a smart statement that's stylish to boot? We'll take two, please.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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