Corporate America followed suit. “Up until 2015, you couldn’t swing a tampon without meeting someone or something that boasted of its feminist relevance in places you definitely wouldn’t expect: nail polish, underwear, energy drinks, swiffers,” Andi Zeisler, a co-founder of Bitch Media, mentioned in her book We Were Feminists Once. Spanx marketed Power Panties under the slogan “Powerful Women Wear Power Panties” – with the help of Tina Fey and Adele, who raved about the shapewear. Dior sold $700 worth of shirts blaring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s slogan “We should all be feminists” (and donated a portion of the proceeds to Rihanna’s charity). Companies pasted “The future is female” banners on their websites and annual reports. Sheryl Sandberg (whose resignation as Meta’s COO came on the same day as the Depp-Heard ruling) started her Lean In revolution by enlisting rock stars (and some celebrated feminists) to mark their Lean In moments Post.
At the time, it felt like a breakthrough. “Feminism has skyrocketed,” wrote feminist author Jessica Valenti in The Guardian in 2014. “Feminism is no longer the ‘F-word’; it’s the realm of the cool kids.” Hadn’t the opposition alienated women from feminism for decades by portraying its advocates as unpopular villains? This message permeated the media and pop culture backlash of the 1980s: Embrace feminism and end up unloved, unmarried, barren, and loopy. If feminism was cool now, wasn’t that progress?
“2014 turned feminism into a brand — and that’s not a bad thing,” Quartz captioned an article later that year by a young feminist author named Jessica McCarthy, in which she reflected on the promise of what she called “the new, millennial feminism of my generation.” called heralds.” She understood the concerns of the old-guard “feminist gatekeepers” — that more commercial and prominent feminism could undermine “the collective spirit of the movement.” But she decided there was nothing to worry about. “This new wave of (critically) embracing new forms of feminism,” she concluded, “will never allow them to be sold.”
A legitimate hope. A century earlier, hadn’t suffragists opened suffragist stores selling “votes for women” products, commissioned films, and received endorsements from silent film stars Mary Pickford and Ethel Barrymore—and, by the decade’s end, gained the right to vote?
But mass pop culture was still in its infancy in the 1910s, and the paramount importance of celebrities had not yet defined America. By the mid-2010s, what had once been a popularizing appendage of feminism threatened to become the public face of feminism itself — and a model for how one should be a feminist activist.
A premature referendum on these tactics took place on November 8, 2016, with Hillary Clinton’s defeat. As a result, large numbers of unsung women reverted to the old ways, fostering a cumulative progressive awakening. Not only through the women’s marches that drew millions into the streets across the country, but also through hundreds of local and regional organizing initiatives. Women-led grassroots activist organizations like Sister District, Black Voters Matter, MomsRising, and Flippable popped up in city halls, called community rallies, filed petitions, and called and made calls in a tradition that evoked the long century of American women’s struggle for election.