‘This is what a feminist looks like’: Measuring the Complexities of Fourth Wave Feminism through Fashion in a Transnational and Postfeminist Study
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The fashion industry is built upon the mass exploitation of people and planet. This human exploitation disproportionally impacts on women, and those living in the majority world. Yet fashion is also a tool of feminist empowerment, particularly in the current fourth wave which is mainly orchestrated in social media spaces. Within the fourth-wave movement, however, there is a disturbing lack of solidarity with garment workers. This in rooted in the colonialist structures that divide our world and its people, and subsequently are mirrored in inequality of the fashion industry. By the same token, the meaningful self-expression, self-love and intersectional feminist possibilities created by fashion in its present form must be considered too. These two points, the exploitation of one for the freedom of another, create a feminist tension which this thesis is interested in. Moreover, it asks: how far can fourth wave feminist interactions with the fashion industry be considered transnationally feminist, intersectionally feminist, and postfeminist? Using a robust theoretical framework of postfeminism, postcolonial and transnational feminisms this research will trace and measure fourth wave interactions with the fashion industry. Through semi-structured interviewing of three minority world feminists with varying relationships to fashion, unpacking their lived experiences will produce a rich site of feminist contradictions that both affirm and complicate the narratives that, to adopt the language of Dina Siddiqi, “consuming bodies” in the minority world do not consider the violence underpinning their relationship to “producing bodies” in the majority world. Overall, this thesis seeks to complexify binary notions surrounding fashion and feminism to avoid resigning feminist interactions with fashion as inherently bad (nor necessarily good). Instead through employing Donna Haraway’s concept of staying with the trouble and dissecting the uncomfortable relationship between the toxic fashion industry and fourth wave feminism the coexistence of its empowering (yet selective) feminist potential against a landscape of capitalist, neocolonial labour exploitation will become clear. It is only through realistically addressing what this relationship looks like that we can begin to formulate a way out of it which, undoubtedly, is desperately needed.