LOS ANGELES – Last month, Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld closed out the label’s Spring/Summer 2015 Paris Fashion Week show with some of the world’s top models stomping out on an artificial street for a staged feminist protest.
They carried picket signs saying “Ladies First,” “We Can Match the Machos,” “Women’s Rights are More than Alright” and “Make Fashion not War,” as Chaka Khan’s hit “I’m Every Woman” blared out over the loudspeakers.
This from the designer who called Adele "fat" and said he didn't like Pippa Middleton's face as much as her backside.
“Using a fashion show purportedly to spread ‘feminism’ should spark disgust among all women," said Katie Yoder, a fellow in culture for the Media Research Center. "With Karl Lagerfeld’s past criticisms of curvy women, the message he sends appears hypocritical and suggests that white, thin, tall women are the only acceptable champions of the movement.”
But Lagerfeld isn't the only fashion icon touting feminism as the new "It girl."
The Conde Nast-owned Style.com published a post titled “Is Donatella Versace Fashion’s Sexiest Feminist?” followed by the observation that “feminism is emerging as a strong Spring ’14 theme.”
TheFashionSpot.com then remarked that the industry was “squeezing (the term) to death.” But the fashion world isn't the only one doing the squeezing. Emma Watson’s speech on feminism and gender at the United Nations to launch the gender-equality “He for She” campaign went viral, and Taylor Swift also recently announced she's a feminist.
So what do all of these people have in common? In an Op-Ed for The Guardian last week, Purdue University English professor Roxane Gay says feminist messages are only being embraced when delivered in “the right package,” i.e. a young, famous pretty person.
“While feminism previously inspired advances like voting rights, the movement has evolved into an obnoxious liberal clique today,” Yoder said, adding that true feminism "would include all types of women and all views on what feminism can mean. It should encompass all women and recognize the intrinsic worth of each and every life.”
And while many have framed fashion's feminist movement as a cheap publicity grab, others argue any exposure prompts much needed conversations around women’s rights.
"I don't think it can be said often and loud enough that we still have to work to make this world a safer, fairer and happier place for women," said Hollywood-based model and writer, Ariane Sommer. "Regardless whether it is expressed through Karl Lagerfeld, one of the most iconic fashion designers of the world, staging a protest as a fashion show, or by honoring Malala Yousafzai with the Nobel Peace Prize.”
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