The Vagenda

Marks & Spencer Are New Addition to the ‘Feminisn’ts’ List

Marks & Spencer, that place where you buy pants and pudding, has declared itself ‘not feminist’. You may or may not seen the new campaign by Annie Leibovitz featuring such ‘outspoken women’ (their quote, not ours) as Tracey Emin and Ellie Goulding. The campaign is called ‘Leading Ladies’ and also features acid attack victim and campaigner Katie Piper, who, let’s not forget, is there partly because she was subjected to disgusting and deplorable male violence.
Despite this, M&S didn’t want to go so far as to describe itself as feminist. In fact, their spokesMAN for this ladycampaign, Steven Sharp, went a step further, choosing to describe the high street chain as ‘womanist.’ Whether or not Steven Sharp, or indeed, M&S realises that ‘womanism’ is in fact a term coined by Alice Walker to refer to feminist discourse pertaining to the experiences of women of colour remains to be seen as they have not yet got back to us on Twitter, but considering that he described it as ‘designed to celebrate women. To whom clothes are presumably important’, we think: probz not. 
It may sound churlish to suggest that M&S hire themselves a new PR (preferably one with a vagina) to handle questions relating to issues of women’s equality, BUT we suggest that M&S hire themselves a new PR. Not only is Steven suggesting that feminism is somehow not celebratory of women by placing his invented definition of ‘womanism’ in opposition to it, but he’s also responsible for one of the most mundane soundbites regarding women and fashion ever. And for a fashion PR, that’s saying something. 
‘[Women]…to whom clothes are presumably important?’ Well yes, you silly. Not only do they stop one freezing to death and prevent awkward conversations in Sainsbury’s, but they can also sometimes look quite nice. In fact, this sentence encapsulates exactly why M&S’s forays into women’s fashion has been quixotic at best. They simply don’t understand it.
As to the question as to whether M&S have rebranded themselves as intersectional feminists, we’re waiting to see if they take to swearing at people on Twitter for occasionally disagreeing with them (or, in some cases, not actually disagreeing with them at all but writing an article that dares to suggest that their methods may be alienating), and telling customers to ‘check their privilege’ or they’ll ‘call them out’, the bastards. Again, we’re thinking: probz not. 

37 thoughts on “Marks & Spencer Are New Addition to the ‘Feminisn’ts’ List

  1. Wow, was there ANY need for that dig at intersectional feminists at the bottom of the article? Given intersectional feminists are just trying to include EVERYONE, it’s kind of shitty to portray us in that way.

  2. Hi,

    You seem to have made the same mistake that M&S did, and failed to google or do even the minimal amount of research on what you’re talking about. A quick glance at the Wikipedia page for Womanism would make it quite clear to you that womanism is essentially an intersectional ideology, the one which you take the time to slam for no seeming purpose other than Mean Girl giggles at the end of your article.

  3. How do you know what genitals Steven Sharp has? Why is it relevant to his job? Why do you want M&S to have a PR manager with a vagina? What does this have to do with anything?
    Do you just mean you’d rather see a woman in the job? If that’s what you meant, why not say so?

  4. Ah, gotta love the tense-sounding ‘hi’ at the beginning of the comment.

    We know what womanism means. We’re not lambasting the idea of womanism. We’re lambasting the PR’s reinvention of it as something to do with clothes and being pro-women. And yes, we’re having some mean girl giggles at intersectional feminists too. As the comments here show, some of you don’t half take things seriously.

  5. We’re not in the movement, Sarah, we’re a humour website with feminist leanings. You’re welcome to the movement. We’ve already seen on Twitter how ‘strongly’ you feel about it. We’re just here for a laugh, and if we change some people’s opinions while we’re doing it, then great.

  6. It’s a satirical comment on the fact that, if the male PR doesn’t actually understand what feminism is (and it seems that he doesn’t), then maybe replacing him on this campaign (which is female-led) with a woman might lead to some progress.

  7. Such a pity that an article about a pretty poor ad campaign (I mean “ladies”)is ruined by the two huge chips the writer has on their shoulder, firstly that biology defines gender, and secondly, a very strange attack on intersectional feminism. Can we have an explanation of what is wrong with understanding different people face different forms of oppression? Oh and they might like to know if was a term coined by women of colour, since they are so upset about appropriation.

  8. OK, so why didn’t you say you’d like to see a woman in his role then? “Having a vagina” is NOT a synonym for being a woman.

    I know you’re aware of this because you’ve been reminded of it countless fucking times.

  9. Ooh, I’ll be their new PR guy! I may not be a woman, but I’m equipped with a vagina, which is clearly qualification enough to handle issues relating to women’s equality.

  10. I think you are mistaking digging for merely highlighting the relevant points in the article, because you don’t seem to have read them that carefully. I find it tiresome that, having found yourself blocked on Twitter, you have now decided to come to the blog instead. Perhaps it’s time to accept that we will never see eye to eye and that no matter how many angry tweets you send or comments you leave, that will remain the case.

  11. Yay let’s ALL beat each other about the head with clubs because we disagree with one another! Let’s not engage in thoughtful debate.
    I THINK it’s important to encourage people to talk about all aspects of feminism and I’m pretty sure attacking other people or defensively shouting things isn’t particularly conducive to talking about this like grown-ups. The debate has been opened, how do we all feel about this, constructively? Perhaps that’s a good way to approach an argument or disagreement.
    Imagine if a 13 year-old girl, just starting to get into thinking about these issues, came on here and saw people mud-slinging rather than engaging in informative debates. I’d run a mile.
    I feel like my mum.

  12. I’m 30, and I come on here and read these arguments, and I feel like running a mile. More to the point, I feel as though I’m not allowed to hold an opinion, no matter how thoughtfully I express it or how open I am to others’ points of view, without someone yelling at me about privilege checking. I certainly don’t feel included.

    I feel a bit like my mum too, only less scary as I haven’t yet hit the ‘I am a menopausal woman and I will say whatever I think because just don’t care’ stage which all the women in my family go through.

  13. I actually think that this M&S ad campaign is a positive step in the right direction, despite the fact they fall short of calling it a feminist campaign and perhaps misuse the word ‘womanist’.

  14. Just moving onto clothes for a moment, does anyone else find that M&S clothes always look ok in the adverts, but when you actually go to one of their shops you find nothing but Per Una stuff which is normally lurid green, pink, or both, and covered in more frills, sequins and bows than an your average carnival float? Why is this?

  15. I agree, intersectionalism is incredibly important way of understanding how feminist issues affect women differently dependant on other cutural factors like race and class BUT I feel that the movement often ends up isolating those who voice an opinion that they don’t agree with by shouting them down instead of giving contructive criticism. I don’t often comment on debates like this for this reason.

  16. ‘More to the point, I feel as though I’m not allowed to hold an opinion, no matter how thoughtfully I express it or how open I am to others’ points of view.’

    This is a big, big problem and one we’re trying our hardest to distance ourselves from. Mostly the comments on here are cheerful and kindly, and if people don’t agree with one another it’s usually discussed maturely, although of course a bit of snark is in the nature of the website. If you’re feeling like running a mile then this is bad news, but not unsurprising given the abuse we’ve received from small corners of the internet since starting this HUMOUR (and I feel like I keep having to put it in caps, because a few people sometimes REALLY don’t seem to realise) website. Not cool, and I know lots of other people feel the same way. The question is: what do we do about it?

  17. Oh indeed, and I generally feel these comment threads are a good place to debate in a grown-up(ish) manner. But it is a problem when people feel as though various issues are not up for discussion, or that they aren’t ‘allowed’ to hold an opinion on certain issues.

    Ultimately (here comes the spirit of my mum again), what is needed is surely people being, well, polite to one another. Rather than shrieking immediately (‘SPLITTER!’), a more reasoned approach explaining why you disagree with someone’s opinion and pointing out things they may not have considered would perhaps be a more constructive way of dealing with disagreements?

    We (as in women, generally) certainly aren’t going to get anywhere if we spend more time arguing amongst ourselves than we do fighting for change. The sad thing is, I half expect to get shouted down just for saying that!

  18. It’s so sad isn’t it, one of the problems I have day to day as a lady (I’m one with a vagina) is that I’m not taken seriously. I don’t want to then read an interesting article that I may or may not agree with then get shouted down for agreeing or not agreeing with it. Obviously just letting people snark (great word) at each other whilst the grown-ups go and debate at the adult’s table is one way of ignoring these people but the louder they shout the more they can drag people into their own argument. Ignoring people can sometimes make it worse (not unlike catcalling, which would be so much more inventive if it t’were done in Monty Python style).
    I’d hate people to feel they can’t contribute to any kind of debate or restrict a freedom of speech but I’d also hate anyone to feel they weren’t welcome somewhere because it’s become just another place to troll.

  19. Also, just as an aside, there’s an e-mail address all over this site and on twitter. If people are that bothered why don’t they pick up a pen and write an informative, friendly and hopeful article on the mistakes we are making (in their own informed opinion) and then it can get published and we can all see how lovely and balanced these people are when they are allowed to have their say.
    What I’m saying, I think, is at least the Vagenda have picked up their bloody pens to DO SOMETHING to draw awareness to these issues.

  20. As a lady with boobies I spent a long time boycotting M&S (apart from their food aisle because who can live without their wrapped vine leaves?) because they made bras over DD and charged more for them.
    But not for size 10 and 18 dresses.
    I can choose my tummy size a LOT more than I can choose my breasticle size.

  21. Yes, we try and make clear that we have an open door submissions policy, and that provided your piece is well-written, and preferably funny (although we will run the occasional first person piece that isn’t, but it needs to have a bit of sass( then it will probably get published.

    However, none of the clique who have been so quick to criticise us have ever emailed or pitched us anything – surprise surprise

  22. I’m not part of any clique but I too think that the jibe at womanism was in bad taste. It seems like you think that it’s part of the “funny-cause-it’s-true” humour category. Or something? I’m not sure what the point was in that.

    If you truly want feminism to be inclusive and to have comments with polite debates then making a “joke” which looks like it came out of an MRA handbook is probably not the way to go.

    “Oh look it’s the hysterical feminists” has just been replaced with “oh look it’s the hysterical womanists”.

    It left a bad taste in my mouth after a pretty funny article.

    Also feels with the trans people for the “vagina” comment.

  23. Yeah, the thing about taking jabs at intersectional feminism – which is about acknowledging the experiences of queer, trans*, black, disabled or otherwise marginalised women – is that it’s punching down rather than punching up. Which is the same reason many feminists have a problem with rape jokes that make fun of the victim and privilege the PoV of the rapist.

    And also, suggesting that their “methods may be alienating” – isn’t this really just another form of tone policing that most feminists had to deal with? I know I’m incredibly sick of being told to be more pleasant and reign in my anger or speak gently and smile at the people who are telling me my lived experiences are not a real thing. Hence, it seems like major bullshit and also hypocrisy to then turn around to women who also experience oppression because of their race/sexuality/etc and tell them they need to be more polite if they want white cis straight able-bodied feminists on board (and, as a result, a lot of them don’t).

    So yeah. Punch up, not down… or I guess in this case, across at a group of people who are largely working from the same belief system.

  24. I stopped read for a few months and hoped it had improved, but I’ve just read several articles that have convinced me otherwise. The subject of most articles is great, but so often it ends up being snide, having a little dig, or saying something that makes me think ‘sigh… that is why I get crap for being a feminist.’

    I will definitely start submitting articles for consideration, I didn’t know that was possible before, so that makes me happy. However, the comment addressing that was still really, I don’t know… immature and mean. “However, none of the clique who have been so quick to criticise us have ever emailed or pitched us anything – surprise surprise” Maybe they’re not writers, maybe they don’t feel confident submitting to a well known blog, maybe they (like me) didn’t know it was possible. The Vagenda used to be my ‘safe place’ on the internet, it made me laugh, and it let me share fantastic feminist opinions with others without them feeling they were having my ideology thrust upon them. But now it’s starting to feel like I’ve gone back to college, and everyone is a teenager who thinks that belittling others for the sake of making their friends laugh is excusable.