Inspirational T-shirts and Facebook posts won’t lead to impactful activism

When I went Black Friday shopping, trends from this past year made themselves apparent: Glitter, bold colors and quotes about female empowerment were all plastered on items. As a devoted feminist, I can’t complain about the increased popularity of feminism that the United States has seen in recent years. Yet the majority of girl empowerment one sees on clothing or stickers is a washed out version of what the activism represents. And it has spread past feminism. Many young people are now showing support for causes such as gay rights or the European refugee crisis because it has become a part of popular culture – but they aren’t doing anything effective.

While wearing merchandise is a great way to start showing support for your beliefs, especially when proceeds donate back to worthy causes, the efforts cannot end there. The shirts that are being mass produced and sold all throughout local malls in the United States do not actually contribute to ending problems like gender inequality and animal cruelty.

The majority of people who wear these shirts are not truly doing anything to fight for these causes. The same can be said for people who support animal rights but blindly support PETA without acknowledging its history of killing animals, or people who donate to Susan G. Komen for breast cancer, a company who only gives 25 percent of its proceeds to research to find a cure. Wearing a shirt, owning stickers and sharing posts on Facebook are all performative activities that are not going to help shift the system. But that doesn’t mean we can’t. For real change to happen, students need to go out and take action to actually help the community they want to support by volunteering at local shelters and organizations and donating to their respective causes.

Purchasing merchandise to show support for causes can be problematic in itself. Wearing a shirt with ideological phrases that are purchased from retail stores are not actively helping to create a change. Rather, they help support the corporate facilities that are deeply rooted in sexism. One of the biggest drawbacks of purchasing this merchandise is that most of it is created in sweatshops using child labor, something many of these causes vehemently and rightfully oppose. These ideological catchphrases have made it into retail stores such as H&M and Forever 21 because the stores are trying to appeal to their audience to generate profits. While you are rocking that shirt with the definition of feminist, there are people, 90 percent of whom are women, working in sweatshops to create it. Just like true animal rights activists know not to support Seaworld, one should be aware of what they are supporting and make conscious efforts to do what will help the cause, not inadvertently hurt it.

Many students find it easy to just talk about creating change, but it is rare to see any action being taken to actually bring about any of the change they wish to see. Rather than  “raising awareness,” taking action will help create the change that students state they’re “hoping” to accomplish through the Facebook posts they write. Volunteering with women’s and animal shelters or donating to programs that support medical research are all activities that students on campus can do that will actually help their causes. The outcome of these actions is much greater than the outcome of sharing a Facebook post.

The increased access to merchandise has also allowed people to believe that they truly are supporting a cause because they own the right merchandise. Many of the people who now claim the title of feminist are what is known as “white feminists” who don’t see the effects of race or class on the experience of sexism. Similarly, many people who try and support animal rights by becoming vegetarian end up still unknowingly using products that were made through some form of animal cruelty.

Rather than feeling content with your “Nevertheless, she persisted” pin, go out into the community and give back. Don’t just yell at your peers that eating at Chick-Fil-A is wrong. Go out and help shelter stray animals. Explain why there are negative fundraising companies and try and create a positive transparent fundraiser. Persist, and change will happen.

Alejandra Velazquez, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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