The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.
Florence Given is a British illustrator, feminist activist and writer. Just this year she published her debut feminist memoir entitled ‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’. WDOYP encapsulates Given’s feminist discourse which she publicises on Instagram: “a feminism built on a foundation of recognising your privilege, unpicking your internal bias, learning to fall in love with yourself and battling dragons along the way, all on your own”. I have not read Given’s new book, but I have followed her on Instagram for some time, and like many influencers her presence is captivating, open, and bold.
Recently, Given has come into the limelight not for the success of her new book, but by young feminists calling her out, feeling that they have been duped into reading a collection of 2014 Tumblr feminist posts and not something original. Such surface-level feminism, branded by pink, flowery graphics, line drawings of tits flaunts feminism as fun, accessible and easy – just dump your boyfriend, grow out that armpit hair and you are on the path to female empowerment.
I will not deny that Given is communicating some important points and using her illustrative talent to do so is a clever tactic to entice her audience. It goes without saying that social media is a visual world and combining feminism and art can pack a punch if you want to inform people. Moreover, to declare her feminism oversimplified because of this, and because she might be speaking about something you know already, comes from a position of privilege. Not everyone has the access or time to be wading through feminist texts on JSTOR.
However, more at stake here is the issue of Given capitalising on ideas that many before her were ostracised for. Chidera Eggerue, known by her pseudonym The Slumflower, has accused Given of using the work of black women, as well as imitating her own work in What a Time to be Alone, as well as How to Get Over a Boy, a chapter in which is titled ‘I don’t owe you pretty’. Although she has acknowledged the influence of other black feminist works on her own: ““I had to listen and I had to learn, predominantly from black women. My understanding of these topics would not have been possible without the work of the following women, who I am dedicating this book to”, The Slumflower is calling for her to match her words in donations to the black community.
In the words of Dreama G. Moon, white feminism is “failing to hold women accountable for the production and reproduction of white supremacy”. In the case of WDOYP, we see evidence of this as Given profits hugely on research initiated by black women and where they do not see the same kind of recognition. This is problematised even more by Given’s influencer status, including her coining the term ‘the Floss-Effect’ – the effect of having read her book and subsequently having a breakthrough – stories of readers coming out or dumping their boyfriends are displayed proudly on her Instagram stories and feed. One Twitter user condemns Given for taking credit for LGBTQ persons for coming out.
As Moon puts it “the centering of women’s experience becomes a double-edged sword; that is, endeavoring to advocate for all women yet, operating from a singular identity or positionality that consequently jeopardizes the feminist project”. As some have pointed out, when a thin, middle-class, conventionally attractive white woman tells you to love yourself and becomes a token for feminism, it can feel a little artificial. Not only this, but a large part of Given’s platform involves the promotion of intersectional feminism – when this becomes part of her brand, things become challenging. The Slumflower demonstrated on her Instagram stories that Given’s book comes up when you search ‘black feminist books’, which shows how Given has absorbed the spotlight of black female authors.
This article is not to discredit Given’s work, especially as she has not had a chance to respond to the recent outroar, something which The Slumflower has also emphasised. It does not solely accuse Given, but at a world hellbent on endorsing the work of white people. Even in writing this article I am contributing to the glorification of young women in the spotlight like Given who are seen as the pinnacle of feminism, until they are not.
The power of white feminism should not be ignored but interrogated, and we should always be cautious about feminism that is sprinkled with glitter and sold on a t-shirt. And we are the ones choosing to buy these t-shirts every time.
Image courtesy of Markus Spiske