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Making up for make-up: a win for the feminist blogosphere

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August 17th, 2010

By Guest Blogger Janna A. Zinzi, Janna A. Zinzcross–posted at Feministe.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been following this story about trendy makeup company MAC’s inappropriate collaboration with design duo Rodarte. It was reported that the unnamed collection, due to launch in September, was inspired by Rodarte’s trip through Texas which exposed them to Mexican culture; and thus they named a couple of their nail polishes, “Juarez” and “Factory.” The Frisky blogger, Jessica Wakeman, pointed out the apparent insensitivity, since Juarez has received an influx of impoverished people who are looking for work in factories (especially those that produce makeup and clothing) and is known to be a hotbed for femicide and drug violence, notably for the women who travel to work in these factories.

According to In These Times, Rodarte’s designers, Laura and Kate Mulleavy, say their collection was inspired “by the idea of workers in Mexican maquiladoras walking half-asleep to the factories in Juarez, after dressing in the dark,” i.e. underpaid and overworked women in dismal and dangerous conditions trying to make a living and sustain their families. Doesn’t that make you want a manicure?

The good news is that due to the uproar in the feminist blogosphere, thanks to Ms. Wakeman’s post, MAC and Rodarte announced that they would donate a portion of their proceeds to women and families in Juarez who have been victimized by violence. A good PR move, I suppose, but that raised the questions of where that money would actually be going and how much would be donated. Unable to successfully assuage those concerns, MAC and Rodarte then decided to change the names of the nail polishes. Today, as reported on NYMag.com’s “The Cut,” MAC and Rodarte have announced that they have canceled the line and offered this statement:

Out of respect for the people of Mexico, the women and girls of Juarez and their families, as well as our MAC Mexican staff and colleagues, MAC has made the decision not to ship the MAC Rodarte limited edition makeup collection. This decision will have no impact on MAC’s commitment to donate all of its projected global profits from this collection to local and international groups that work to improve the lives of the women and girls of Juarez. We are currently conducting due diligence to ensure we donate to organizations with a proven record of directly supporting the women and girls of Juarez. MAC and Rodarte are deeply and sincerely sorry and we apologize to everyone we offended. We have listened very closely to the feedback of concerned global citizens. We are doing our very best to right this wrong. The essence of MAC is to give back and care for the community and Rodarte is committed to using creativity for positive social change. We are grateful for the opportunity to use what we have learned to raise awareness on this important issue.

I give a reserved kudos to MAC for nixing the line though I’m convinced it has more to do with PR and image than anything else. Call me cynical. But what bothers me most is the flurry of comments on the various posts about this issue that complain that Ms. Wakeman and other feminist bloggers are too sensitive and are blowing this issue out of proportion. Really? Are people’s brand loyalties greater than their analytical thinking or even conscience? Some commentors said that only a thousand women have been killed in the last decade, so it’s being blown out of proportion. What about the fact that most of these murders go unsolved? Would it be better if it was hundreds of thousands? I’m not understanding how it’s a stretch to be offended by a huge multi-million dollar corporation and some couture designers romanticizing and profiting from the hard work and vulnerability of the people who create the very product which they are capitalizing on. It’s hypocrisy and cultural insensitivity loud and clear. The fact that no one at MAC or Rodarte thought this was problematic is astounding. Don’t we live in “post-racial America?” (insert sarcasm here)

If anything, I’m inspired by the bravery of feminist bloggers like Jessica Wakeman to make noise about things that they find to be unjust, despite the complaints that we take things too seriously. It seems like we are often being accused making mountains out of molehills and being too politically correct. Well, so be it, since the blogoshpere not only raised awareness among the public but also gave MAC and Rodarte a teachable moment. Sure this doesn’t have the same urgency as Proposition 8 or restrictive abortion laws but it is food for thought about cultural and economic privilege. Most importantly, this case clearly demonstrates the power of bloggers, and our community, to effect change and help promote understanding.

Guest blogger Janna A. Zinzi is a blogger, social media professional, and an ongoing student and advocate of reproductive justice.

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