The Future Is Yours

Providing a community wide Camel Assembly is centred around a message of inclusion: the future is not female, nor male, but yours, and will belong to those bullish and creative enough to believe that to be true. Though active in many cities, we chose to bring this thought-piece to life via collaborative mural in one of the world’s most creative communities: Los Angeles.

LocationsLos Angeles

Video

#TheFutureIsOurs

By: Keshia Hannam (Co-Founder, Camel Assembly)

I get tagged in #TheFutureIsFemale posts a dozen times a week. And each time, I feel an uncomfortable tug somewhere in my navel because ultimately, I don’t agree: I don’t believe the future is female. At least not solely.

“Despite all the challenges we face, I remain convinced that, yes, the future is female,” declared 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a video address on Makers Women earlier this year. Though the importance of Clinton’s campaign and the airtime it gave to female-related efforts can’t really be overstated, the main concern with the sentiment behind #TheFutureIsFemale is that it embodies the very systems and doctrine that ‘contemporary feminism’ seeks to undo. Though ‘contemporary feminism’ is itself a vexing construct to define with a constantly moving centre, one thing is certain: no matter the motivation or end goal, any movement that wants to truly shift consciousness needs the support of both women and men to get there. By promulgating an ethos that excludes half the population, we’re repeating the cycles that for centuries have disempowered the other half of the population we’re now trying to emancipate.

Snapshots of interviews with the hashtag #thefutureisfemale, branded hoodies and mugs, Moleskine covers, sparkly jackets and innumerable other objects that fit the brief for the perfect Pinterest board or an inspirational Instagram are obsessively shared and messaged, serving to align the sharer with the apparent progressiveness the movement stands for. Instagram has over 200,000 tags of #TheFutureIsFemale, which is largely a social media movement, ignited by the ongoing efforts of the Clinton campaign, even up until these recent days. But unlike campaigns such as #BeBoldForChange, or the Women’s Day Marches that suggest valuable, actionable steps and are accessible to all, this particular strain of ideology seems to have remained rooted in rhetoric, perhaps due to its inception as a provocative t-shirt slogan.

A brief history to contextualise: the original “The Future is Female” shirt was designed for the Labyris women’s bookstore in New York in 1972, and in 1975 was captured in a picture taken by photographer Liza Cowan of her then-girlfriend, musician Alix Dobkin. The resurgence of the photo (which went on to become a viral hit) was the result of efforts by Rachel Berks, owner of the design studio Otherwild, who saw the photo and created her own version(s) of the apparel in 2015, sold them, and has been donating a portion of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood since. Solid roots and a story we can get behind. But there’s a feeling that’s where the line should remain – as a component within a story. As a tale and talisman of the 70s, it’s perfect. As a war cry for the current zeitgeist, it’s ostracising, and thereby holds potential to do more harm than good.

Certainly, it’s important not to get caught up in semantics, and in any good marketing campaign the ‘mantra’ acts like a lid on a can of content: it’s the top level banner that’s intended to allude to a meaty interior. #TheFutureIsFemale has been crafted with all the mechanisms that mark successful branding campaigns; easy to say, easy to remember, accessible digitally, unifying (within the target demographic) and emotionally charged so as to incite inspiration. But implicit in the statement ‘The Future Is Female’ is that the future is ONLY female. The future cannot be male if the future is female, and vice versa. What we require is not the breaking down of patriarchal structures to replace them with matriarchal ones, but to transform these structures with systems that treat everyone the same and see no divide – that benefit all and discriminate none.

Pragmatism suggests a good start would be to acknowledge that we probably don’t want to be part of a future that’s ‘female’. The He for She campaign does an excellent job of articulating that we do indeed want a future that’s more female than right now, while including men and garnering support of both sides. So too do organisations like Room to Read, whose literary program has benefited 10 million + children worldwide, with a specific girls’ program that furthers the mission to ‘educate a girl, change the world’, as espoused by the UN. John Wood, the founder of Room to Read and vehement supporter of female emancipation without exclusion, says “I have never been a big fan of alienating any one group of people from work that should be perceived as a just battle.  Any quest for justice needs all possible players on the field.”   

Without doubt, the push for this is becoming more common, as outlined in a recent interview with YouTube CEO Susan Wojicicki, but even towards that end we’re starting on the wrong foot if we’re espousing notions that the ‘future is female’. With this phrase we’re not only tacitly excluding men, but absolving them from the accountability needed to actually make this into a society-wide consciousness shift, rather than a hashtag. Good luck trying to change the world by only talking to half of it.

“We need strong women to step up and speak out. We need you to dare greatly and lead boldly” was Clinton’s address in the video statement post-Women’s March. This is an unequivocally suitable start line and we should all be clamoring to mount the runners’ blocks. We must place responsibility on women to step up and monitor the gender pay gap, drive fairer recognition and credit for women’s contributions, donate to groups fighting abuse, and any of the other specific and empirical suggestions of 2017’s International Women’s Day #BeBoldForChange suggestions. Women must be urged to tell the stories of humanity and physically participate in everything from marches (and huddles) to strikes that incite change and make powerful statements. Women need to lay a path for a unified future wherein structures and narratives are blind to our differences, and therefore we should ask precisely the same of men. The modern revolutionary is no longer obsessed with burning down the village, but with building a new one, and in our context, men and women must be laying those bricks together if we’re to weather any kind of storm in the years to come. But we will know the #thefutureisours when we’re no longer keeping score.