For feminists, Frida is a symbol. Her paintings and ethics are a stronghold for third-wave feminism, intersectional identity, and radical politics. In our current political climate, Frida is the perfect representation of what young women and girls want to subscribe to. Her face is plastered onto the backs of our denim jackets, sewn into our tote bags, and printed onto our mugs; we wear her face like an indicator of our morals. We don’t have to explain ourselves if we are represented by Frida.
Herein lies a danger: we have allowed capitalism to relieve us of feminist responsibility. Instead, we use the symbol of Frida to speak for us.
What makes this so dangerous is that wearing Frida as a symbol goes against so much of what she stood for. Her Marxist politics stemmed from her role in the Mexican Communist Party and the necessity for revolution against Mexican colonialism. She wasn’t radical for the sake of being radical – she didn’t use politics as a personality trait. For Frida, her progressive politics was essential to her existence and to the story of Mexico. Her art actively accounted for Indigenous Aztec narratives and glorified Mexican history to the extent that Western history is traditionally glorified.
Industrialisation was therefore the enemy of the individualisation and national pride of Frida’s paintings. She witnessed exploitative capitalism in the United States, and painted the threat that commercial culture has on feminism, culture, and identity. Unfortunately, commercialism today is taking advantage of Frida’s identity more than ever. The very underpaid, over-exploited people that Frida fought for are the people making our wearable symbols. Garment workers in third-world countries – 85% of which are women – are making our jackets and totes in exchange for minimum wage in inhumane working conditions. Mass production of clothing and accessories with Frida’s face on them are marketed and sold to us like advertisements of a feminist club that we can be a part of. All we have to do to be a part of this club is sip coffee from her plaited hair and stalk the uni campus with her unwavering stare on our backs. Capitalism has become the fast ticket to the Frida Feminist Club.
By purchasing these items as ‘cardholders’ of the Frida Feminist Club, we disengage with the politics she stands for, passively ignoring the call to action that today’s feminism still very much requires. In wanting to visually stand alongside Frida, we turn to the commercial version of her. We have found ourselves completely subverting Frida’s legacy by using her enemies to our advantage. We no longer hold ourselves accountable for the feminism and politics we subscribed to. And there is nothing feminist about this.
We have turned Frida into our modern-day Jesus. It is as if she went through physical, cultural, and gendered adversity in exchange for our inactive, disengaged participation in adversity. She is our martyr, her face plastered to our walls for us to walk past and think, she did so much for us, and continue walking. But we cannot mistake her hard work as an invitation for us to rest. If she is Jesus, then let her be resurrected through our actions.
We can still have a Frida Feminist Club – I would be the first member – but it must work in harmony with Frida’s feminism. We can accept that our lives are inherently capitalistic by nature, but not let our values and ideas fall victim to capitalisation and commercialism. While Frida spoke through artistic symbolism, she didn’t do so as a convenience or tool of passivity; her symbols actively posed challenging questions to her audience and rewrote Mexico’s patriarchal and colonial narrative.
In the Frida Feminist Club, do not wear her face on your bag. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Call out injustice and demand inclusive representation. Celebrate cultural diversity and create space for gender intersectionality. In other words: engage in action. Hold yourself accountable.
I do want to point out that this isn’t a fanclub. I don’t mean this as a gatekeeping distinction: we are all fans before we are fighters. But in the spirit of engaging in action, it is important that we transform our appreciation for her art into advocating for what her art stands for. As fans without active engagement, we can easily fall into the colonial pattern of appropriation and fetishization. We cannot disregard all the inspiration and influence behind her art, either, or else our support is tokenistic and surface-level. In our Frida Feminist Club, we can learn from all the materials she learned from: Mexican votive paintings, surrealism, Mexicanidad, social realists, and folklores. (Again, learn from them, not appropriate.)
For our club, her paintings are a map, filled with landmarks and roads which we can follow to discover an unfiltered, culturally rich history that can inform our feminism. Her paintings guide us to explore our identities and the ideologies that shape them – she did not finish the job for us. The map isn’t complete. It is up to us to take back the cultural, political, social land that the patriarchy and industrialisation so thoroughly plundered. Frida is showing us how to. Put down your mugs of coffee. Take off your jackets and roll up your sleeves. Join the club.