* Why do people think they can own anyone’s body, choices or labor? Is it the history of capitalism founded on slave labor that helps create the notion that bodies can be appropriated for a implied better cause?
* Why does labor merit obedience and allegiance to a particular, nation, state, company or cause?
The listed above are questions I asked myself as I thought about the article Buy These Pajamas & Rescue a Prostitute; Or, Why Rescue Brands Are Dumb.
Can buying pajamas really change anything? It is a lofty project founded on the conscience of Western (in this case American) shock and guilt. The “surprise” that will be communicated as “culture shock” of not being aware that people can and do live in conditions dramatically different than theirs, that the spread of global wealth is unevenly spread and focused on the Northern half of the globe. Only when those privileged come into contact with half of the world that is dissimilar to theirs do they realize that even though a portion of the world can thrive in their middle class ideals a larger portion of the world toils with sub-par wages and loss of agency in their daily lives.
Arandhati Roy has long written about the West’s primacy of culture and its aggressive foray into foreign markets. She has said “…Rockefeller and Ford foundations have worked closely in the past with the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency to further U.S. government and corporate objectives.” Is this a White Guilt / Savior complex? Teju Cole has written about the White Savior Industrial Complex in regards to Kony 2012 here. This perspective is especially evidenced in the marketing campaign of Panjammies — as previously stated by the article on Jezebel, an Asian women looks out at the viewers while bracketed by White women who gave inward here but who really needs the “saving” here?
While I think the idea of Panjammies comes from a benevolent source, wanting to empower women so they can earn a livelihood and not be forced into prostitution. This idea warrants a strong response as the current status of women in India (among rape and still entrenched patriarchy) in a heavily misogynist state should be elevated. The benevolent language used to describe Panjammies, “Created by women from India who wish to remain free of sex slavery” women who “wish” rather than “necessitate” or “demand” evokes a poor press release choice of words. As additionally outlined by Jezebel, it is a slogan that signifies a larger attitude of Western tourists’ guilt to be vindicated. A more appropriate response for those who are truly concerned for the women’s futures would require a long term commitment, beyond making pajamas. It would necessitate (in some form of) an on-the-grounds collaboration, working with local organizations, with the communities one-on-one (if those organizations aren’t as functional) and yes, actually committing to live there for a longer or a select amount of time to ensure that the method chosen to work with local population actually (over time will) make a difference.