It used to be that ‘sex sells’. Now it seems that ‘feminism sells’. Companies are using what used to be called ‘girl power’ to highlight how cool they are. Of course, while I’ve seen many examples I can’t remember any of them beyond this one (mostly because I avoid adverts whenever possible but this one has been on at the cinema where it’s not possible to mute or fast forward). The Virgin ad (in the link), like so many of these adverts, talk about how awesome and amazing women are and only at the end get to the point and actually tell you who the advert is about, normally (for me, at least) eliciting groans in the process.
To remain convincing, such campaigns can’t just push the perceived feminist agenda through a hard sell. They need ads that are built for women by women, from the ground up.
Part of the problem, of course, is that currently only three per cent of creative directors are female.
Another article I found, which directly references the Virgin ad, seems to reflect my concerns more (strangely this is the only article of the three not written by a woman),
Instead of promoting a feminist message within its advertising, it’s taken the feminist message to sell something that’s largely unrelated. Having a fast internet connection is great for human development, but poor download speeds are not one of the key inequality issues women currently face.
Even in the adverts that are marketing directly at women (tampons, beauty products, etc) I still find the co-opting of feminism as a way of selling more of their product distasteful, especially as they often seem to have rather narrow understandings of what feminism is about. For example the Dove adverts, widely held as being the ones to start this trend, are essentially about getting women to buy beauty products (mostly overpriced soap from what I can see). I’m not saying that women shouldn’t aspire to be clean or that being clean is somehow kow-towing to the patriarchy but the women in the ads were all conventionally beautiful. Yes, some were larger than we’re used to seeing in adverts but even so, the point of these ads were to say that every woman is beautiful. But why should we care about being beautiful? Why is being beautiful the thing I’m supposed to care about? Personally, I don’t care that I’m not beautiful, I have far more (to me) important and interesting things to care about but that doesn’t make me any less of a woman or any less of a feminist (it also doesn’t make me any more of a woman or a feminist) but by not celebrating these adverts it sometimes felt as if I was, I don’t know, letting the side down or something.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages but the thing that really spurred me on was this. It’s a really good article examining the new, well, fad, of egg-freezing by women.
It’s a really nuanced piece, looking at the information that women are given (and more importantly, not given) as well as the reasons why individual women choose to freeze their eggs and the cultural reasons why it has become the thing to do for career women. The things I found most interesting is how egg freezing is being marketed to women (one company’s slogan is “Lean in. But freeze first”). In essence, freezing your eggs is being marketed as the ultimate in feminism - having bodily autonomy to the extent that not even your biology can stop you having the life you want.
What the article does so well is explain that egg freezing is not the panacea it’s being sold as - that no-one seems to even know how successful it is, or what the long-term effects of freezing eggs are. More broadly,
Anne Phillips, professor of political and gender theory at the LSE, sees the turn to egg freezing as a worrying solution, “a very troubling individualisation of a problem which is to do with employment patterns”. Instead of fobbing women off with wobbly perks, she says, employers need to reorganise work so that people – men and women – needn’t have to choose between a career and a family. “Egg freezing is an individual solution to what we ought to recognise as a social problem.”
However, the article also points out that it’s not just working life that’s getting in the way of women having children,
“Despite dating apps making it easier to meet people, it’s still hard, and some say harder, to meet someone who will commit to starting a family within the time frame a woman’s biology demands,” says [Amanda Gore, one of the directors of the Liminal Space]. “There’s a sense that we all expect to be able to fulfil certain personal and life goals before having a family, and that biology is not catching up with our social needs. It used to be about finding Mr Right, but now it’s also about finding Mr Ready.”
The article is well worth a read as there’s a lot more in there but it really highlights my problem with using feminism to sell products. Egg-freezing is being sold to women as a way of taking control of their lives so they can ‘have it all’, without explaining any of the complexities or potential complications of the process itself, or the wider implications. (Do women really want to put off having children until they’re in their 40s? Do they really want to be dealing with teenagers when they’re in their late 50s? Or try to pay for university when they should be thinking about retiring?)
I can understand why, on an individual level, it may work for people. Everyone has different circumstances and for some it may be entirely sensible to delay pregnancy. But on a societal level I think it’s a risky idea, not just because of the number of unknowns associated with the science of egg-freezing or that it’s extremely costly, but because it’s allowing society to ignore the problem that women are feeling very much torn between having children and having a career - a problem that men don’t seem to have, at least not to the same extent - and rather than trying to work out ways of solving it we’re just telling women to, as with so many of these problems, figure something out for themselves and shut up about it. The fact that there are now companies charging £1,000s to freeze women’s eggs without seeming to have any oversight or even clear protocols for things like counting the number of eggs being produced (!), it seems that it’s not about giving women freedom but screwing them out of as much money as possible. Not exactly the feminist utopia they’re implying in their ads.