Commercialising feminism


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.

It seems I’m not the only one to notice that feminism sells. These two articles seem to see this as a good thing, though with some reservations - the latter article pointing out that,

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.

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Women in Work and Business

I thought this was a good opinion piece on the problems of egg freezing, although it seems to misunderstand the intentions of the pop-up project, which, from what I can tell, are to highlight the very problems the piece is arguing need more highlighting.



Came across this and thought of what you were saying here:

Here is my radical proposition: what if we stopped spending so much damn time trying to lie to ourselves about how beautiful we are and started focusing on things that actually mattered?

What if we just took beauty out of the equation completely?

I’m not saying that you have to stop buying lipstick or shaving your legs, or that you have to walk out of the house unkempt, unshowered, and uncaring. I actually really love getting dressed up and doing my hair and attempting to apply makeup (although goodness knows I need help sometimes). I enjoy “feeling beautiful,” but I recognize now that I don’t need to spend all of my time worrying about whether I actually am beautiful or not.

And then:

You don’t have to be beautiful. It’s not a requirement. If you are, great, more power to you — but it shouldn’t matter either way. I know that I want more on my tombstone than “Here Lies Kaila: She Was Attractive in a Socially Acceptable Way.” So: my advice? Get away from the mirror and make a positive contribution to the world that doesn’t have to do with your looks. I guarantee that it’ll make you feel beautiful on the inside, where it counts.

I thought it was quite a good article.



That was a really good article!



Not-Very-Feminist Business Lady Successfully Co-Opts Feminism as a Marketing Gimmick. Hooray?

The headline says it all - a woman realises women are a good market for her period-absorbing underwear and suddenly discovers feminism. It then goes on to explore how young women seem to misunderstand what feminism means.



I thought this was a really interesting interview with an author of what sounds to be a really interesting book,

From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl: What does feminism mean in an era when it’s being used to sell lipstick?



A great article on the corruption of the term ‘empowerment’,

From shopping to naked selfies: how ‘empowerment’ lost its meaning

But the biggest irony about empowerment is not just how utterly meaningless – disempowered, I guess – it has become as a term, but how those who claim to feel it and those to whom it is sold are the ones who need it least. It is no surprise that I see so many adverts promising empowerment, because I am precisely the kind of person to whom empowerment is now marketed: white, thirtysomething, educated, middle class with disposable income. I don’t need to be empowered anymore than Kardashian does. Only those already in possession of quite a lot of power would feel empowered by leggings, or a TED talk, or naked selfies. Empowerment has become not only a synonym for self-indulgent narcissism, but a symbol of how identity politics can too often get distracted by those with the loudest voices and forget those most in need of it.



Don’t Fall For the New H&M Campaign

This is a really good piece that gets to the heart of my misgivings over the trend for companies to use ‘feminism’ in their advertisements. The author shows how H&M exploits its supply staff (typically poor women) and fails to cater to the ‘plus-size’ market (how I hate that term) despite using them in its new ad.

H&M doesn’t care about women. They do not care to muddle the feminist message in their campaign with affirmative action in their garment factories. They just want to capitalise on the idea of empowering females in order to sell their clothes. But feminism isn’t a trend to be enjoyed for autumn 2016, nor is it a privilege that is only supposed to be accessible to women who can afford to shop. It’s a longstanding commitment to equality in both the developed and developing world.



Apologies to the Misogynists, But Women’s Existence Is Not a PC Marketing Device



What Was Dove’s Thought Process on This Racial Transformation Ad
Oh look, it’s another poorly considered attempt to commercialise intersectional feminism.