Stealing Feminism: Why I’ve made my peace with “feminist” marketing by Gabrielle

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Here’s something I’ve been pondering about lately: how do I feel about marketing companies riding the feminist wave?

By this, I mean Dove creating the “real beauty” campaign; I mean Always’ “run like a girl”; Dior’s “we should all be feminist” T-shirts…

I mean institutions that have, in the past, made profits by actively promoting a sexist, one dimensional view of what a woman is and should be, now profiting by turning their coat and hopping onto the renewed “girl power sentiment” band wagon that is sweeping across western nations.

For example, Dove is owned by Unilever, the geniuses behind the Lynx narrative of “spray yourself in our stuff like it’s Smidge on a camping trip, and hordes of skinny white women will bow down to be your sex slaves”. (Totes works by the way guys – there’s little I can resist less than a man who smells like secondary-school-changing-room-deodorant-fights).

Now the same guys are telling us that they’re promoting a positive image for women.

My first reaction to these was a defensive “aw heeeell no!”. Don’t you evil soulless corporations swoop down and steal our hard-earned feminism! How dare you? Shoo! You can use your macho stereotypes and archaic patriarchal messaging as marketing material – stay on your own turf!

But upon reflection, I guess that’s not totally the point, huh…

The fact of the matter is, the feminist narrative is becoming more commonplace. The voices of those fighting for equal and fair representation are being heard and even becoming slightly mainstream (see merchandise reading the word “feminist” in high street shops like H&M).

While I don’t think that something as complex and intricate as gender/feminist theory can be easily dumbed down to a simple marketable message, I also don’t think that normalising the feminist “brand” is necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, surely that’s a good thing! If we are inching ever so slightly closer to a world in which saying “I am a feminist” is no longer a socially damning offence, then huzzah!

Of course, there are unfortunate side effects to this development (here’s looking at you, endless stream of all female cast remakes of beloved old Hollywood blockbusters); like companies distorting and distilling the message of feminism until it is barely recognisable (oh Bic, I have no doubt you tried so hard…); or hiding under a feminist guise whilst really perpetuating patriarchal messages (Dior could have thought twice before using hit-your-girlfriend-in-the-face-with-a-telephone-Johnny-Depp to feature in an add whose message was “what would you do for Love?”).

And yes, it’s a marketing ploy.

And yes, it’s about money not convictions.

And yes, they have made money from creating and feeding into gender based insecurities, and now they’re also profiting from fixing these issues they have helped create (isn’t that always the way?).

And yes, that irks me.

But overall, I’ve decided to make my peace with this one. If large companies borrowing tid-bits of our long history of fighting for equal rights to sell some deodorants means more people see being feminist as something that is not only acceptable, but desirable – I’ll tolerate it.

The whole point of social movements is for them to become so mainstreamed they become moot. And if this new wave of feminism-inspired advertising means a generation of kids growing up with a glimpse at more than one way of performing their gender, then how can I complain? Isn’t this a better message to grow up with than this?

So go ahead, sell your “woman power” booty shorts. It’s cool.

Just know: I’m watching you!

(A threat that is sure to keep Unilever on the straight and narrow).

Pictures courtesy of Audi USA and Giphy


Gabrielle Blackburn is one of our fantastic blogging network members. As a cognitive scientist and a feminist activist, she is interested in exploring the roots and consequences of prejudice and bias, especially those relating to gender. She also enjoys good beer, pole dancing, and confusing people with her unidentifiable accent.

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