Feminism is a topic that is completely saturated, involves a lot of he says she says, has a convoluted history, and a seemingly impossible solution. But through the extensive cornucopia that is consumerism, social media, marketing, news, and just – you know – living and being a human, we ingest so much information that intrinsically conditions us to think, feel, and behave in a certain way. The power players that control what we consume have tailored a movement that essentially comes from the minds of the oppressed. How is what we consume affecting us? Are we wired to be sexist? Is feminism just another product we are being sold and if so – how is this marketing technique used to distract us?
All day every day, something is being sold to us in one way or another. The subliminal messages within an advertisement can tell us a lot about the relationship between the seller and the buyer, and the buyers’ relationship with themselves, and we can then pinpoint this to an ideological framework that is being sold to us. Not subliminal messaging in the way it happens in that episode of The Simpsons where everyone gets brainwashed to ‘join the navy‘, but in the way that rather than fighting an overarching power about the inequality women experience, we are having this issue forced onto us, turning this movement into a mode of profit for the people in charge, whether they’re actually on your team or not.
Without completely boring you and losing your attention here, it’s important to acknowledge a very cool cat called Karl Marx and his theory of feminism. Marxist feminism: ‘focused on investigating and explaining the ways in which women are oppressed through systems of capitalism and private property‘. This theory crosses over into topics of materialist feminism and socialist feminism, which again aims to deconstruct capitalist structures that are attempting to integrate women into a framework that is inherently sexist. If you want to know more about this you can read a bit of his stuff here.
By deconstructing the social hierarchy of men vs. women, black vs. white, consumers vs. sellers, and corporations vs. everyone else, the hierarchies within these frameworks begin to reveal themselves.
Through the rise of feminism and female empowerment, we have seen the market shift from trying to sell a product, to using sex and hypersexualization to sell a product, to then using sexualization as a form of female empowerment and feminist body choices to try and sell a product. The end goal hasn’t changed, just the delivery. So within this, it’s very easy to see a company embracing realistic beauty standards to promote feminism, when essentially it’s using this movement to buy into a market by purely telling them what they want to hear.
Has feminism sold its soul to capitalism? And just because advertising doesn’t feature these hypersexualized images, can we call it a feminist statement?
A great example of this is in Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Campaign’. Dove started the campaign more than a decade ago when their ‘Evolution’ video went completely viral and started a discussion about beauty standards within advertising.
A brand that essentially was selling soap at the time, saw a gap in the market and used this commentary on societal standards to lift their brand. After ‘Evolution’ was released, Dove saw a 1% profit increase a month after the video went viral, and by the end of the year had increased a further 3% to 1.5 billion dollars profit for the year. Since then, the company have built an empire tapping into the same market using this as their message. Their product range has expanded to selling shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, and beauty products to maintain a personal image, while promoting the fact that women’s personal image is greatly skewed. And hey I’m not talking shit about Dove, what they’re doing is awesome, but this technique has since spiralled out of control into a form of marketing that can be referred to as ’empowertisement’ or ‘femvertising’.
Walking down the street and seeing a girl (or boy) wearing a feminist t-shirt is an all too common occurrence. The number of products you can get that quite literally communicate your opinion on feminism has exploded in the last few years. And that’s a good thing; freedom of expression, female empowerment and so forth. But does this mean that as soon as you chuck a feminist t-shirt on, or if you listen to Destiny’s Child a lot that you’re a feminist? Do we use this to buy validity or social acceptance within this particular movement? And can we consider this an ethical and reasonable form of advertising, or is it just plain exploitation?
An excerpt from a chapter of the book ‘We Were Feminists Once‘ by Andi Zeisler mentions all the things considered to be a form of female empowerment (according to the media) as follows: “wearing heels, wearing flats, cosmetic surgery, embracing wrinkles, having children, not having children, natural childbirth, epidurals, embracing fat positivity, embracing anorexia, house work, living like a slob, learning self defence, buying a gun, being butch, being femme, driving a truck, riding a motorcycle, riding a bike, walking, running, yoga, pole dancing, doing drugs, getting sober“, the list goes on and on, and because of this it seems that women live in a constant state of empowerment, because literally everything can be considered empowering.
By associating so many different behaviours and symbols with female empowerment, we can see an attempt to change peoples opinions and way of thinking about women, by highlighting that being a woman is empowering enough.
Take a look at this clever ad for tampons, portraying the modern woman in an empowering light.
The brand is tapping into an ideal, projecting onto viewers images of women being strong, fearless, and brave. After being drowned in advertising portraying women on their periods being either uncomfortable and awkward, or twirling their hair with a happy expression as they rollerblade along the beach, an advertisement like this is a breath of fresh air. But we can see how the company is catering to a modern way of thinking, and to a certain extent exploiting that to elevate their brand.
This one takes a slightly different approach, portraying periods in a more humorous light.
So basically an entire generation of girls are going to be completely disappointed that first moon parties aren’t a real thing (looks like a great time to be perfectly honest). The ad hit 2 million views in 2 days, and again is rejecting the ideals we have been taught to accommodate to, by suggesting that periods shouldn’t be as taboo as they are.
We clearly aren’t at a place within our society where the playing field for men and women is even, whether you’re looking at equal representation in the media, the gender pay gap, realistic representations and even gender roles. But during this development and evolution of equality as we come to understand what equality really is, the main oppressors and general entities who for so long were pushing the entirely opposite image of a sexualised, unrealistic standard, have taken the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach, and have jumped to the other team.
A lot of the time it feels a bit like “watch this if you’re a feminist, buy this if you’re a feminist, this is what feminism looks like, consume this if you’re a feminist” and just out of fear of not being labelled a feminist, people do buy the brand that aligns themselves with those ideals. What was once a radical and uphill battle, has transformed into a common and more widely accepted movement, which is starting to be taken on by all corners of media and advertising. The suffragettes would be rolling in their graves. Maybe next we will see veganism more widely portrayed and sold in modern media, because remember, the media moulds to their audience, not the other way around. Don’t feel bad about buying into this whole situation though, after all, sisters should be doing it for themselves.