The Problems with Capitalising on Feminism

The problem of ‘femvertising’ isn’t going away. Georgia Moule-Bettell revisits an issue that has angered the editors and readers of TWSS since its conception. 

Fourth wave feminism has begun to pose many questions and over the last few years, it appears the movement is being used more and more within advertising. This allows us to believe that such a movement can be commodified and capitalised. Yet, can an ideology that strives to find equality between men and women be used to try and sell beauty products? Can the message of ‘girl empowerment’ encourage them to buy a particular brand of sanitary wear? Or even buy a slogan tee that states their stance within the movement whilst simultaneously feeding into the fast fashion phenomenon? Feminism is not here to be capitalised; it is here to solve major problems within society – not to make me buy a particular brand of shampoo.

The biggest problem with ‘femvertising’ is its use within brands that use women empowerment within a completely unrelated context. The haircare brand Pantene released an advert in 2014 with the slogan #ShineStong, telling women to stop apologising and saying sorry. Whilst women should feel strong and have the right to stand up for themselves, speak loudly and not be intimidated by men in ‘higher’ positions, is it really the role of a shampoo brand to tell us this? What correlation is there between having shiny hair and feeling confident speaking up in a business meeting against male counterparts? The truth is – there is none, and the reason they use this narrative is that because they know it sells. Using slogans of women empowerment and equality has proven to sell and effectively advertise companies products. It can be argued that this evolution of ‘femvertising’ started over a decade ago with Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ advert which famously portrayed the process of photoshop that occurs within advertising. Whilst arguably the advert was the first of its kind and therefore using the feminist message in a powerful way, the video is often portrayed for its empowering message and its lesson to young girls that most of the images they see within the media are not real. However, the advert drove Dove’s sales from 2.5 billion to 4 billion in the decade after the advert launched. With its empowering message, it sold products. The advert may have aimed to get across to young girls that they are examples of ‘real beauty’, but they simultaneously used that message to encourage them to buy beauty products to change and alter their appearance.

It’s also interesting to think about how feminism has made its way into fashion. Slogan t-shirts with feminist statements on them have been talked of controversy. Is wearing a t-shirt stating you believe in the movement really enough? How does it really help the inequality suffered by women all across the world? With reference to the fast fashion industry that is beginning to be scrutinised as we enter 2019, it is important to think about who makes your slogan tee reading ‘GIRL POWER’. The fast fashion industry which makes cheap and affordable clothes are also the same brands that exploit women for their work. Many women who work in such factories are paid below minimum wage and not provided with basic rights just so the t-shirt can be made for under a few pounds. Can feminism really be capitalised into fashion items which, instead of supporting the movement, feed into the problem of exploiting low paid women workers? The answer is no.

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Whilst I certainly have a problem with feminist messages and slogans being used for companies to target their women audiences and exploit the movement, in one instance I see it as a powerful tool. The feminine product brand Always has regularly incorporated feminist slogans within their advertising, particularly their #LikeAGirl campaign in which their film aimed to tackle the stereotype of women being weak within sports. Whilst it is undeniable the campaign acted as a persuasive tool to choose this particular sanitary towel brand, I was taken aback by a different campaign. Back in December 2017, I was introduced to a movement called #EndPeriodPoverty and attended talks and protests to truly get behind and support their aims. The movement worked to eliminate the forces making 1 in 10 girls within the UK miss school because they can’t afford expensive sanitary products. However, the brand Always has pledged to change this. Starting their campaign in March 2018 the brand pledge to donate a pad every time a pack of their pads is bought, with over 14 million donations so far.

The feminist ideology behind the Always campaign is brilliant; advertising the awful circumstances young girls have to go through each month and donating their own products to the cause is inspiring. It puts those such as Pantene and Dove to shame, as they act like sheep using feminist ideology to draw in women audiences. You cannot advertise your products telling me I should be comfortable as a woman and then persuade me to buy beauty products to change the way I look. You cannot persuade me to buy the clothes that incorporate feminist slogans which become meaningless as soon as the young girl who stitched it is paid below minimum wage for her work. You cannot capitalise feminism.

Noor Evers and Liberty O’Hagan’s discussion on the issue in 2017: https://twssmagazine.com/2017/09/07/from-womens-lib-to-lipstick/

Read Nic Hamer’s 2017 piece on ‘femvertising’ here: https://twssmagazine.com/2017/12/31/femvertising/

Lara Bodger’s article on fast fashion from TWSS Issue 16, ‘Crossing the Border’: https://twssmagazine.com/2019/01/06/why-fast-fashion-is-a-feminist-issue/

Illustration by Nura Alyah. 

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