This post was originally written and presented for my Cultural Influences unit while doing my MA at Southampton Solent University in Creative Advertising in May 2015.
Emma Watson held a UN speech on feminism for the HeForShe campaign launched in September 2014, turning feminism into a public debate topic discussed globally. It received great response on social media and has inspired all over the world. The idea is to have governments, businesses and Universities agree to specific commitments for gender equality. One of the topics raised is on the misunderstanding of the word ‘feminism’ and that it is associated with ‘man hating’.
Feminism and Postfeminism
The Oxford dictionary defines the words as following:
Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
Gamble (2001) defines feminism as such : “A general definition might state that it is the belief that women, purely and simple because they are women, are treated inequitably within a society which is organised to prioritise male viewpoints and concerns.” The belief was therefore if the male gender is strong, the female gender is weak. Is feminism then simply an excuse for women to rise a riot against society? Nicholson (2013) talks about how from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s, the feminist theory displayed a repetitive motif. The viewpoints that where discussed and theories that where raised where merely the point of view of white, middle-class women of North America and Western Europe. It therefore might not seem equal to the different classes and races as the viewpoints seem to be rather limited, despite of what feminism stands for.
An example that Gamble (2001) talks about is modern times feminism in popular culture where the Spice Girls have used the term ‘girl power’. Even though they were in short skirts and bra tops singing about sexual intercourse that might seem a little conflicting and degrading their stand. They still represented a strong female identity and sexual freedom.
Time Magazine (2014) proposed a poll list of words that should be banned in 2015, ‘feminism’ was one of them. On the list it was debated that the label should not be used as a political stand but to focus on the the topic of equal rights in itself. The poll received strong reactions and was debated to the point of where the magazine had to apologise for their statement. Other words listed where ‘bae’ ,’OMG’ and ‘YOLO’, this puts the word into perspective on how serious the word ‘feminism’ may be taken.
Moss (2014) has argued that the fourth wave feminism is not only being led by politicians or academics as presumed. It has become a debate of women in their twenties who could be presumed as the figurehead of feminism in 2014. These are women who are discouraged with the topic of sexism. It has emerged into a discussion amongst the public as well as in politics. Laura Bates (2014) started the “Everyday Sexism Project” to raise awareness on the topic. On the website women post stories of their everyday sexist experiences The website is used as an exposure of small and lager incidents where the women get to express their feelings on the topic of feminism and sexism.
Postfeminism: A person who rejects some earlier feminist ideas as out of date. However this is the official definition from the Oxford Dictionary postfeminism is very complex as it has different meanings and practises.
Tasker and Negra (2007) states that ‘Postfeminism broadly encompasses a set of assumptions, widely within popular media forms, having to do with the ‘pastness’ of feminism, whether that supposed pastness is merely noted, mourned or celebrated.” They argue that as post feminism is a reaction after feminism it can be celebrated as a good or a negative thing. Is feminism alive or dead? Or is it a way to situate contemporary feminism to continue the the long history of the women’s movement? They further argue “What appears distinctive about contemporary postfeminist culture is precisely the extent to which a selectively defined feminism has been so overly ‘taken into account’, as Angela McRobbie has noted, albeit in order ‘to emphasise that it is no longer needed” (Tasker and Negra, 2007. p 1-3) It might be seen as though feminism is no longer needed in a more modern society where ‘we have it all’ and it may be argued that the genders are equal in the perspective of past feminist history. However, postfeminism talks about the same topic as much as feminism. Does that make them just as bad or good? The complexity of postfeminism is from who's point of view the topic is discussed.
Kim (2001) talks about how Carrie Bradshaw from the HBO TV series ‘Sex and the City’ could be classified as a postfeminist. The TV show and lead character show ‘pro woman’ theories on how they are independent and talk about sexuality, identity and subjectivity but antifeminist on still having the need of finding a man in their life. They illustrate the struggles a modern day life woman may have with balancing femininity and feminism. It might be a representation of independency but still have a need for a man in their life to take care of them. It might also be portrayed as third wave feminism.
Ealasaid Munro (2013) mentioned that many commentators have argued that the internet has delegated a shift from ‘third-wave’ to ‘fourth-wave’ feminism. The internet is a good place for debating and opens up the opportunity for anyone with internet access to join any debates desired. This makes it accessible to create a ‘call out’ culture in which debates around feminism or postfeminism can be challenged (Munro 2013). This is seen on websites such as “women against feminism” created by the author Laura Bates (2014) and “the everyday sexism project” arranging debates and campaigns online on sexism towards women. Raising every day issues on how women are treated in different environments.
Do we see change in our society today in gender equality? It depends on who you are asking and what they see or want. The statistics from you.gov (2013) research show us a change in attitude, but it is slow.
An early example for feminism in advertising is “If you let me play” by Nike (1995) on how sports can influence females positively psychologically and health wise. Children talk about how playing sports can lower the risk of breast cancer, depression and raise self confidence. This can be perceived as a very positive toned commercial arguably focused on women because they are seen as a weaker gender and it is too masculine for a woman to be active within sports. This can also be perceived to present an alternative view, and contradict gender stereotypes supporting the equality focus of the feminist movement.
2. Marketers on feminism. (I’m not a feminist but …)
Zmuda and Diaz (2014) clearly establish how advertisers have previously drawn upon the ‘feminist’ or ‘postfeminist’ agenda to sell certain products. They mention that advertising agencies are taking more responsibility for their own actions on what they are really saying helping brands come forth as best possible not only for the client but for themselves and for the society.
Marketers are however being careful by labelling anything as feminist [Zmuda and Diaz, 2014]. According to a YouGov Poll (2013) an amount of 26% of consumers would portray being called a feminist an insult and only 14% would state the opposite. 19% of the general public call themselves a feminist, but if you ask if they believe women have the right to be treated equally to men 81% would agree. This shows how feminism and postfeminism could be misunderstood and demonstrates that the general public does not have clear understanding of the topic and issues.
Zalewski (2000) states that “radical feminists are the ones the media loves to hate”. “- who is more often than not a fat, ugly woman with short hair and bad dress sense. Typically, there is an assumption of lesbianism too.” Because of these assumptions advertisers choose to replace ‘feminism’ with ‘female empowerment’ and girl power’. This is what David Rogers, Columbia Business School calls ‘soft feminism’. He states that "It's not really about pursuing feminism through government action or legislation. There’s this idea of 'Let's pursue feminist goals,'" beginning internally rather than externally” he said. In essence, the movement urges "'Look at yourself; look at your heart -- change begins with you’”
Becky Swanson, exec VP-executive creative director at Leo Burnett, Chicago says “I don't think anybody wants to talk about feminism anymore. It’s one of the most misunderstood and controversial words out there. [But] if you talk about it as 'girl power,' that's purely positive. At its heart it's not that different from feminism, but it is a fresh new way to think about it.” [Zmuda and Diaz, 2014].
It can be perceived that advertisers and brands are saying “I’m not a feminist but .. we still support equal rights”. It could be interpreted as rather contradictory.
3. The start of a new era?
3.1 What is femvertising and how does it relate to feminism and postfeminism?
Femvertising: Advertising that employs pro-female talent, messages and imagery to empower women and girls. (SheKnows Media, 2014)
Repisky (2015) says the advertising business is now celebrating women empowerment and joining the discussion on equal rights. Women are calling it a new era for feminism. It has even been given a separate name: Femvertising.
Dr. Kilbourne (2010), creator of the documentary "Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women." says "Traditional advertising has remained so sexist. In many ways it's worse than when I started looking at it years ago. ... Given that, ads like these, even though they're not perfect, are a step in the right direction.” Dr. Kilbourne continued to say in the documentary that the average American are exposed to 3000 commercials every day and will on average use 3 years of their lives on only watching advertising of different forms. This gives us a view of the power advertising really has even though most people claim they just ‘tune out’ adverts and not really pay attention to them. This might put the amount of influence advertising can have on their audience.
Dove Real Beauty campaign can be seen as an early example of feminism in advertising, or femvertising as they have used female empowerment as a technique to engage with their target audience. It may also be perceived as postfeminism because this concerns beauty standards which imposes the female imagery in todays media, rather than the foundation of right of woman seeking to deliberate woman in external forces for defining beauty standards.
The campaign was launched 2004. Since then brands like Nike and Always have also taken this technique to use with campaigns such as #Like A Girl and ‘Better for it’. “Women are more active on social media and chances that a female will share something on social media is much higher. -- making up 58% of Facebook’s users, having 8% more friends than male users and accounting for 62% of shares on the social network (The Telegraph, 2015)” Making women a much more attractive target audience to target in advertising campaigns. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, as mentioned earlier, is an early example of femvertising where they show a female model and how the cosmetic transformation models have to go through to make them look suitable for the billboard. They show how she is prepped, put on makeup, has her hair done and photoshopped. Giving the sense that they are showing what other brands are really doing to trick their target audience into buying beauty products that will help you improve your looks. However, Dove is a beauty product made to improve peoples looks.
Femvertising can be a very powerful technique to use on a target audience. “Ban Bossy” A campaign launched in 2014 to encourage girls to be leaders is an example of this. In the commercial they talk about when a man has taken on a leadership role he is the boss, if a woman is a leader she is called bossy. It sounds rather harmless and very empowering to women as they are encouraging girls to ban the word “bossy” and take on leadership roles. However, the campaign may have you feel bad for multi millionaire women who are represented in the campaign for, for example, not making enough money. Some examples of celebrities represented in the campaign are Jennifer Garner, Jane Lynch and Beyoncé. The campaign that has been running since 2014 has claimed several facts that can be perceived to be outdated research. One of the statements where “By middle school, girls are 25 percent less likely than boys to say they like taking the lead.” According to an article in the Washington Examiner (2014) this is from a study conducted in the years between 1992 and 1997 that could make the claim insignificant.
SheKnows did a survey poll including 628 women on their thoughts on feminism and advertising and how it affected their purchases.
They found that the brands that are currently most popular with women are :
[SheKnows survey, 2014]
As these brands have a supporting message in their campaigns.
The Telegraph (2015) claims that women buy 96pc of beauty products, 93% of groceries, 60% of new cars and 55% of home computers, according to Gloria Moss, a professor in management and marketing at Bucks New University. Overall, women hold 83% of all purchasing power [Davidson, 2015]. These are statistics that indicates why agencies are targeting women harder then they ever have done before, and with good reason.
Not everyone may agree on the approach that are taken when targeting women. Fineman (2014) opinion is that “Inauthentic support cheapens the idea of women’s equality, and that is dangerous not only for the purveyors of business behind those token messages, but to the feminist movement itself. Too many attempts to “market to women” seem to me to turn female power into a commodity — or at least, reduces female power into something mostly good for buying more commodities”
When advertising for a product and using vague political stands to increase brands popularity could then either go good or really bad depending on how it is created, perceived and the message.
Bates (2014) told the Telegraph how she sees it as a big difference between coming up with pro-women campaigns with the intent it will go viral and not really having any real message behind it to having a product or a campaign with the principle of equality as a focus. Having a good message to support the brand should probably have the brand support the message just as much to reach a stability.
4. Advertising example of Femvertising #Like A Girl
The ad ‘Like a Girl’ by Always (2014) show us the negative stereotypes associated with being female and what young girls think before they are taught that being a girl is inferior. [Bahadur, 2014] The video has nearly 80 million views world wide (Griner and Ciambriello, 2015) and via social media it seems as if people think they are on to something.
It is simple to see why Always chose this approach when 75% of women say they like ads that feature every day women and 51% like pro-female ads as they feel it breaks down gender limitations. [SheKnows, 2014] These are statistics Always has tapped into and used to their advantage targeting women of all ages with a strong pro-woman message.
They use simple techniques to connect with the target audience. One of them could be “authenticity” to make them seem trustworthy by simply filming the campaign from behind the scenes. It makes it feel like it hasn’t been edited and is if the campaign is un scripted. One thing we see in both the ‘Dove Real Beauty’, ‘Ban Bossy’ and ‘Like a Girl’ campaign is a clack in the beginning of the videos, again, making a ‘behind the scenes’ influenced feeling and giving authenticity to the brand.
The main focus in this campaign is to “Throw like a girl”. Trying to find form different perspectives what it means to throw like a girl or run like a girl. Older teenage girls and boys imply that a person is weaker and feminine when one throws like a girl. The younger actors demonstrates how it makes no difference to what gender one is to the speed of throwing or running and that their entire self esteem is connected to this stigma. However, the campaign is about feminine hygiene products where the product is never even mentioned in the video.
An article form AdWeek (2015) states that a recent study has shown a change in attitude has been inflicted after watching the campaign. 76% of girls from the age 16-24 do not assume the phrase “Like a girl” to be an insult and that two out of three men that had seen the campaign said they would no longer use the phrase and think twice before using it to insult someone.
However, when doing further research on the Always website for the campaign it is shown that they are in a partnership with Lean In and Girl’s Scout organisation, who are the creators of the campaign “Ban Bossy”. As some research mentioned earlier has shown that the “Ban Bossy” campaign did not have well enough research for their claims, could that indicate that Always claims are also inauthentic?
5. Advertising example on sexism Carl's Jr. All natural burger Super bowl ad 2015
A campaign example that is not trying to empower women is the Carl’s Jr ‘All Natural Burger’ campaign.
Carl’s Jr has previously used a lot of attractive semi-naked women being sexualised in their commercials. Their super bowl ad was to no difference. Even though feminism seems to be rising and female empowerment might be 2015’s biggest buzz words, sex will probably never stop selling and Carl’s Jr seems to be aware of that. Their ad that was released for the 2015 Super Bowl half time ad, had already had 9.4 million views in February and staggering 2.5 billion media impressions in less than two weeks. [Nudd, 2015]
The campaign focusing on the all natural aspect as the food they are advertising is supposedly free from all unnatural chemicals. This might give us an indication that their target audience has demanded a higher quality option to their fast food meals. This could input authenticity to the brand as consumers might see that the brand cares what their opinions are. However, the ad might still be considered very sexist.
52.4 million women watch the Super bowl every year. That is 42% of the viewers [SheKnows, 2014]. Even though statistics show that almost half of the viewers are women who watch the super bowl, Carl’s Jr is still mainly targeting men with their sexual campaigns. Although the commercial has a larger amount of views and media impressions it does not necessarily mean they are selling very well. The Daily Mail’s journalist Konstantinides (2015) writes that 51% find the ad offensive and 52% find it annoying. 32% also felt worse about the the fast food restaurant after watching the commercial. Konstantinides continues to say that this leads to a 24% increase to how the audience felt after watching average fast-food commercials . As a result from the statistics it could be questioned wether or not sex really does sell anymore?
Carl’s Jr ‘All natural burger’ commercial
Femvertising might make it seem like society is moving towards a feminist theory of gender equality and that no gender is weaker than others at first. But when looking closer it the type of empowerment on offer that is often at stake, particularly in terms of the Dove campaign. From what can be seen men are rarely, if ever, mentioned in these commercials. So are the brands really saying anything for value in their campaigns? As shown from the “Ban Bossy” campaign, not all the statements are shown to be true. Always also might loose a lot of credibility as they are in partnership with the creators of the campaign “Ban Bossy”. Are the statements shown from femvertising all empty topics or is there something to it?
The Dove Real Beauty campaign arguably, mainly uses women who are beautiful despite that they are slightly larger. Do they fairly represent the average woman when their models could be seen as almost flawless? These models are still carefully picket from auditions based on looks, size and skin colour and not picket out of random from the street.
Although the message is positive, are we really moving forward? It might not be helping society directly but it is however sending out positive messages and it may be a way of reminding adults, teenagers and children that they are beautiful and powerful if they only believe so themselves. But what does the illusion of power help if the society and government and society still treat the genders differently? Action is still needed.
To answer the question ‘is femvertising a result of fourth wave feminism?’ is rather complex, seeing as it is heavily dependent on the message the brand communicates. But as mentioned earlier we see a lot of the discussion of feminism, postfeminism and sexism happening online where the campaigns also may be seen. Therefore it may be a natural development and result from the digital age that we currently live in that might have affected into a re-branding result that is called femvertising.
However we might feel about this topic, wether it is supporting the feminist or postfeminist movement or if the advertising industry is exploiting this concept for their own benefit, it seem as if it is working to some extent. As the Huffington Post (2014) said, “Move over Axe, Feminism is here to stay.”
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