In today’s time, feminism has not remained a genuine commitment to gender equality. The idea of empowerment has become commodified through marketing campaigns, overshadowing the true essence of the concept. This piece explores the nuanced landscape of feminist advertising by dissecting empowering advertisements and exposing the questionable motives behind them.
This is a world still often designed to please men. Even though significant progress has been made, the existence of unconscious, underlying misogyny is undeniable and has been passed down through generations. And against the backdrop of this misogyny, the world of marketing often comes into focus. As a strong cultural force, the industry shows and strengthens stereotypes about women. When companies use feminist ideas to make money, it highlights a gap between their empowering words and what they actually do, making it an important area to talk about where unfair gender beliefs are concerned.
The battle cries of feminism, which were meant to break glass ceilings, now break sales records. At its core, feminism embodies an expansive belief in advocating for the dignity and empowerment of all genders. However, that belief gets lost when it’s used for profit. While feminists aim for freedom and equality in opportunities, sometimes this concept is exploited and used for personal gain, diluting the true essence of the movement. It’s important to see through these false claims used by the capitalist market and advocate for genuine progress.
When a company advertises its products as “women-friendly,” it may sound uplifting and true to the spirit of feminism. However, when the same company doesn’t align their policies and ideas with the ‘feminist’ image they try to exhibit to the world, that is plain exploitation. They will assure you that all colours are beautiful, but they will implicitly encourage you to buy their skin-lightening products to make you even more attractive. They will claim to reject racism, yet they will never cast anyone who is not ‘conventionally attractive’, aka ‘light skin and slim waists, to play the lead. They proclaim that women are more than just sex symbols but equate bigger breasts with more audience attention. And amidst all this hypocrisy, they’ll continue to emphasise their adoration for each individual, no matter the shape, size, or color.
AXE, a men’s fragrance brand, produced infuriating commercials about multiple “picture-perfect” women fawning over a single man for the purpose of endorsing their “masculine-smelling” deodorant. It clearly reinforced the idea that a woman is only good to enhance a man’s image and for nothing more meaningful. On the other hand, Dove sold shampoo bottles shaped like different body types to instill body positivity in women. Although this campaign appeared to have positive intentions, it was not perceived in the same way. Had it not been public knowledge that both these brands share the same parent company, Unilever, it would have worked out more favourably for the brands involved.
The intersectionality of feminism is often overlooked in these marketing strategies. Companies often exploit the idea of intersectionality to reinforce stereotypes and uphold traditional gender norms. They use factors like race, class, and gender to target specific groups with tailored ads, which can deepen existing inequalities and reinforce societal norms. This approach ultimately maintains the status quo and contributes to marginalisation and inequality.
While some argue that even surface-level activism raises awareness, the bar must be set higher. Big corporations that treat feminism as a brand or a tool for profit should be held accountable. It is not merely a question of contradiction in opinions or brand strategies; it is a matter of blatant hypocrisy, which, in turn, makes it exploitative. Intersectionality demands a more nuanced approach that acknowledges the diverse experiences of women across race, class, and other intersecting identities.
Trigger Warning: Instances of sexual harassment in the upcoming paragraph.
Take the case of ‘Thinx’, a company that set out to break the stigma surrounding menstruation by taking an innovative approach to period products. While they too seemed to be genuinely committed to feminist ideals, their workplace practices told the world otherwise. Miki Agarwal, the CEO of ‘Thinx’, faced severe criticism and legal action from her own employees, accusing her of engaging in unethical conduct, making inappropriate sexual advances, and unfairly dismissing staff members. According to a detailed complaint filed with the City of New York Commission on Human Rights, Miki Agarwal touched an employee’s breasts and asked her to expose them, talked about her own sexual exploits in business meetings, frequently changed clothes in front of her employees, and multiple other incidents that resulted in uncomfortable working conditions. These allegations shed light on a troubling reality within the company, revealing a stark contrast between its public image and internal practices. A poignant example of the pervasive hypocrisy that infiltrates the corporate world, especially in the industries claiming to champion feminist principles.
Even in companies that are supposedly termed modern or liberal, TV ads still cling to old-fashioned ideas. They often use only male voiceovers, which make men sound more important. And when they show women, it’s usually doing housework, like they’re stuck in the past. Even though some companies try to change this, many stick to the old ways because they think it works. So, ads on TV keep pushing these outdated ideas, making it harder to break free from old stereotypes.
In this world of marketing, men are applauded and celebrated when all we are given is a mirror. Distorted. We are forced to see ourselves through the eyes of society. The unspoken reality is that companies aim for male empowerment while perpetuating traditional gender norms for female consumers in order to sell, and what’s worse is that it seems to work just fine.
We’ve been given the short end of the stick since the dawn of humanity. It cannot be denied that we have come a long way, but the question remains: is our progress real or just a better disguise for the old biases against women?
As we deal with the complexities of feminism today, it’s important to acknowledge the steps forward while staying aware of the quieter forms of gender inequality. As long as this capitalism-driven world continues to prioritise profit over principles, the tagline of feminism remains at risk of becoming just that—a mere tagline.
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Featured Image Credits: medium magazine.nl