It is hard not to notice the abundance of products now created and advertised using feminism – t-shirts with feminist slogans, feminist lipstick and car commercials that are supposed to empower women are just a few on the very long list. All this is part of the phenomenon called femvertising .
So what is femvertising? Femvertising is an advertising strategy that capitalizes on our societies increased the desire for social justice and change, by employing feminist ideals in their advertisements. It is not a new development, that brands make use of currently trending topics or movements to market their products, for example back in the 1960’s coca cola developed their first diet product in response to an increase in awareness about the effects of excess calorie and sugar consumption. However, femvertising is a different matter, because not only has the way products are marketed been replaced but instead the way feminism is perceived has changed as well.
On a very basic level, this can be considered a good thing because an immediate effect is that the perception of feminism has changed. It is no longer a word which people either refuse to label themselves with and connect to a vast array of stereotypes or simply don’t know anything about. Instead “feminist” has become a popular label amongst both men and women. The positive effect is a change to our collective mindset, feminism is no longer something banned from discussions and reserved for a small group – no in 2017 Feminism has become something we all ought to be concerned with!
With celebrities like Beyoncé and Joseph Gordon-Levitt proudly proclaiming that they are feminists the message sent out to everyone is that feminism is most definitely acceptable. While it is wonderful to imagine a future generation growing up in a world where feminism has a positive connotation, that’s about where the positives about femvertising end.
The most obvious issue with femvertising is that a marketing campaign will never have any other motive than to promote their brand and product. Brands can run as many advertisements as they want, in which they proclaim their desire to make the world a better place, but that fact will never change. As a result of any ‘social justice campaign’ will only intend to change consumers’ opinion of the brand, not solve the actual issue.
That is especially evident when brands donate incredibly small amounts of their earnings, like a dollar for every 100-dollar t-shirt or donate to vague unspecified causes without listing an actual credible charity. In addition to that, brands often fail to have any intentions of supporting a cause for the long term – once the femvertising hype is over, so is their concern for feminism and as Jessamy Gleeson told i-D magazine “whenever this wave is over, I want us to be left with more than a Beyoncé album and a t-shirt”. Of course, this applies only to those even able to purchase that t-shirt, because, despite all their vocal equality talk, most brands focus exclusively on western feminism and those customers able to spend $700 on a piece of cotton.
Another issue is that the type of feminism marketed by brands is different to real-world feminism – it is a watered down, inoffensive version that Andi Zeisler describes as “marketplace friendly feminism”. Anything about feminism that could be remotely threatening, uncomfortable and unappealing to their consumers has been removed to create a type of feel-good-feminism that can mean many different things such as simply supporting women having the right to make their own choices (mainly about very ‘important’ things such as the type of mascara they want to use).
The concerning effect of this is that the meaning of feminism is being lost to the general public as well as the perception of what it means to support a cause. Anna Leszkiewicz writes “it depends not on who labels themselves feminist but on what they’re doing with feminism” but exactly that is starting to lose its significance. The act of buying a t-shirt is replacing the act of protesting on the street and working to evoke real change.
While this feel-good-feminism has undoubtedly been able to alter the once negative image of feminism and provided a few new platforms for discourse, the bottom line is that it has failed to serve as a stepping stone towards real change. We have simply stagnated in a state of consumerism that serves to help only ourselves by expanding our wardrobes and egos.