As trendy as it is, the fundamentals of the feminist movement in no way translate to lotion sales, hair products or even a new pair of running shoes. Industries are taking the ideology of feminism and exploiting the heck out of it.
This is not new. We’ve seen this with many brands geared toward women. Whether its Nike or Dove, these companies have endorsed women empowerment, and it’s working for them. This isn’t to say that everything they are doing is wrong, but it is important to analyze the oversimplification of patriarchal structures that are at play.
Sometimes these messages are backhanded, anti-feminist ways to enforce beauty norms and sell products that will both empower you, erase your wrinkles and minimize your pores. Other times, these messages feel aligned with the core values of feminism and hit us right in the feels.
As we move forward, predictably, large companies selling products to women, move with us. When I watch a Nike Ad geared for women with an uplifting and emotional song playing in the background, empowering language and impressive glistening olympians, this is good advertisement.
It is masked by a message that makes me feel like I have agency and strength even though I know that Nike is just trying to make money. I’m hungry for this representation.
I know that companies need to understand the social climate in order to sell things, that’s how marketing works (after all, I took marketing 101 in first year). Perhaps this means that these feminist advertisements, though oftentimes hollow bandwagon tools, are more or less harmless, and I need to calm down.
First of all, don’t tell me to calm down. Secondly, let’s take a closer look at what modern feminism actually looks like. This movement was born out of necessity for human rights. It needs to encompass intersections of marginalized groups in society, such as racialized people and members of the LGBTQ community. These groups have been advocating for the rights of those around them for years. This is something that white women have been benefiting from, as they move through society with much more ease, representation and safety.
Inter-sectional feminism is not mainstream. The rights of non-white, non-cisgendered women are still largely lacking, stigmatized or pushed out of the main conversation. Ironically and unfairly, it’s because of the work of these communities that feminism has gained enough traction to be used commercially. This amplifies a pattern of exploitation and alienation.
Let’s get back to advertising. The reality is, it’s becoming cool to be politically correct. Historically people have hesitated to bring women’s rights to the forefront of mainstream media, but now it’s profitable.
If you’re thinking that this is the most obvious thing in the world, I urge you to observe the next time an ad comes out, with inspirational music and a tear-jerker narrative about a girl overcoming her oppression. We’re all guilty of retweeting it, making it our Instagram story, and being fooled by the companies who play a large part in our oppression in the first place.
Engaging in a feminist conversation takes energy and patience. It takes listening, learning and being humbled by the stories of those that are affected by gender inequality. It takes analyzing the system that causes the oppression. These industries are biting off more than they can chew. At the core, they are just selling products.
Listen, I’m not trying to take on every industry that ever used feminism in their campaign. Surely we can argue that some good probably has come from a Dove Beauty ad or a period commercial. I’m sure that within these trends lies some authenticity and people who actually care about this fight.
I just think it’s important to keep a critical lens and remember that at the end of the day, feminism is not perfect, still evolving and most definitely not for sale.
Photo by Britanny Clarke