You know those tampon ads that tell you girls can do anything? The make-up ads that talk about the importance of realising your self-worth? The ads for razors that go on about how shaving is your choice? Deodorant ads that encourage you to be a boss in the boardroom? The endless advertising campaigns that toss around terms like “girl power” and “empowerment” until they have been robbed of all meaning?
Yeah, I think I’m allergic to those advertisements. Literally. I think they gave me a rash.
Sure, it’s great that feminism has finally been welcomed into the public conversation. It’s great that young people have even seen the word “feminist” on TV. It’s great that feminism is seen as so popular that everyone feels like they need to appeal to feminists in order to be popular, too.
What’s not-so-great is that most corporate advertising campaigns have no real intention of joining the fight for gender equality.
All they’re doing is borrowing the watered down language of mainstream feminism to sell products to women. Products like razors for your legs and cream for your eye-bags. Products that aren’t marketed to men, and if they were, would probably be cheaper. Products that are meant to help us look more conventionally pretty, and therefore just make us feel more insecure about how we really look. Products that do, nothing, really, but reproduce the tired patriarchal traditions of yesteryear, all the while effectively making women poorer.
But don’t worry, #YouGotThis, #GirlsCanDoAnything, you just have to #FightLikeAGirl, am I right #GirlBoss?
You’ve seen them, these ads that make me break out in full body hives, right? The fast fashion ads that tell you every girl is beautiful and powerful? The mascara ads that tell you to be empowered, to be unique, to dare to dream? The TopShop t-shirts with pseudo-political “This is what a feminist looks like” slogans, that cost $40 and were probably made by women in factories who don’t make a living wage?
These companies use the language of a revolution - of a movement that’s meant to free women from the systems that oppress us - to take our money and keep everything exactly as it is. To keep us exactly where we are.
There’s rarely any promise to commit to helping women or feminist causes. They sell make-up bags emblazoned with phrases like “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and none of the proceeds go to helping women to access equal rights of any kind. I’ve never seen any discussion of what the women at Dove or L'Oréal make compared to the men, of how many women of colour sit on their boards, of who makes their products and how those people are treated and paid.
These corporations have absolutely no intention of doing anything to destabilise the patriarchy. They don’t care if women are empowered or not. They just want our money.
And, as it turns out, there’s a lot of money to be made in trying to convince women that buying products is some act of feminist empowerment. In the years after Dove released its “Real Beauty” campaign, their sales jumped from $2.5 to $4 billion. That’s no small margin.
It’s phoney and transparent. But it also works.
And it makes me nauseous.Support Villainesse