Femvertising: powerful or phenomenally patronising?

What Mel Did - Femvertising - powerful or phenomenally patronising?
Image credit: Melinda Fargo

I was reminded this week to go back and examine how I feel about the recent spate of advertisements pushing female empowerment.

This Wednesday, 8 March, is International Women’s Day and the theme for 2017 is Be Bold For Change (#BeBoldForChange). We’re being asked to call on the masses and/or ourselves to help forge a better working world. A more inclusive, gender equal world.

Can’t argue with that.

It did remind me though to go back and examine how I feel about the recent spate of advertisements pushing female empowerment. (Think Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, Pantene’s ‘Not Sorry’ and the mother of them all, Always’ ‘Like A Girl.’)

My pause is whether these companies truly believe in their positive messages about female advancement – or whether they are just riding this gravy train until it congeals.

Indeed, does motive even matter given the positive messages being sent to girls and society at large to question how women are perceived and treated?

Of course, it can only be a good thing that young girls are given the message early on that they are not less than. That their beauty lies in the strength of their self-belief and not how shiny their hair is.

It is, however, the implied aggression in some of the recent adverts which trouble me. Here I am looking hard at the Always Ultra Sanitary Pads advertisement with DJ Phoebe D’Abo. The rhetoric includes:

“As a woman, I can step aside or I can rewrite the game. Defy expectations.”

I do find this advertisement irritating because there is an assumption here that women begin as inferior beings. That from the get-go it is up to us to prove ‘someone’ wrong.

In life, not everyone will be undermining us as women; not everyone will be trying to nuke our female power – not everyone will have low expectations of us.

The Maya Angelou message for the latest ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, designed to bridge the gap between women and sport does, I think, a better job of celebrating and rejoicing phenomenal womanhood. Angelou’s words, from her poem ’Phenomenal Woman,’ are stirring in their conviction and one reaches the end feeling a sense of accomplishment. We watch a variety of women do their thing (jiggles and all) and we are not asked to infer all baby girls will require boxing gloves to fight the enemy the moment they leave the womb.

What I would say to my daughters is not to assume the defensive worse – which is a disempowering and depressing stance in of itself. That they should navigate the world assuming they will be treated equally and empowered and valued. And if they are not? Then Be Bold For Change and take action as a phenomenal woman.

Always the brand urges that “not even a period should stand in a woman’s way.”

Let’s also include advertisements not standing in our way – advertisements designed to sell product.

Do most of these adverts care about women? Maybe yes, maybe no. I would only ask that we use our brains when watching to sift out the positive message(s) from the hype.

5 Comments

  • Did you see the ad for the Scottish referendum aimed at housewives who were undecided? The message was – we understand that it’s complicated and you might not understand all the implications of an independent Scotland. It’s so complicated for all you housewives that we recommend you vote ‘No’ (or was it ‘Yes’?) – why rock the boat when things are ok as they are? No need to go deeper than that if your pretty little heads can’t manage it.

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