Selling Feminism (Well Kind Of)

fem·i·nism (noun): the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

The big F-word has been a hot topic for a long time now, but feminism has garnered an even stronger spotlight in the media this year through endless commercials, campaigns, and celebrities (we all know I mean Beyonce) advocating female empowerment and body-positivity.

However, an underwear company Dear Kate has recently been catching criticism over its advertising campaign for their new Ada Lovelace collection for that same reason. Named after the first computer programmer Ada Lovelace, the lookbook for the collection of lingerie features female founders and CEOs of tech companies posing in “high performance underwear for high performing women”. Critics of the photo spread argue that Dear Kate is undermining the credibility of women to be taken seriously in a predominantly male field.

Thankfully, the photos have also garnered supporters who find empowerment through women being allowed to take ownership of their bodies and be intelligent and successful people at the same time. Although only a small company, Dear Kate has gained much of their customer base as a result of their mission to “give women the confidence to do anything by equipping them with underwear that’s up for the challenge.”

Countless other companies have taken similar approaches to their advertisements in championing some aspect of feminism to promote their brand. The feminine hygiene company Always, for example, went viral this year with their commercial “Like a Girl”. The spot features a contrast between adults and children being asked to perform tasks like a girl. When asking the adults to run like a girl, throw like a girl, or fight like a girl responses included a lot of overly exaggerated and weak parodies of the actions. However, when the young girls were asked to perform the same actions they stepped up to the plate and ran, threw, and fought with strength and confidence.

And that’s the keyword here: confidence. Similar to Dear Kate’s mission statement, the Always commercial invites audiences to join them in championing girl’s confidence. But is confidence really the only thing that needs championing? As much as I love the positive vibes of body ownership and empowerment floating around as a result of ads like this, there are so many other important aspects of the feminist movement that have yet to be tackled by brands. Andi Zeisler comments on this exact point in the article “Worst Sales Pitch Ever: The ad industry’s shameless history of using feminism to sell products”.

“the lens is feel-good but safely generic. Most likely, we won’t be seeing ads from multinational brands that urge girls to help close the wage gap, battle colorism in media, or advocate for better labor conditions for the workers who make many of the products they’re being sold.”

Not to say that the people who work at these companies don’t believe in the goals of feminism, but the brands themselves seem more concerned with aligning their reputation with a popular social movement in the safest way possible rather than actually taking a stand for equality.

In the end, are these brands really selling feminism?


One thought on “Selling Feminism (Well Kind Of)

  1. Ned Randolph

    Great post, and nice effect linking to a previous post by a fellow student. You’ve hit on something important here about corporate appropriation of social movements to sell products. Some would argue that any corporate appropriation presents a skewed version of its homage. So feminism seen through the corporate lens is not feminism at all but the same old demographic targeting to sell products.