In a world where market forces dominate and artists are now considered brands rather than individuals, it is not really surprising that the feminist movement has been coopted and commercialized.
With the recent rise of high profile individuals announcing that they are now feminists. From Emma Watson to Beyonce to Taylor Swift, it is only to be expected that big business is also getting in on the act.
In the UK, the energy firm EDF Energy has started a campaign to encourage young girls to explore STEM based careers. Pantene (Proctor & Gamble) have also decided to cash in on this new popularity that is feminism with their ‘Stay Strong’ campaign and accompanying short film ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’. In the USA, Cover Girl got in on the act with their ‘Girls Can’ campaign fronted by Pink, Ellen DeGeneres and Janelle Monae. And there is of course, Always’ highly successful, and in my opinion quite powerful campaign and short film by director Lauren Greenfield, ‘Like A Girl’ which highlights the dangers of using the term “like a girl” in the pejorative sense.
Now, I don’t want to knock advertising campaigns that are promoting equal opportunities in the science or engineering fields or which bring to light the deep-seated sexism in our everyday lives because that would disingenuous. Also, any advert that actually depicts women as human beings as opposed to caricatures from a Harry Enfield sketch is fine by me.
However, before we all start high fiving one another that big business is now on side with feminism and all that goes with it; equal pay, maternity and paternity pay etc., we need to remember that no matter how inspirational or how smart these ad campaigns are, each companies main goal is for you to buy their product and for them to increase their profits. The name of the game is money, and the word feminism just happens to be where the money is right now.
Before we start awarding them the “most feminist organisation” prize, we should begin looking at these companies’ track records. Pantene and Cover Girl have both made millions of pounds telling young girls and women that the only way we can be “beautiful”, “confident”, or “empowered” is if we have long swishy hair and wear the right lipstick and mascara. All of which has been communicated to us through a series of highly photo shopped and distorted images.
So what am I saying? Yes, I think we should applaud these companies for embracing the feminist tag particularly Always and EDF Energy who actually asking the difficult questions and trying to remedy them; either through equal opportunity in the field of work or trying to change a dominate cultural narrative. But we should also skeptical as to why these companies are only now embracing the feminist movement and what policies are like behind the scenes. Do they offer equal pay? What are their maternity/paternity benefits like? How do they tackle office sexism? What do their childcare arrangements look like?
A company can make the most polished, inspirational and heartfelt short film but it means absolutely nothing if that company is not backing it up with real and decisive action.
What will be most interesting to see is that when feminism is no longer the most popular kid in playground, whether these companies will still continue to promote a feminist agenda. We will just have to wait and see won’t we?