BEWARE OF THE F WORD
March 10, 2014 —Few words are more divisive, controversial or misunderstood than of “feminist.” Though good ole Merriam Webster, defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal political, economic, and social rights and opportunities,” many women and men are reluctant to identify as feminists even if they do in fact support gender equality. For some, the concept of feminism is simply outdated and unnecessary, given that men and women are basically equal on paper in today’s American society. For others, the label is one that is too complicated, too convoluted in contentious historical context to defend, especially since feminists have predominantly been portrayed as angry, unattractive and unlikeable man-haters who burn their bras and don’t shave their legs.
Last November, Elle U.K. magazine attempted to combat people’s negative perceptions of the word and make the movement more relevant to the modern woman through “rebranding.” While the ads that three ad agencies and three British feminist organizations developed bring some key points to light—the persistent problem of unequal pay, the limiting stereotypes that society applies to women vs. men, etc.—the concept of branding a diverse, complex movement is controversial. Elle U.K. received much criticism for, as Carey Dunne of Fast Company put it, “treating the advancement of women’s rights like a dated product that needs to be dusted off and made cool again.”
While in the world of advertising we place great emphasis on the process of building strong, evocative brands, is it possible to effectively boil feminism down to a simple infographic or print ad? Could replacing feminism with a new, more inclusive word make it less intimidating? Or would disowning the word devalue the history of the feminist movement and the women who fought for gender equality when such an idea was absurd? Where is the appropriate balance between maintaining the integrity of a product, service or idea and allowing it to be accessible to the masses?
As one Buzzfeed article points out, feminism can’t be easily summed up in a two-page creative brief. There isn’t one key message, and being feminist can have a wide variety of meanings to different women depending on their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, sexual orientation, etc. However, the fact that we still live in a world where girls grow up learning how to avoid being raped, where women are constantly slut-shamed when displaying ownership over their own bodies, and where I feel the need to carry pepper spray in my purse on my five-block walk to and from work every day proves that feminism is still necessary, and the media can be a great platform for the advocacy of important issues when used in smart, creative ways.
Case in point: Beyoncé’s most recent album. Her song “***Flawless” features an excerpt from distinguished Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” TED talk that overtly defines a feminist as “a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” The inclusion of this passage spurred countless articles and discussions online and offline, helping educate mainstream audiences about feminism and inspiring significant conversations concerning female leadership, reproductive rights, sexual assault and what feminism means to people of varying backgrounds.
Ultimately, support for and understanding of feminism is critical to our all being able to freely actualize the potential of our full, complex humanity and live lives based on our own personal desires rather than societal expectations. As Amy Poehler recently stated in response to an interviewer commenting that many people choose not to call themselves feminists: “But then they go on to explain what they support and live by—it’s feminism exactly … I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.’”
Sources: Jezebel, Fast Company, Buzzfeed, KQED, Huffington Post, Elle U.K.