‘Femvertising’ is Exploiting Feminism

Brands have commodified the feminist movement for profit

Katie Anderton
Aug 20, 2020 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post
She Comes First. Fake Wokeness in marketing / Unsplash

Feminism has become something of a trend in the marketing world. Yes, a movement constantly berated for being a group of bra-burning misandrists has now become a convenient marketing tool for brands.

It’s unlikely that you’ll scroll through social media without seeing one women-empowering advert. Take Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, or Always’ #LikeAGirl trend as popular examples.

On the surface, these highly emotive adverts seem positive. In fact, the altruistic effort to bring women and girls into the retailing world in a way that for the first time isn’t for the male gaze is refreshing.

That perception isn’t inaccurate. Femvertising, defined as the use of feminism in advertising, is making an active choice to change the way women are seen in adverts and campaigns. Young girls now see outspoken, strong, authentic women, and older generations are forced to reconsider what it means to be a woman.

However, it is all surface level; it doesn’t go any deeper. It sells products but doesn’t help the feminist cause. This kind of “slacktivism” is incredibly common in marketing. Essentially, it’s low-effort activism, which allows the brand to benefit from being “woke” without making any meaningful change. It’s the Black Lives Matter black box fiasco, but with high production value.

Fast Fashion brands like Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing are infamous for branding themselves as feminist allies. As they cheer on Girl Power and sell slogan tops with “Feminist” blazed across them, they also allegedly exploit their workers — the majority of who are women of colour.

Boohoo have also begun sharing unedited pictures of women with cellulite and stretch marks on their Instagram page. Again, on the surface, this seems amazing — finally, unedited bodies on our Instagram feed.

Instagram screengrab

Yet, Fast Fashion brands are toxic for our body image, and many of these companies profit from our insecurities. Something which skinny white women posing in unflattering angles will not solve overnight.

Razor brands like Venus are guilty of this exact slacktivism, too. A company that profits on the patriarchal view that women should be completely hairless created a “My Skin, My Way” campaign. This promotes a “no rules” view on women’s beauty, despite still profiting on sexist expectations of body hair.

Arguably, even brands like Always are guilty of this, with their #LikeAGirl campaign. A company which self-brands themselves as feminist through shareable hashtags and highly emotive adverts still profits from a capitalistic view that women’s hygiene products are luxuries, not necessities.

After Dove released it’s incredibly popular “Real Beauty” campaign, their company grew from $2.5 billion to $4 billion.

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign recognised that traditional beauty adverts showed young, retouched, thin women, and separated itself from it. It declared itself as a company that not only understands “real” women but the only one who creates products for them.

This argument becomes completely void when consumers see products dedicated to firming, eliminating cellulite, and filling in wrinkles. Dove questioned beauty standards, whilst simultaneously failing to recognise their own compliance, as one of the leading companies in the industry.

Importantly, Dove’s parent company, Unilever, continues to sell skin-lightening cosmetics and brands such as Axe, whose entire identity is based on objectifying and sexist advertisements.

Of course, these campaigns can draw some positives, in the sense that they encourage women to feel beautiful. However, by perpetuating the idea that women should always feel beautiful, strong, and confident, the content has just shifted.

Previously, women were pressured to look like the women on screen, now they feel pressured to act like the woman on the screen. The latter of which enforces toxic positivity.

The truth is, companies likely feel pressured to adhere to social standards, especially regarding equality. Femvertising has proven to be a profitable solution to this. Their efforts actively increase brand loyalty amongst the more conscientious consumer, pushes their social media impression, and boosts sales.

To put it bluntly, brands do not have genuine concerns for women, but rather view feminism as a profit-incentive. That’s why their campaigns focus directly on individuals.

It’s a capitalistic, individualistic view of the world. By using social causes people care about, but only appealing to women as consumers, it completely misses what feminism, at its core, is about. Feminism is collective politics. This does not go hand in hand with advertising. Yet, as it continues to be profitable, it will continue to be appropriated by brands to appeal to women.

Companies do not have to be champions or figureheads in the feminist movement. They should, however, be aware of how their campaigns can hinder such movements and their ability to enact the change that they are pretending to be fighting for.

These companies need to hire more women into leadership roles, stop exploiting women in third world countries, and implement diverse hiring strategies. We need to hold brands accountable when they do not practise what they preach — their feminist message should go beyond their marketing schemes.

Women can equally support the shift of female representation in adverts while critiquing the simple fact that brands have commodified the third-wave feminist movement.

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories…

Katie Anderton

Written by

Feminist, anti-capitalist columnist and journalist. katieanderton.com

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

Katie Anderton

Written by

Feminist, anti-capitalist columnist and journalist. katieanderton.com

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store