By Tali Kord
In its November issue, Elle magazine has ceremoniously decided to rebrand feminism. The successful fashion and lifestyle publication has taken it upon itself to re-familiarize young audiences with feminism, a movement so often misrepresented in the media and in popular culture that it's resulted in the phenomenon known as "I'm not a feminist, but...".
For their project, Elle has, "invited three feminist groups to work with three award-winning advertising agencies to re-brand a term that many feel has become burdened with complications and negativity." The campaign includes overtly simple Q&A flowcharts which are designed to make you realise that, although you might not have known it before, you definitely are a feminist. There are also adverts inviting women to challenge pay inequality by asking men how much they are earning for similar jobs; and a Twitter/Instagram campaign using the hashtag #imawomanand, where women can express themselves by completing the sentence with supposedly stereotype-defying descriptions. Sadly, most of the tweets seem to be less about empowered women and more about them showing their gratitude and promoting the magazine.
Am loving the very strong divide on @ELLEUK feminism rebrand. #imawomanand I love a twitter debate. Nov issue of ELLE explains all -- sophie b-sheikh (@i_love_lipstick) October 3, 2013
While I appreciate the idea behind this project, and respect the fact that Elle worked with feminist organisations to put it together, I can't help but feel very underwhelmed by the whole thing. A high-end fashion magazine is not exactly the best place for the message to be coming from, and you do have to question Elle's motives. At the end of the day, their main purpose is to make a profit and presenting themselves as an authority and supporter of this 'new' feminist movement, is hardly going to damage their sales.
There is even a problem with the very title. Rebranding is something you do to, well, a brand: a commodity that you are attempting to sell to the consumer. But an ideology is not a hip must-have like a leather jacket or a roll-neck sweater. Elle's November issue's eight-page spread about feminism will next month be replaced by whatever the editors decide is selling well in December. Reducing feminism to a trend is annoying to say the least, and is made even worse when it comes from Elle, a publication full of pictures of thin, beautiful white women and tips on bikini bootcamps. Elle wants you to hashtag to the world about your hairy legs, but I wouldn't hold your breath if you're expecting to actually see any of those on its pages.
To try and make the campaign make sense, the magazine has separated up the various, complex issues of feminism as if they're not all connected. Elle seems to be saying that equality can be found simply through equal paychecks and Twitter posts, rather than through changing the objectification of women in the media; media that includes Elle with its obsession with beauty and female 'perfection'. Yesterday the magazine revealed that the campaign is now being supported by women and equalities minister, Jo Swinson, saying, "Praising our initiative... Swinson says we all need to break a British taboo and start asking our male colleagues just how much they really earn - as it's the only way we'll stamp out inequality." Swinson no doubt meant well, but to have a fashion magazine outline the only way to bring an end to inequality, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, not mentioning the fact that Elle has chosen to reduce the complex problem of sexism to a few bullet points.
Even if we do put aside for a moment the obvious commercial benefit of cashing in on an ideology, and give credit to Elle for discussing such an important issue, the question still needs to be asked: why do it like this? Elle could easily have dedicated those eight pages to intelligent in-depth articles which would illustrate the many faces of feminism and urge its readers to think for themselves. But it didn't. It chose the easy, fun, social-media-savvy way out. Hashtags, flowcharts and simplistic ads are much more approachable, never mind that they flatten the message beyond recognition. It would seem that Elle does not trust its readership to understand complex ideas, having to feed them to us with a big spoonful of sugar. And considering that almost all of Elle readers are women, is that not kind of... un-feministic?