On International Women's Day, I have been thinking about the role that advertising plays on our portrayal of women in the UK.
For example how many times recently have you been told:
- You are beautiful just the way you are!
- You can do it!
- You could be an astronaut or scientist if you wanted to be!
If you haven't you are most likely a man.
For the rest of us, this is femvertising in all its pink glory. Brands being our personal cheer squad making us feel invisible in the face of centuries of discrimination.
Well done ladies, you can do it!
But amongst all this collective back slapping and whooping, I have begun to wonder whether really this is having the positive influence on women's mental state and in fact the overall equality debate that I once thought it had.
I started wondering what effect of all of this recent brand femvertising was having on the debate and in fact how people felt and it occurred to me that maybe it makes things more challenging?
I work in research to ultimately help brands sell more stuff.
For all the dark arts of marketing, selling someone a product has a relative transparency, which to some degree is pretty straight-forward.
You want fancier crisps? Sure, here's a product for that.
Need cleaner dishes? No worries, we've got it covered.
Causes on the other hand, that is a different matter.
A cause suggests a higher purpose, a principle.
Difficult to reconcile when you combine the two.
"Feel empowered (buy more shampoo!)"
"Be beautiful on the inside (try this new moisturiser!)"
If a product is marketed to women it is likely to be attaching empowerment messages.
But this has started to really piss me off.
All these messages of empowerment have started to feel like a massive backhanded compliment.
"Come on ladies, you aren't that shit really!"
Some of these are handled brilliantly. But most of them are not.
The 2016 Barbie ad "What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything?" made me want to puke.
It feels like we have fallen down a gigantic vagina shaped rabbit hole and all that can be heard is an echo chamber of advertisers telling us we can do anything or be anyone (plus if you could just buy this brand that would be ace!).
Moisturisers, Barbie dolls the whole lot.
I don't buy it.
I don't buy it because none of it is saying anything other than it is all possible. Which of course it isn't right now.
Added to which they seem to maintain that the only way of communicating with the female species is to make us all weep at the injustice of our situation.
"Woe is me!" "Alack, alas!"
Yes that's right, women don't deserve to be entertained all we need is a tear-jerker.
As I said, not everyone is criminal of this.
This Girl Can in 2016 and more recently from 2017 has attempted to entertain and amuse rather than simply lament.
And as it is International Women's Day, we've got to ask ourselves who is this advertising serving?
Brands would like you to believe that by buying their products you are supporting women. I disagree. If anything I think it undermines the position of women in the UK.
Rather than empower us, femvertising simply holds a mirror up to a hackneyed, one-dimensional stereotype of womanhood.
If you just watched these ads you'd be forgiven for thinking that womanhood is about bursting into tears at the drop of a hat and requires constant reassurance from those around her that she is beautiful.
Femvertising makes women look weak and feeble.
So how about something feistier? How about something dangerous, daring or risky?
Femvertising needs to stop passing out inspirational quotes and start actually moving people to do something.