Marketplace feminism insults women’s intelligence

False empowerment in advertisements takes focus away from true activism.

Morgan Mitchell, Writer

As the third wave of feminism picked up speed and popularity in the early ‘90s, it began to bleed into pop culture and become popular and more accepted among young women in America. A poll by the Washington Post showed 51 percent of women between 35 and 49 identify as feminist or strong feminist, while 63 percent of women between 18 and 34 identified as strong feminist or feminist.

A widespread market

In a capitalist society, whatever is dominating pop culture and the interests of a large consumer base at the time is utilized by marketing strategists of major organizations and companies to reel those consumers in. Since feminism and women’s empowerment became widespread ideologies and demands among millennials, marketplace feminism has also become widespread.

According to Andi Ziesler, marketplace feminism — also known as femvertising — is the ad industry “hijacking feminist language, values and activism in service to capitalism.” In simple terms she says it is attempts by advertisers to sell women on their own empowerment. In her book, she claims marketplace feminism is a “cool, fun, accessible identity that is, in the end, depoliticized. This feel-good, hip feminism is about style, attitudes and words, not about confronting deeply entrenched forms of inequality.” Marketplace feminism has been around as long as feminist movements have, but now it seems to be more prevalent than ever.

Many prominent feminists, such as Ziesler, take issue with this brand of marketing. Studies show women internalize messages in advertisements they see and the media they consume. Many women have positive reactions to the empowerment exhibited by the advertisements — the question is, who exactly are these ads empowering and are they enacting change?

Laughable insults

Some of these advertisements do nothing but insult women’s intelligence. As Ziesler points out, their blatant attempts at drawing in women and feminists are sometimes almost laughable. Especially the advertisement put out recently by H&M that got a mixture of praise and criticism. It is obvious they tried to include every ethnicity and body type and address prevalent—and valid— complaints among women right now.

Female consumers, however, were not fooled. Articles have exposed H&M for pulling their plus sizes from numerous stores due to “not having room.” H&M was also exposed for often firing pregnant women and Syrian refugee children were discovered working in their garment factories.

H&M’s only concern was empowering the middle and upper class women who are able to watch these commercials and shop there — they do not care about empowering poor and oppressed women who work in the factories owned by the clothing giant. The goal of empowering women is equality and liberation from oppression, these companies are hypocritical if they use feminism and empowerment as a marketing tool without implementing it into their company’s standards.

We see this as well with the “Fearless Girl” statue now standing in front of the “Charging Bull” statue on Wall Street in New York City. While it may seem like an empowering message that women are drastically underrepresented in Wall Street and have to overcome greater obstacles to be successful there, the company that placed the statue there, State Street, once again does not live up to its own advertised expectations.

Misleading publicity

State Street claims the statue initiates a conversation about an overwhelmingly large number of male board members in companies. “We are calling on companies to take concrete steps to increase gender diversity on their boards and have issued clear guidance to help them begin to take action,” State Street stated in its press release, issued the day before International Women’s Day.

But only three women sit on State Street’s board of directors out of 11 seats — a weak 27 percent. Only 23 percent of State Street’s executive vice-presidents are women and only 28 percent of senior vice-presidents are female. This information is available on their website and after a quick Google search and the fact that State Street does not expect women to look this information up is insulting.

If companies partake in marketplace feminism and live up to the empowerment and expectations set, then that is something to be celebrated. Especially if the intentions go beyond capitalist gain and influence policies and laws in our government. Social change can only go so far when systemic oppression is holding women back in this country and around the world.

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