Femvertising: Feminism for Sale

Jennifer Pozner, a media literacy educator and founder of Women in Media and News, said "If it’s a company using feminist rhetoric to sell their product, are they doing anything that’s feminist?"

Women are a big target for marketers. They drive 70% to 80% of consumer spending with their purchasing power and influence, according to Boston Consulting Group.

In recent years, big companies are jumping on that trend of "feminism" to drive up revenues.

Women influence 91% of all home purchases, and 75% identify themselves as the primary shoppers for their households, according to Bridget Brennan, founder and CEO of Female Factor, a consultancy that helps companies market to women.

Femvertising are brand advertisements, especially in the beauty and fashion industry, that challenge gender norms by building stereotype-busting, pro-female messages and images into ads that target women. However, many companies label their products as "feminism" to sell consumers' on the concept of fake #empowerment.

Many brands such as Dove, Forever 21, Prabal Gurung, and Brandy Melville have come under fire for profiting from faux feminism products.

  Image: Dove

Image: Dove

Unilever was condemned for profiting from beauty positive campaigns while selling products that feed into insecurities created by traditional beauty standards. Dove launched its "Real Beauty" campaign in 2004. Dove’s critics were quick to draw attention to the company's inconsistency. The brand’s owner, Unilever, is the parent company of Slimfast, Axe, and Fair & Lovely skin (whitening cream). These other brands use gender-stereotyping ads and sell product-convincing consumers that they should fit into a traditional standard of beauty. Furthermore, not only did the women in the "Real Beauty" campaign still have nice bodies, normative hip-to-waist ratios and flawless skin, they were also Photoshopped.

  Image: Forever 21

Image: Forever 21

Forever 21 was criticized for copying the "Wild Feminist" tee from the online retailer Wildfang.

Shortly after the knockoff debut, Wildfox CEO Emma Mcilroy vocalized her anger: “When you rip off that T-shirt, you’re not just ripping us off, you’re also taking money out of the pocket of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, because 10% of every product that we make goes directly to them,” she told Refinery29. Mcilroy also questioned the company as to how can a tee shirt was sold for $10 be made ethically and sustainably.

  Image: Brandy Melville

Image: Brandy Melville

Brandy Melville was criticized when it came out with femme positive shirt that printed "Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way".  The Italian based fashion brand is notoriously known for its "one size fits all" sizing. However, Brandy Melville typically fits size small and extra small girls who are size two or less. So, when Brandy Melville came out with the "Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way" shirt, it did not sit well with the general public. The contradicting brand message and the blatant faux feminist advertisement triggered many people.

  Image: Otherwild

Image: Otherwild

Prabal Gurung was condemned when it replicated online retailer Otherwild's “The Future Is Female” shirt. The original “The Future Is Female” shirt was designed in the 1970s for Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City. It wasn’t until 2015 that the design became popular. Thanks to Rachel Berks, the owner of online retailer Otherwild, who started producing and selling the shirt for $30 after spotting the photograph of the original design. She is donating 25% of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Prabal Gurung, a luxury designer brand, debuted the exact replica on the runway during his Fall/Winter 2017 fashion show. The shirt was sold for $195 and none of the proceeds going toward the any cause.

Despite how some brands may exploit feminism for profit, the general notion of body positivity and empowerment is still positively promoted by many other brands that genuinely believe in the movement. These pro-female campaigns should not only encourage women to accept how we are all gorgeous in our own way but also to get women to understand each other based on intelligence, wit, and ethical sensibility.

Brands that are true to their essence by not only raising awareness but also giving back through donations and charitable causes:

  1.  Milly
  2. Eileen Fisher
  3. Akola
  4. The 2Bandits

Author: Vivian Yang

Vivian is probably the most extra person you will ever meet. She loves everything fashion, beauty, and feminism. She is a major Potterhead and loves everything Harry Potter related. She is a proud Hufflepuff meaning she values hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play. If you can't find her, she is probably wandering in Manhattan.