Selling Feminism

By: Kalai

Women empowerment centered content has taken the world by storm in the recent years across various industries. Everyone from Beyonce to the Dalai Lama himself has stepped up and embraced the label of being a Feminist. In Africa, Feminism is slowly taking off as more women embrace self-empowerment and demanding ownership over our own narratives. Antiquated gender roles are gradually being shed as women fight off the shackles of patriarchy to embrace the freedom to be who they want while working for a more equal society.


But where does commercialization fit into spreading the core messages of feminism to more of society? There’s a fine line between just wearing feminism and working for it. Bitch Media founder Andi Zeisler speaks on ‘marketplace feminism’ in her book ‘We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a political movement’. She explains that this is a commercialized version of feminism that is focused on advertising using female identities that are portrayed as “empowered, confident and fun”. Ziesler criticizes it as it’s a depoliticized form of the movement which doesn’t confront “deeply entrenched forms of inequality”.


It’s a cop out to show seemingly empowered individuals while ignoring the core values of the feminist movement. Challenging power structures and reforming systems entrenched in patriarchy is essential to further the movement.



In 2015, Marie Claire South Africa ran their controversial #MCInHerShoes campaign on twitter where 5 South African Rands (R5.00) was to be donated to a nominated shelter for abused women for every time a man tweeted using the hashtag #MCInHerShoes. The campaign received much backlash on twitter and local media outlets. If the publication had the money to donate, why would they tie the amount donated to the tweets they receive? It was exposed as a PR exercise before the public in bad taste. This was a failed attempt of a brand to begin meaningful engagement with feminist ideals.


Other brands like Always and Dove have more successfully incorporated feminist messages into their advertising. Roisin Donnelly, Brand Director at Proctor and Gamble (parent company to Always), correctly states that “adverts now have to reflect our reality and the future we want.”



The Always #LikeAGirl campaign was enacted after the company conducted studies which revealed that there is a significant decrease in girls’ confidence during the tumultuous period of puberty. The original video at the start of the campaign showed women of various ages reacting to the phrase “like a girl”. The director of the video, Lauren Greenfield, recounts: “When these moments of realization occurred in real time, we knew something profound was happening in front of the cameras.”

At the end of the day we’re constantly going to see narratives stolen and diluted in order to advertize products to consumers, but in this manner the right messages are reaching wider audiences. Ethical advertising goes further than using crass attention-seeking mechanisms to incorporate feminist ideals. Feminist advertising can bring us together and simultaneously expose the realities of the inequalities women face but it needs to be well thought out, intensively researched and come from a genuine place.