Today is International Women’s Day. To celebrate throughout the week, we have been writing about brands’ role in forwarding equality through feminism. At The Value Engineers, we believe in building brands that drive change, and so for us brands can play a key role in IWD 2017’s #BeBoldForChange initiative and beyond. But as we discuss the feminism of 2017, we stop to think: what if feminism were a brand? And what if it needs rebranding?
Modern feminism has changed a lot since the beginning of the 20th century. It is commonly known under its four waves: first the suffragettes, second the anti-war and civil rights movement feminists, third the post-modern feminists, and today we find ourselves in the fourth wave. We think. As you might know or guess, it can be a little confusing, and more than a little complicated.
As strategic brand consultants, we use a tool called brand archaeology to sift back through the iterations of a brand over time to find what sits at its core. To do this for feminism we should perhaps turn to one of the world’s most revered sources. The Oxford English Dictionary states feminism to be ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.’ If you showed this to a room of self-declared feminists, you’d probably (hopefully!) see a mass of nodding heads.
But that’s not all feminism is perceived to be. What about the slur ‘feminazi’? Why did Kellyanne Conway declare that she is not a feminist because she isn’t ‘anti-man’? Why does the ‘Women Against Feminism’ Facebook group currently stand at 44,000 members? Why does Emma Watson’s latest Vanity Fair photoshoot call into question whether or not women can be both sexual and serious? What do these things have to do with equality? And what have they got to do with feminism’s brand?
Many brands face one common and critical problem: there is a perception gap between how they see themselves and how the world sees them. To test this, took to the streets to ask people two vital questions, and conducted a small flash survey thanks to our friends at Toluna. The results supported our suspicions that feminism was not beyond this pitfall.
The good news from our research is that the overwhelming majority believes in equality, but the words ‘feminism’ and ‘equality’ are separated by a storm of confusion, and it’s hurting feminism’s brand. 61 of 90 voters in our survey said they believe in equality but do not identify as a feminist. Shockingly, 89% of the voters were women, the primary group feminism has historically fought to protect. Why is it that people reject the word feminist? Where does all this confusion lie?
At The Value Engineers, we often talk about the richness inherent to good brands, and necessity of appealing to multiple people through one purpose – for feminism, that’s the ‘equality of the sexes’ bit. But there’s a fine line between being perceived as having multiple expressions of one thing and of being incoherent and inconsistent.
Even the most learned feminists will admit that there are many brands of feminism in existence today. Take Beyoncé’s feminism: when Queen Bey stood in front of the word feminism over the voice of Chimamanda Mgozi Adichie, feminism became a whole different brand for many people – one that many of them could get behind for the first time. But would you ever see a brand partnership between Beyoncé and Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot, most famous for being arrested for ‘public indecency’ as they fight for women’s rights to reach equality? The two are worlds apart.
There is, of course, also the barrier of smear campaigns driven by those against the idea of equality, whether by taught intolerance or fear that a shift in power may mean a worse-off society or a loss of privilege for themselves. They aim to belittle and dismiss feminism’s battles, creating a counter-brand for the movement and deterring both men and women from supporting it.
That is not to say that the ‘true’ feminist brand is flawless; it has some innate problems. Why should people of colour put their energy into a movement that often ignores or excludes them? Though this issue is becoming more widely recognised and moves are being made to hear the voices of non-white women, is the damage already done? Intersectionality is vital in order to understand and combat the unique nuances of the female experience across races, communities and spheres, and it’s therefore an absolute necessity if the all-embracing aims of feminism are to be achieved.
So how can feminism manage these multiple voices, manifestations and interests, without losing its diversity? It is clear that feminism must avoid myopia by recognising that within the universal strive for equality, local battles will vary, and we must be alert to the fact that the brand of feminism we need in our own lives might not be the same required elsewhere. But it must also manage this multiplicity, ensuring the loudest cry of all is that of equality.
In light of this, what do we think the fifth wave of feminism will look like? Feminism must keep its purpose at its core – to promote the equality of the sexes – but it must never stop pushing, questioning and expanding. The ‘masculine’ has been opened to women, but how can we further open ‘feminine’ to all, and even eradicate these constructs altogether?
If we could, we would write a proposal to Feminism HQ detailing a strategy to make sure that all its brilliant facets can continue to exist and grow under its unifying and essential purpose. We would create an overarching strategy to express that the word ‘feminism’ means no more and no less than equality, in the hope of bringing all those who identify with this belief together around this world-changing brand.
Feminism may not be looking for a team of brand strategists, but looking at feminism through this lens might make us see it in another light, and it reinforces our belief that brands drive change, and can be a force for good.