Selling Feminism: How Female Empowerment Campaigns Employ Postfeminist Discourses
Pro-female advertisements, or femvertisements, receive praise for empowering women. But is that the message that’s actually received? Award-winning femvertisements often draw on the empowering messages contained within feminist ideals while also neutralizing the true political force of those ideals, thus undoing the work of feminism.
To better understand the impact of femvertisements, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Advertising Assistant Professor Kasey Windels and colleagues examined strategies used by advertisers seemingly to empower women.
The researchers conducted an in-depth qualitative analysis of the 26 winners of the #Femvertising Awards from 2015-2018 along with a quantitative content analysis of a larger sample of 106 femvertisements. They found that the ads employed six discourses that drew upon feminist ideals yet rejected feminism’s true purpose: commodity feminism, individualization, self-surveillance, a new lens on the embrace of femininity, confidence cult(ure), and “love your body.” Below is a breakdown of what each discourse looks like:
Individualization: You can be strong, confident and beautiful, if you earn it based on your own merits. Women are not constrained by social structures or power imbalances.
Self-surveillance: You can be strong, confident and beautiful, if you consistently monitor and discipline yourself to ensure you meet the standards society has set for you.
Commodity Feminism: You can be strong, confident and beautiful, if you buy and use this product that represents the empowered woman.
Confidence cult(ure): You can be strong, confident and beautiful, if you continuously monitor your negative thoughts and engage in the psychic labor it takes to change those into positive thoughts. Let’s not mention society’s part in making you feel this way.
New Lens on the Embrace of Femininity: You can be strong, confident and beautiful, even if you’re not traditionally feminine, by doing male-determined traditionally feminine behaviors with and to your body, like grooming and make-up.
“Love Your Body:” You can be strong, confident and beautiful, if you conduct the psychic labor to think positive thoughts about yourself.
The authors found that while the advertisers were intending to promote empowerment, the ads were actually counter to feminist beliefs by focusing on women’s bodies, suggesting they should control their thoughts and fostering the belief that women can buy confidence. They suggest that femvertisements that challenge societal inequities would be more productive to empower women and truly embody feminism.
The original article, “Selling Feminism: How Female Empowerment Campaigns Employ Postfeminist Discourses” was published online in the Journal of Advertising on Nov. 21, 2019.
Authors: Kasey Windels, Sara Champlin, Summer Shelton, Ph.D. 2019, Yvette Sterbenk and Maddison Poteet
This summary was written by Alexandra Avelino, UFCJC M.A.M.C. 2020, Student Affairs Program Coordinator at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.