I’m going to be honest: I watch the Superbowl for the commercials. I have even been known to talk nonstop during the actual game but aggressively shush people when commercials are on. This year, I was pleasantly surprised to see commercials that deviated from the traditional stereotypical sexist ads—and other people were too. Entrepreneur.com named Always’ “Like a Girl” ad to be the #5 most talked about ad of Superbowl 2015 (for reactions to this ad, check out Rosehasathorn’s post about this year’s Superbowl commercials).
“Like a Girl” is the latest of what Bitch Magazine calls “fempowerment” advertising: ads that breaks gender stereotypes and empowers women. Always, Dove and Pantene are just a few of many companies that have been using these girl power campaigns to send a message as well as sell a product.
But is there something slightly insidious about this type of advertising? There are quite a few feminists who think so. Some argue that corporations are capitalizing on the hot button issue of “feminism” in order to sell a product. Some say that although these ads are progressive, it is simply not good enough. So who’s right?
This is one of those great feminist debates where I can see both sides of the argument. On one hand, it IS a bit devious of companies to use “fempowerment” ads to their advantage; their ultimate goal is to sell their products, and using the marginalization of women to the company’s advantage seems wrong. The truth is, these companies’ products have very little to do with feminism, or even being a woman in general. This Verizon “fempowerment” ad has absolutely nothing to do with the company’s actual product. Advertisers are taking this newly popularized idea of girl power and using it to show how that company is “ahead of the curve.”
These ads are also not saying anything extremely ground breaking. Women SHOULD stop apologizing, and buying into stereotypes, and stifling their love of science. The majority of ads put the onus on women to stop doing these things to themselves without taking into account the numerous societal roadblocks that stand in their way. Where are the ads about men not using gendered language, or learning to not think of women as stupid or incompetent when it comes to science? “Fempowerment” ads are great, but they really only scratch the surface.
However, there is a lot to be said in favor of “fempowerment” ads. As seen in the countless sexist Superbowl ads, media has been traditionally dominated by demeaning images of women. The “Like a Girl” ad was a breath of fresh air in a sea of scantily clad women. These ads are nowhere near perfect—I would love to see more that target the assumed norms of the patriarchy and male privilege. But the truth is that this is more progress than we’ve ever had. Change is incremental, and while as feminists we have every right to challenge these ads, we should also be celebrating the conversation. When else in history have we been able to debate the nuances of feminists ads on TV? Never. And that’s pretty cool.
So are these ads perfect? No way. Do we have a long way to go for equality in the media? Yes. But do these ads pave the way for future feminist female empowerment ads? Absolutely.