When Feminism Became a Marketing Technique

Marketing to women has been a tried-and-true tactic used by American marketers for centuries. While the benefits of designing and selling products to women, for women, appear to be plentiful, capitalizing on an entire gender of consumers leads young women and girls down a path that is feminist in name only.

Brands are often ready to adopt a feminist persona to appeal to women, who make up an powerful sector of the American consumer base. Traditional gender roles have rendered women the primary purchasers of groceries, clothes, and other household products for family needs.

Yet, some marketers still treat women as a niche audience, creating gendered versions of everyday products, from writing utensils to disposable razors. A quick look at some major advertising campaigns from the past years show how marketing can push a product masked under a feminist agenda.  

  • Big Tobacco: Perhaps one of the longest-running marketing-to-women campaigns, tobacco companies have been advertising cigarettes to women for over 100 years. Nursing@USC’s online Family Nurse Practitioner program created a timeline that shows how tobacco companies branded cigarettes as a symbol of feminist emancipation while highlighting false benefits of smoking, like weight loss and stress management. With slim, light and flavored cigarettes designed to appeal to women and girls with celebrity-sponsored ads, the tobacco industry overpowered public health officials’ attempts to educate women and still sells cigarettes to 15 percent of American women today.
  • Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign: The company’s “Real Beauty Sketches” spot became the most-watched video advertisement of all time in 2013. It featured women describing their physical features to forensic sketch artists. The ad was part of Dove’s decade-long Real Beauty” campaign, and attempted to show that people are their own worst critics, and that they have more to celebrate about their “real beauty” than they realize. However, critics claimed that Dove simply capitalized on women by rendering them “insecure about their insecurities”. Dove went beyond the campaign to partner with youth organizations to prove that they were committed to changing beauty standards for women and girls, yet still received criticism for photoshopping female models in their ads to appeal to the same unrealistic ideas of beauty.
  • Swiffer’s Rosie the Riveter: Perhaps the most obvious appropriation of feminism since the American Tobacco Company sponsored Amelia Earhart in the 1920s, Swiffer featured a model dressed like Rosie the Riveter to sell home cleaning products in 2013. The company quickly apologized for the ad, but not before critics took to Twitter over the controversy, citing sexism throughout advertisements for many cleaning companies that repeatedly feature women as the primary users of their products.

Marketing failures like Bic’s Pens “For Her show us that women are increasingly aware of the superficial ways that brands try to appeal to female consumers — particularly through the unnecessary gendered labeling of would-be unisex products. In the ill-advised 2012 campaign, Bic launched a set of pens in feminine packaging that featured a “thin barrel for a woman’s hand.”  Following a storm of criticism on Twitter, Amazon and an entire episode of The Ellen Show, Bic discontinued the line. It’s clear that the internet makes it possible for more women to be educated about the story behind marketing campaigns and the quality of products, but it also serves as a watchdog for companies that are seeking to capitalize off of women as a niche consumer base.

While many women and girls appreciate the exclusivity of products that are made for women, they also deserve to know why and how products are made for them. As long as women are watching with an analytical eye, brands will have to stay authentic through their manufacturing and advertising strategies.


Halah Flynn is the Content and Outreach Manager, Nursing@USC

Nursing@USC is the online FNP program from The Department of Nursing at the University of Southern California. The program prepares family nurse practitioners to treat physical and behavioral health, address social and environmental factors, and lead positive social change.

I Survived for a Reason

By an anonymous writer from Afghanistan

My parents wanted a son,
My birth disappointed them.
A few weeks after I was born,
My grandfather was killed.
My mother thought I was bad luck.

When I was 6 years old,
Our neighbor’s boy sexually harassed me.
I spent my childhood in fear.

The Taliban closed my school,
They ruined my best days.
I was unable to go out without my father, brother, and a burqa,
Like a prisoner in my own home for six years.
My body was a sin to them.

They attacked our home a few times because we were Shia Muslim.
They beat my parents and brother in front of me.
They hanged my mother’s two young cousins from a tree.
Deprived of their own humanity, they dehumanized the rest of us.

I had my first marriage proposal at the age of 10.
I saw my cousins getting married at the age of 12, 13, and 14,
While still children, they had to become mothers.
I felt sorry for them and wanted to help them.

I had to break this harmful custom and inequality
I started to fight against child marriage.

I thought coming to the United States would give me the freedom to take on this responsibility.
I thought I could contribute to an America that would fight for women’s equality.
I imagined America as a country free from injustice.
The most powerful country and the land of dreams,
But reality hit me on my first day.

I was harassed and bullied for looking different.
My faith, accent and scarf put me in a minority category.
I was asked so many ignorant questions,
Have you seen Osama bin Laden? Do you wear shoes in Afghanistan?
And I started to feel unsafe.

I dedicated my life to help women and girls,
Especially the ones who have tough lives like mine.
But it is not an easy task.
The more I learn about social justice and human rights,
The more I become disgusted and disappointed.

I am 26 years old and already tired.
Tired of seeing my country used as a playground for global powers,
Tired of seeing my countrymen getting killed every day,
Tired of hearing about women who have been raped,
Tired of seeing orphans and refugees,
Tired of discrimination against people like me, and people unlike me,
Tired of seeing racism and bigotry in a country that claims it can teach justice to others,
Tired of inhumanity.

But I will not give up.
I will keep fighting for my life and for the lives of others.
I survived for a reason:
To make a difference and to see peace and justice for all.

If I don’t speak up, if we choose silence now,
There will be no end to violence, racism and sexism.
I will use my voice and my pen to bring justice.

Photo Credit: Janko Ferlic

What Indiana’s New Religious Freedom Restoration Act Means for Women 

Today, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allowing for individuals and companies with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to individuals who do not align with their beliefs. Although the Governor and his Republican colleagues refute the claim that this bill legalizes religious discrimination, it clearly does.

For example, the law protects Christian bakers, florists, and photographers from punishment if they refuse to participate in a homosexual marriage. (Same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana in October of 2014.) Now, that might sound seemingly harmless. After all, if same-sex partners are looking for wedding day caterers or other services, they could always choose another, more LGBT-friendly company. Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done when 80 percent of Indiana’s population follows the Christian faith. But that’s beside the point. The point is that they shouldn’t have to look elsewhere. (Before students staged the 1960 Nashville sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter, the same argument was used to justify segregation in restaurants.)

I got married in 2013 and I know from experience that planning a wedding can be a time-consuming albeit exciting task. It’s a big day and a big celebration, and you and your partner both want it to be memorable and meaningful. If, for some people, memorable and meaningful means hiring the best photographers, the best caterers, so be it. They should not be limited to companies who are not anti-LGBT. And who knows, maybe no companies will be left that support same-sex marriage. Who will help those couples on their special day?

Although this law is aimed primarily towards the LGBT community, its consequences stretch much further.

Around the world, communities often use religion as the foundation of political and social norms. For women, this can mean discrimination and gender inequality.

In America, religious extremists often argue against women’s rights – particularly sexual and reproductive rights. In the 19th century, the Catholic church established that life begins at conception, creating the religious-based anti-abortion war that still rages to this day.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

Many anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals cite Psalm 139 in the Bible, which says “it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Another common religious argument against abortion is the story of Moses’ birth, whose mother defied Pharaoh’s order to kill all Hebrew boys and, instead, placed her infant son in a basket to float down the Nile, only later to be rescued, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and grow up to share God’s Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately for women in the United States, anti-abortion activists are gaining momentum and support. This past January, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared that his goal as governor was to “end abortion in Mississippi” and, a few weeks later, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic was severely vandalized.  Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who recently announced he’s running for president in the 2016 elections, once referred to birth control as abortion-inducing (which is just scientifically incorrect). When Republicans took control of the Congress in January, one of its first acts was to propose a 20-week abortion ban, a proposal that included efforts to require women to officially report having been raped in order to be qualified for an abortion.

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of women do not want to get an abortion. Getting an abortion is a serious, emotionally draining, and life-changing decision. Women have differing and equally valid reasons for seeking an abortion – whether it be they are not financially able to support a child; they were raped; the fetus, when born, will suffer from extreme disabilities; or otherwise.

However, the consequences of the religious argument against abortion do not limit themselves to just abortion. In Texas, a judge banned the use of federal funding for abortions and, as a result, Planned Parenthood, a leader in the pro-choice movement, lost millions in federal funding. To be clear, Planned Parenthood is not solely an abortion provider. In one year, over 110,000 lower-income women in Texas received preventative treatment for breast and cervical cancer treatments, 48,000 of whom were treated by Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Planned Parenthood enables women to access a variety of birth control methods including the pill, IUDs, menstrual cups, and more. (I, myself, can thank Planned Parenthood for inserting my IUD. Thanks Planned Parenthood!) Therefore, by eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, Texas effectively eliminated funding for women’s health.

When the United Nations calls access to safe, voluntary family planning a human right and “central to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” why are we using religion as an excuse to deny women their sexual and reproductive rights?

Indiana’s passing of RFRA fuels the fire behind the aforementioned religious-based arguments. We, as a society – no matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, age, income – need to band together, raise our voices, and reject this law. If we don’t, we are looking at a world of consequences, for the LGBT community, for women, for everyone.

Sign the petition to recall Governor Mike Pence.

Cover photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

State of the Union Address: No real progress without equality for women & girls

Last night, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address – and the women of this country should be pleased. Actually, strike that – ALL the people in this country, women and men, should be pleased. A notable portion of the President’s address was directly focused on women’s issues, and most of it focused on issues relating to equality. Obama addressed topics such as paid maternity leave, universal child care, equal pay for men and women (which apparently isn’t that high on the Republican priority list), and even touched on the issue of women’s right to abortion and access to reproductive health care. While there is always room for improvement, Obama’s State of the Union brought considerable attention to women’s issues – possibly also paving the way for democrats to win the women’s vote in next year’s elections.

In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.

– President Obama, State of the Union Address 2015

There’s no doubt that the issues Obama raised are important – but the fact that such issues as equal pay for women and paid maternity leave still need to be debated, and still need to be justified, is simply depressing and appalling. How can a country, any country, claim any state of development when its citizens continue to be valued differently based on their gender? How can a government claim to work for the people, when half of the people still count for less than the other half – because of our chromosomes? In year 2015, women – not to mention other groups, such as sexual minorities, people of color and people with disabilities – still have to fight for their right to be seen as full, equal citizens. In America, the only people who really get to enjoy all of the country’s progress and benefits are white men. We, as the international community, have given milestones for developing countries to reach through the Millennium Development Goals, which are coming to an end this year – but while we expect progress from developing countries, shouldn’t we also hold our own societies to the same, if not higher, standards?

No country can move forward without women. No country has the right to call itself “developed”, when half of its people are continuously left behind. American women have a lot to demand – not only does the US remain as the only developed country with no legally mandated paid maternity leave, but its maternal mortality and infant mortality rates are some of the highest in the western world, and in 2013 women were still paid only 78% of what men are paid (and women of color even less than that). In some states, women have to drive hundreds of miles to access a reproductive health clinic, and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services has taken a huge setback in the past couple of years, pushing American women back to the dark ages when it comes to their sexual and reproductive rights.

No president or party can run on a gender-agenda alone – but it’s time to understand, really understand, that these aren’t “women’s issues” or “gender issues” – protecting and realizing women’s basic fundamental human rights isn’t only morally and ethically right, but also common sense. Women aren’t charity cases – we are contributing, productive, intelligent, creative, resilient, smart, and necessary members or any society, and true sustainable progress will not happen without us.

I have always been passionate about these issues, but now I am looking at them from a whole new angle. First, I recently became a mother in America, which made the lack of paid maternity leave and other family benefits much bigger issues for me, in my personal life. Second, I am about to become an American citizen, making me a full, voting member of this society. I don’t vote with my vagina any more than I think with it – I vote with my brain, and I will give my vote to those who recognize me as a full, valuable member of this society. I truly hope that this State of the Union paves way for actual change, not just empty words. Things like maternity benefits, child care, equal pay and sexual and reproductive health should not be radical issues anymore, they should simply be basic building blocks of any decent society. Time to start using them to build a stronger, better America – for all of us.

Watch the full State of the Union Address:

Human Trafficking in America’s Backyard

Human trafficking occurs in every corner of the globe from the southernmost foothills of Patagonia to the northernmost region of Siberia. Human trafficking is an egregious violation of human rights – one that often strips its victims of self-worth only to refill them with fear, isolation and desperation.

In the United States, a country most may not immediately associate with human trafficking, the U.S. Department of Justice ranks human trafficking as the second fastest growing criminal industry, behind only drug trafficking, with between 14,500 and 17,500 new people trafficked into America each year.

Every hour, 34 people in America are forced into prostitution. 

In 2013, human trafficking made national headlines when Ariel Castro was arrested (and eventually convicted) for kidnapping, raping, and forcibly locking three girls in his basement for a period spanning over ten years. One victim, Amanda Berry, even bore his child, thereby increasing the victim count to four.

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

As a result of the Castro case and several others like it, the movement to punish traffickers and to end human trafficking in the United States has been gaining speed.

Expanding on previous attempts to end human trafficking, on January 14th the United States government published its first ever Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States. The Action Plan aims to crack down on traffickers, develop a strategic action plan to strengthen victim services, and strengthen protections against human traffickers in federal contracts. Additionally, U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. However, the federal government is not the only government entity taking a strong stance against human trafficking.

In August, Polaris Project, an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking in the United States, released its 2013 state ratings on human trafficking laws. In 2013 alone, 39 states passed anti-trafficking laws and 32 ranked in Polaris Project’s top Tier 1 category* – up from 21 states last year.

Over the past year, the momentum among advocates, legislators, and state officials to pass robust laws combatting human trafficking has been inspiring. We’ve witnessed a historic turning point now that all fifty states have passed laws criminalizing human trafficking. However, criminals are trafficking women, men, and children from coast to coast at horrendous rates. In every state, we need to give prosecutors and law enforcement the right tools to stop traffickers, and state agencies must have the ability to protect survivors and help them reclaim their freedom.” – Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project.

Additionally, Polaris Project recently published the report, Human Trafficking Trends in the United States. In it, the organization reveals not only a rising number of human trafficking cases but also an increasing level of community awareness. For example, in the five-year period between 2008 and 2012, the National Trafficking Resource Center (NTRC) hotline received a 259%** increase in reports of human trafficking, a statistic undoubtedly due to the combined increase in cases as well as awareness.

Along with governing bodies and anti-trafficking organizations, the growing amount of national media attention also plays an important role in spreading awareness. For example, in August CNN profiled several victims to learn about their experiences in the sex trade; in December The Kansas City Star wrote a five-part series on human trafficking in America; and just a few days ago USA Today warned of high levels of sex trafficking during the Superbowl.

The Superbowl is the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” –  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Even though human trafficking statistics in the United States remain at inexcusable levels, the good news is that awareness is on the rise – and awareness is always the first step.

If you are a victim or suspect a case of human trafficking, please call the NTRC at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733) for support.

For more information, please visit:

Girls’ Globe Posts on Human Trafficking

GEMS Girls

Not for Sale


The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Human Trafficking Program

US Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign

*States in the top Tier 1 have passed “significant [anti-trafficking] laws” while states in the lowest tier, Tier 4, have made “minimal effort.”

**The NTRC hotline received 5,746 calls in 2008 and 20,650 in 2012.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

America: A Nation of Slobs? Well, Just the Women

Image Courtesy of GlamourDaze.com
Image Courtesy of GlamourDaze.com

Hey ladies! What are you wearing today?

If you are like me, you prefer casual but trendy outfits that offer a glimpse into your own personal style. From jeans to chic blazers to summer dresses, American women tend to enjoy dressing in less formal attire than women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (i.e. when hats and gloves were considered a wardrobe necessity).

Do you prefer to wear casual attire as well? If so, bad news. You are a slob.

Linda Przybyszewski, an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame, teaches students about 19th and 20th century fashion in the United States in her class, “A Nation of Slobs: The Art, Ethics, and Economics of Dress in Modern America.” The class description states that students will “consider whether [fashion trends] represented freedom or the downfall of western civilization;” however, judging from the class title one can assume Przybysewski believes the latter.

Sure, I agree that women’s fashion over the past 100 years has become much more informal. However, I strongly disagree with the notion that such informal fashion trends have made women so-called slobs and it definitely does not represent the downfall of western civilization.

In an interview with CBS, Przybysewski explains her opinions regarding modern fashion, at one point stating that “style just slipped into simplicity and eventually slipped into stupidity.” Although my feminist self found much of the interview simply outrageous, one part in particular made me livid. Przybysewski praises the following description of a young school girl:

“At schoolmates’ glamorous displays, not only eyes, but eyebrows, raise.”

In my opinion, this rhythmic depiction glamorizes the objectification of women by emphasizing the importance of a young girl’s wardrobe over the importance of her studies. Przybysewski further objectifies women as she longingly reminisces about the days when women’s fashion made [male] “heads turn,” referencing classic movies such as Funny Face, After the Thin Man, and Gilda.

Although Przybysewski never deems specifically women’s sloppiness as more detrimental to society than men’s, we can assume her ideas of sloppiness focus mainly on women’s fashion since she neglects to ever mention men in her argument. Rather, Przybysewski focuses solely on the evolution of women’s “sloppiness” using magazines, illustrations, and (unbeknownst to them) current female students.

Not once does Przybysewski describe how changing fashion trends empowered women to shed their corsets in exchange for a more comfortable, practical look. Not once does Przybysewski refer to the correlation between fashion trends and women’s rising political, social and economic power. Not once does Przybysewski declare that a woman’s actions and words are more important than her dress.

Instead, Przybysewski’s teachings only reinforce the idea that women should be seen and not heard.

In a nation where female CEOs earn only 74.5 percent as much as male CEOs, constantly scrutinizing women for their fashion sense rather than concentrating on their education and/or leadership ability inevitably delays gender equality. Did anyone criticize former Apple CEO Steve Jobs on his iconic black turtleneck and jeans? No. Instead, the world rightfully appreciated his undeniable impact on the advancement of computer technology and articles like this one cheerfully “admired” his wardrobe evolution (or lack thereof).

Unfortunately, today’s gendered reality suggests Przybysewski is not alone in her beliefs. While Przybysewski teaches our nation’s youth that a woman’s wardrobe is of extraordinary importance, the media simultaneously dissects and critiques female celebrities’ and political leaders’ fashion, thus reinforcing Przybysewski’s ideals.

In order to achieve complete gender equality, we must stop judging women on their outward appearance and start listening to their voices. Don’t you think it’s time?