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.

My Views on Transgender Feminism

Feminism is alive and constantly redefining itself. It has long been an empowering roar fed by the voices of all kinds of women. Today, something else can be heard too. It’s the sound of thousands of women – transgender, transexual and intersexual women – who have found their own voice, strength and value with the help of feminism.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned feminist, recently stated that the life experiences of transgender women can’t be the same as cisgender women, because, in her opinion, they have experienced male privileges before transitioning.

“It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I would like to explain why this is relevant for the trans community. From the beginning of our lives, we’ve had this ever-present feeling that we don’t belong. We feel as strangers in our own bodies. We don’t fit in with boys, we don’t fit in with girls. Boys are too tough for most of us. Girls see us as trustworthy friends, but never as one of them.

As we explore our own identities, we get our own dose of daily bullshit: “You should probably cut your hair, you’ll look manlier“, “You should date a girl. People are talking about how you’ve never dated one before“. The experience is, of course, different from person to person, but in the end most of trans women are treated like this before coming out openly as trans.

I can only agree with the part where Ngozi Adichie says that we can’t equate our experiences. But let’s keep in mind that feminism is made by a multitude of experiences.

“A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men. This does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Trans women aren’t treated “as male by the world“. We are raised as boys – we are expected to look like one and act like one. But we never felt like one. Every time we were taught a new ‘boy code‘ or told that “a man shouldn’t waste his time on making female friends if it’s not to have sex with them“, we feel as uncomfortable as a cisgender girl would feel listening to that. Whenever we have a female role mode, we are told to get a manlier one. Whenever we buy feminine clothes or straighten our hair, we are told we look like fags. Our male friends make fun of us.

Sadly, that’s where our experiences as trans women equate to the experiences of cisgender women. People are always expecting us to behave a certain way, based purely on our gender. That’s why I don’t think experiencing male privileges for some time is enough to push trans women away from the rest of women.

I’m not writing this to raise my opinion over Ngozi Adichies. Some trans women have benefited from male privilege before transitioning, but not all have. I’m writing this because trans women’s testimonies need to be heard so we can create an accurate and inclusive picture of the experiences of trans women. After all, having different life experiences shouldn’t separate trans women from other women. Some of us have experienced some kinds of privileges, but we are still contributing to the fight for equality. Some people are willing to share their time with people who need it, others contribute with their expertise and knowledge. We each need to be aware of our position and to do our best to help others from where we are.

It’s always going to be easier for someone and harder for the rest. I don’t think that should lead us to divide feminism. Controversial opinions should be used as tools to spark civilized discussion. Let’s bring something good out of this. Talking about our differences is what strengthens feminism. Plurality is what helps us to understand and support each other.

Cover photo credit: Stephanie Ecate

Movies to Make You Feel Bold!

Ever since this year’s International Women’s Day we’ve been celebrating our brilliant Girls’ Globe network – the individuals and organizations committed to making the world a better and more equal place to live.

We asked each of our contributors to share their secrets of feeling BOLD. They told us about books that inspire them, songs that embolden them and quotations that move them. Last up, here is Girls’ Globe’s big, bold movie list. Why not treat yourself to one of these tonight?!

  1. Spotlight, 2015
    The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.
  2. Queen of Katwe, 2016
    A Ugandan girl sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess.
  3. Juno, 2007
    Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.
  4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 2013
    When his job is threatened, Walter embarks on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.
  5. Sarafina, 1992
    South African teenagers fight against apartheid in the Soweto Uprising.
  6. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, 2014
    A documentary that resurrects the buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern women’s movement from 1966 to 1971.
  7. Wild, 2014
    A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy, based on the incredible book by Cheryl Strayed.
  8. Le Grand Bleu, 1988

    The rivalry between Enzo and Jacques, two childhood friends and now world-renowned free divers, becomes a beautiful and perilous journey into oneself and the unknown.

  9. Selma, 2014
    A chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
  10. Brave, 2012
    Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
  11. Hidden Figures, 2016
    The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.
  12. Far from the Madding Crowd, 2015
    In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
  13. Million Dollar Baby, 2004
    A determined woman works with a hardened boxing trainer to become a professional.
  14. Run Lola Run, 1998
    After a botched money delivery, Lola has 20 minutes to come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks.
  15. Pray the Devil Back to Hell, 2008
    A group of women rise up to peace to Liberia and help bring to power the country’s first female head of state.

    Which movies would make it onto your own list? We’d love for you to share your ‘Movies to Make You Feel Bold’ recommendations with us – please leave a comment or connect with us on FacebookInstagram or Twitter

Cover photo credit: Jeremy Yap

Menstruation is a Trade Union Issue

The shame and ignorance surrounding menstruation are obstacles that prevent women around the world from getting an education and working. Swedish trade unions agree: Periods are a union matter.

Periods are very much an issue for trade unions – and not a minor one either. On that, the Swedish trade unions are in complete agreement. In an opinion piece published by Swedish newspaper Dagens Arena on Tuesday, six unions, including The Union of Academics (Akademikerförbundet SSR), clarify that menstruation is a vital question of both women’s health and women’s rights on the labour market.

Some 800 million people around the world are menstruating on any given day. Despite that, periods are often tainted with guilt, shame and taboos. In Dagens Arena the unions state that:

“In many places, women who are menstruating are seen as unclean and are denied the right to work during the days they are bleeding. Periods are also fundamentally a question of health. Around 88 percent of menstruating women do not have access to commercial sanitary products. Without ready access to toilets and clean water, women are at risk for thrush, infections and sterility,”

Heike Erkers, Chairwoman of the Union of Academics says, ”Prejudice and ignorance about periods, combined with poor hygiene, prevent a lot of girls and women from going to school or to work. With their chances of earning a living diminished, it becomes increasingly difficult to break the circle of poverty. That’s unacceptable.”

The unions co-signing the opinion piece are all members of Public Services International (PSI). In preparation for the PSI congress this autumn, the Nordic unions in the public sector have penned a joint motion to raise the issue on an international level.

”There is broad consensus on this issue. When we bring it up during the world congress, I’m sure it will make some representatives uncomfortable. But sometimes you have to make people uncomfortable to get the ball rolling on an issue”, Heike Erkers states emphatically.

In Sweden, women are not turned away from school or from work when menstruating. But there is still a prevailing sense of taboo and a stigma attached to periods, affecting girls and women in their everyday life. Periods and PMS are still used as an excuse for treating women as unreliable and emotional. Women are still seen as creatures controlled by their hormones and therefore as less competent and not suited for management.

A Feminist Issue

At the same time, all too real problems, like severe menstrual cramps or the debilitating pain of endometriosis, are not taken seriously. Pain, however severe, when connected to periods is seen as something you just have to bear – and certainly not something to be accommodated in your work life. At the end of the day, the real costs are borne by the individual.

Heike Erkers explains: “Women pay a very steep price for our periods. It’s not just about sanitary products and painkillers – it’s about missed work days without pay. It’s taken for granted that women take care of this business on their own, without involving anybody else. It’s an important feminist issue. Especially considering that women overall earn a lot less than men over the course of a lifetime.”

Women are not the only ones to suffer from the prejudice and stigma surrounding periods. So do people who identify as transgender and non-binary who menstruate. As unions, it is our responsibility to normalize and bring to light the issue of menstruation. “We have to dare to talk about the problems surrounding periods within our movement – the same way that we talk about other types of hurdles and oppression.”

This post was originally published in Swedish by The Union of Academics (Akademikerförbundet SSR).