Why this Feminist Rebranding Is Actually Nothing New

So, yesterday, the government shut down.

govt shutdown


But bitches, I already wrote about that shit today. And so did a zillion other people. So let’s talk about something else, shall we?

Like this flashy new marketing campaign for Elle magazine, set to hit newsstands in November.

Elle’s editor-in-chief, Lorraine Candy, is teaming up with ad agencies Mother and Wieden & Kennedy to rebrand feminism. The trio has also teamed up with Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, founders of the awesome and funny feminist blog, The Vagenda, to help work on this campaign. Because, ya know, people who work at horribly sexist women’s magazines and corporate ad agencies are often not really that feministy.


Anyway! After enlisting the help of these two fabulous, feministing bloggers, Elle set to work on revamping feminism’s image. That’s a noble agenda, right? The F-word has kind of gotten a bad rap, so when a super influential women’s magazine decides to make it cool again, that’s pretty rad. Using your power for good, right Lorraine?

Except. The new campaign is super problematic for a couple of reasons. And that’s only based on the sneak peaks I’ve managed to find on the Internet. Let’s start with the following graphic, mmkay?


The intentions here are good. Let’s refute all those evil stereotypes about feminists and reclaim our humanity! We’re not sluts or baby makers or food items—we’re ACTUAL PEOPLE. So stop stereotyping us and calling us names and dehumanizing us because it’s sexist and chauvinist and douche-y. Kthanksbye.

But! Which stereotypes here refer to anyone but straight, white, feminine-presenting women? None. Who do you think of when you picture a “fifties housewife?” I don’t know about you, but I see June Cleaver. What about a “princess,” or a “girl next door?” I’m picturing this chick:

girl next door

Then, there are words like temptress, bimbo, and whore—all very generalized terms used for slut-shaming. But why not use words like “Jezebel,” “Hottentot,” or “ho” instead? These are used almost exclusively to slut-shame women of color, and dispelling their usage in this whole new feminist branding effort is important. It’s not just the white girls who need to be defended or included here, am I right?

And where are the words for all of us dykes who have given feminism such a bad name? Because LESBIHONEST, a big reason why feminism is so faux pas is because, “What does that mean, you’re a lesbian or something?” Feminists are called hairy-legged, man-hating, dykey bulldaggers WAY more often than they’re called temptresses. Maybe we could talk about that, Elle? Maybe? No? Ok.

And finally, let’s talk about that last sentence. “I’m a woman, and the rest is up to you.” Wait a second—wasn’t this whole graphic about not letting all the anti-feminist douchenozzles define who women are with all these stereotypes? Shouldn’t the rest be up to us, ourselves, demanding that other people stop trying to define us? I’m so confused. This seems really counterintuitive to the whole point of this image. Maybe you need a new copywriter.

Then, there’s this nifty little flow-chart.

elle flowchart

Again, the intentions are good. Let’s visually persuade folks to identify as feminists because being a feminist is awesome! Yay!

But again, queer women and women of color are pretty much left out of the picture. Women in these two groups are more likely to be unemployed, to have more difficulty accessing quality healthcare, and to be victims of violence. Any mention of that? Nope. But the copywriters did make sure to mention that bullying sucks. (Which it totally does, but still. Priorities, people.)

So what’s the deal here? Why is it, that in 2013, we’re rebranding feminism and STILL leaving out the queers and people of color?

but why

Well, for starters, it seems that all the folks who worked on this little ad campaign are straight, white women. It’s no coincidence that the girls over at The Vagenda were asked to collaborate on this project, and not, say, Black Girl Dangerous.

Not to mention, Elle’s target market is a straight, white, feminine-presenting woman. I bet this rebranding effort would look a lot different if it was running in Essence or Curve.


Woot woot for Audre Lorde!

But mostly, the answer is that racism, homophobia, and transphobia are still really big problems. The awesome women over at #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen can tell you all about it. Preach.

So this November, when you pick up Elle’s feminist issue, take it with a grain of salt. And maybe raise some hell about it.

Because this feminist rebrand? It’s still white, straight, and gender normative. That’s nothing new.

2 thoughts on “Why this Feminist Rebranding Is Actually Nothing New

  1. Pingback: How a Brand Can Change the World | Hannah R. Winsten Communications

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