There has been some discussion this week, not for the first time, about whether feminism needs rebranding. To me these discussions always indicate, quite persuasively, why feminism does need a rebrand. Urgently.
A study from the University of Toronto confirms what you probably might know or suspect: that the word feminist is plagued by negative stereotypes. The study also found that, unsurprisingly, support for feminist goals is hampered by these negative associations.
This is troubling but not new. I know lots of women – of different ages, stages and backgrounds — who resist the label for themselves despite agreeing with equality. I imagine you might know some as well. You might even be one yourself. Just last year the Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer explained that she does not consider herself a feminist, despite leading a life that is only possible because of the trail blazed by the original feminists. While this is frustrating it is not incomprehensible.
Because, as the study showed, to lots of people feminism is ugly. It is vicious, elitist, angry and exclusive which is maddening because it puts people off. And frankly that’s the last thing feminism needs. Because the more people who are put off feminism, the further away the feminist dream of achieving equality becomes.
Now I’m guessing here but my instinct is that women like Mayer who dislike feminism don’t dislike their right to vote or their right to wear jeans or their right to be married and work or their right to be paid fairly. I’m assuming they distance themselves from the word because they don’t see it as being applicable to them. And that, right there, is exactly why feminism needs rebranding.
If feminism were a product, and a large proportion of the market for whom that product was designed, said the product didn’t resonate with them, a marketer would reach one of two conclusions. Either the product isn’t relevant or it is not understood.
Unfortunately — whether anyone agrees with the word or not — feminism remains vitally relevant. For all the reasons I outlined in my recent Memo to the Minister for women, the need to agitate for gender equality is as important as ever. The pay gap. The proportion of women in leadership positions in business and in government. The fact women are still far more likely to live in poverty than men. The fact that domestic violence and sexual harassment are still prevalent issues for women. Whichever way you cut it is clear the reasons for feminism’s being are still alive and well.
So if the problem with feminism isn’t product irrelevance, it must be misunderstanding. And therein lies the reason – and opportunity — for a brand overhaul. Feminism doesn’t need a superficial rebrand to make it look pretty. It needs a rebrand so that it resonates with the intended recipients – current and future — of its many benefits. It needs a rebrand so that it is understood for all of the fantastic things that it actually is. Because if it were recognised for what it is – constructive and powerful – it would be popular, and being popular would be the best thing that could ever happen to feminism.
Because the more supporters feminism can find, the more brand ambassadors it will have, which means the bigger impact it can have. The upshot to this is that the likelihood of creating actual, lasting change is far greater. By way of contrast, the University of Toronto’s study found that respondents who had strongly negative stereotypes about feminism had reduced willingness “to adopt the behaviours that these activities promoted.”
I’m no marketer but if I were charged with creating awareness and better understanding about feminism I would start by focusing on what feminism is. The point of feminism is not that women all want the same things or believe in the same causes. It is about having the choice to be who we want and believe what we want.
Feminism is not a political persuasion. It is a choice and merely a starting point for the rest of our choices; the platform from which we choose whatever direction we like. It does not mean we have to agree with, like or support every other woman on the planet. It means we make the choice to agree with, like and support whomever we want.
It does not mean we must hate men or vote Labor. It means we can choose to hate whomever we want and vote however we want. It does not mean being averse to shaving or baking or working. You can be all those things or none of those things if you choose, but none of that is implicit in being a feminist. Feminism is a frame of mind in which we let choice prevail over gender. Imagine our world if that frame of mind prevailed?
How do you define feminism? Do you think a rebrand is necessary?