How to rebrand feminism and get women fired in the process

I have covered prior campaigns to rebrand feminism before here; and here are more of my thoughts on the issue at a Stream event hosted by Bitch Magazine. I just came across this other rebranding effort, featured at Fastcompany last month. This one is driven by Elle Magazine and it involves three different ad agencies and Vagenda Mag. From the post:

For its November Issue, Elle UK decided to “Rebrand Feminism,” treating the advancement of women’s rights like a dated product that needs to be dusted off and made cool again. The magazine paired three award-winning ad agencies–Brave, Mother, and Wieden+Kennedy–with three feminist organizations and had them create a series of advertisements aimed at fixing feminism’s supposed image problem.

Usually I wouldn’t bother writing about something that is weeks old and involves a topic I have already said my part about. However, this is one of the posters they are using to “rebrand feminism” and this does merit some commentary:


Again, from the post:

“We wanted to create an ad that made you feel empowered to do something about the pay gap. Thinking about asking someone what they earned made me physically wince. I liked that. It wasn’t another statistic to gloss over; I had to think about whether my male colleagues earned more than me. It also gave people a simple action to do.”

Depending on where you live in the Western world, this “simple action” as she calls it, can get you fired. Now, let me be clear, in the US and in the European Union it is forbidden by law to prevent employees from discussing their salaries with one another. And yet, this prohibition is in many Human Resources’ Employees Manuals and Codes of Conduct. For years I worked at a corporation where, even though I was in The Netherlands, where such clause is not allowed, it was still in our Code of Conduct. Our local Dutch managers knew that they weren’t allowed to enforce it and yet, they used it to threaten us if we complained about pay issues. I knew that, had I been fired for talking about my salary, I could eventually go to court and have them either reinstate me at the job or indemnify me accordingly. However, going to court is not within the realm of possibility for everyone. It costs money and time, two options that are not necessarily available to people who need to pay bills right this moment. Going to court is also cumbersome and requires knowledge of the law and one’s rights, something that not everyone has access to. A poster like the above is likely to hurt working class women the most, who are, in a great number of cases, in lower paid positions depending on their paycheck to support themselves and their families. It again places the onus on individuals to go out and put themselves in harms ways rather than demand corporate wide disclosure through legal action. Rather than promote safety in numbers (to give one such example, through organizing a legal challenge that would force corporations to disclose salaries divided by function and gender to compare the resulting figures), this campaign makes individual women responsible for their own situation. Again, a neoliberal solution based on bootstrapping ourselves out of the pay gap.

Another point worth mentioning: this campaign says nothing about the pay gap faced by Women of Color in regards to White women. “Ask him”? I’d also ask her so that we clearly establish how the corporate game is set up.

When a campaign to “rebrand feminism” is constructed in a way that can potentially hurt the most vulnerable among us, I have to ask the obvious, who needs this rebranding and who is supposed to benefit from it?

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