Two decades after the Spice Girls popularised “girl power”, advertisers are finally catching on to its real potential. This year’s Super Bowl halftime break, watched by some 111 million Americans, featured a number of female-centric ads in multi-million dollar slots previously dominated by beer commercials aimed solely at men.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs“]
The Always #LikeAGirl campaign generated considerable column inches in the days after the Super Bowl, with many praising it for challenging scornful and derogatory gender stereotypes. Similarly in the UK, the #ThisGirlCan campaign encourages women of all ages and body types to embrace sports and exercise as part of a healthier lifestyle, with taglines such as “I jiggle, therefore I am” and “Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox.”
Empowertising isn’t enough
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Andi Zeisler at Salon coined the term “empowertising” to describe the practice of sugaring ads with shallow equality and empowerment slogans, and New York Magazine’s Ann Friedman has questioned the motivations of corporations who co-opt feminist ideals to sell their products during one of the most watched events of the television calendar. Feminism is no fad, Friedman asserts, and while it is admirable that brands want to leverage their visibility and influence to aid the cause, more is needed than a well put together YouTube clip. Friedman challenged brands to go further than pay simple lip service to feminism, and back up their impressive video campaigns with action.
While the #LikeAGirl and #ThisGirlCan hashtags have gained particular traction, British journalist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter has pilloried such efforts, calling them patronising. She proposes that instead we teach young boys and girls that there is value in both masculine and feminine traits, and that being yourself is the most important lesson.
There’s a line from Ian McEwan’s early novel The Cement Garden, immortalised first by Charlotte Gainsbourg in the movie adaptation and later in a song by Madonna, which cuts straight to the double standard at the heart of the matter: “Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it’s OK to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading. Because you think that being a girl is degrading.” Running “like a girl” isn’t degrading, Street-Porter maintains. It’s simply different. And if you require any further convincing that our differences should be celebrated, just check out Phoebe Buffay’s glorious running style.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_0Ta_DIWuU“]
When in doubt, laugh
Don’t worry, though – if the big budget Super Bowl ads aren’t doing it for you, you can look elsewhere on the web for funny and inspiring examples of girl power.
Comedy cures so many ills, and hijab-wearing jokesters Shugs and Fats (played by Radhika Vaz and Nadia Manzoor) are on a mission to prove that laughter can be used to fight prejudice. The ‘How To Spot A Feminist’ instalment of their webseries sees them take to the streets of New York City to quiz passers-by on feminism, religion, and Kim Kardashian:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtHYFj1rq38“]
Tech and tampons
Living in a post-Gamer Gate world has encouraged two teenage girls in particular to show just what they can achieve with a few lines of code and a sense of humour. “[Gamer Gate] was horrible to see and to hear about,” says 17 year old Sophie Houser, “but it strangely made me want to be here more I want to stand here like a woman. I want to hold my ground.”
Houser teamed up with 16 year old Andrea Gonzales at a Girls Who Code summer event, and together they invented “Tampon Run”, an 8 bit computer game where the objective is simple: collect as many tampons as possible, and use them to shoot your enemies. Houser and Gonzales launched a free iOS version of the game this week.
When the girls explain their motivation for creating “Tampon Run”, they are candid and direct about their subject matter; more so than the recent Always ad. “Most women menstruate for a large portion of their lives. It is, by all means, normal. The taboo that surrounds it teaches women that a normal and natural bodily function is embarrassing and crude.” Houser and Gonzales came up with “Tampon Run” as a means of normalising periods in everyday conversation and pop culture, rather than burying them beneath coded euphemisms.
Obviously, not all girls will necessarily be interested in creating their own comedy webseries, or a light-hearted iPhone game about feminine hygiene products. But all the same, partnerships like Shugs and Fats and Houser and Gonzales are welcome examples of young women doing their own thing, on their own terms – without trying to sell you anything.
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