Sod the Stereotypes: Rethinking the Rebranding of Feminism


Have you read about the rebranding fiasco? Elle UK partnered with three prominent advertising companies, Mother, Brave, and W&K, to “rebrand” feminism.  The intended target of this advertising move seems to be women who don’t claim the word feminist. ” The posters, which are very attractive–graphically appealing, expletive-laced, bright– all use a version of the “aha! but you really ARE a feminist!” logic. Which isn’t a terrible move, as it seems that the main objection women have to the word feminist is the stereotype. Here’s the logic, as I see it:

If one can prove that I am a feminist, even though [insert personal characteristic that does not agree with stereotypical feminist image], then clearly the stereotype about feminism isn’t accurate. So it does apply to me. So I should claim the word. And in my claiming of the word, in all my non-stereotypical-ness, I will negate future stereotypes about feminism. The ranks will swell, political influence will be gained, women will get equal pay, objectification and oppression and all bad things will come to an end. Forever and ever, amen. 

And it’s not a bad plan. This is what we call in class–when we’re being more than a little dismissive of the rhetorical moves that get you there–the Deconstruction Tango. The thing that doesn’t fit but is included in the whole destabilizes the whole. In this case, an individual’s assumptions about a stereotype can be brought down by revealing that the stereotype isn’t universal, and a stereotype gets its power through its presumption of universality.


Regardless, the internet, predictably, exploded. Primary objectors to this project seem to be women who already embrace the term feminist. I think Guardian writer Laurie Penny’s is most eloquent about the issue. She says:

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always believed part of the point of feminist politics — part of the point of any sort of radical politics — is some principles are more important than being universally adored, particularly by the sort of men who would prefer women to smile quietly and grow our hair out.” (quoted in The Alligator)

Penny takes issue with the idea of rebranding because feminism should’t need to appeal to people, just as women don’t need to appeal to men. Worth is not inherent in or attained by approval. Brilliantly said, and I agree.


It is troubling for avowed feminists (of whom I am one) to object to this attempt to meet non-claiming-feminists on their own ground. I think that in doing so, feminists replicate a position of privilege that feminism purportedly opposes. It’s naive of a tenured, ivory-tower professor to ignore the challenges that a first-generation college student might face. It’s naive, or worse, for someone born into wealth to think that low income individuals are there because of a personal choice not to work. And it’s presumptuous for any avowed feminist–with reading, training, community behind her– to say that the way another person reaches feminism is wrong.

I don’t know. I don’t think the Elle campaign is horrible. If women read the posters, think about their rights, ask about raises, allow their own self-reflective gaze to supplant the male gaze, is that a bad thing? Does it really matter if you found feminism in the pages of Simone de Beauvoir and the next generation finds it in Elle? Personally, I don’t think I care. It’s just a first step.

Additional reading: 

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