Judith Butler, a gender theorist coined the term gender performativity in her book Gender Trouble (1990). She posited the theory of gender as a social and cultural construction. She also asserted that there is no such thing as gender and femininity/masculinity have no rules.
In 2019, stereotypes in marketing and advertising are supposed to be ancient history but it seems we still have a long way to go.
We must focus on structural inequalities faced by women in their everyday life, keeping in mind that they are now more and more educated and made aware of their rights, their history and their position in the society.
However, it looks like brands are slow to catch on women real needs and expectations not only as consumers but also as individuals facing several deep issues on a daily basis. Then, why should brands redefine their guidelines when it comes to marketing to women ?
Gender marketing and Femvertising
Gender marketing have been serving large retailers for a long time, reinforcing gender roles and entrenching old ideas on femininity and masculinity. This is why it must now be challenged.
As a consequence of gender marketing, which is a way to split people into two distinct categories, goods and services have been labelled as “feminine” or “masculine”. Blue-colored trousers for boys, pink-colored skirts for girls. “Performance” for boys, “easy to use” for girls. Mowers for boys, vaccuum cleaners for girls. Reversing stereotypes and showing men doing the dishes or hanging the laundry out and women using drills is not enough.
Femvertising (Feminism + Advertising) claims to trigger clichés that the advertising industry created itself by representing “strong” women. But what is a “strong” woman ? Should she be represented as men ? Should she bare fangs and act “manly” ? Is a woman less valuable if she is less ambitious ? Can she also be seen as “strong” ? Although praiseworthy, Femvertising have limits.
How to redefine masculinity
As a matter of fact, it is all about going beyond basic struggles and hashtags. The #Metoo and #Heforshe movements raise a question about the place of the masculine gender faced with the feminine gender in society.
In other words : what does it mean to be a man ? Think about brands such as Axe or Paco Rabanne that entrenched masculine stereotypes : was it really healthy ? Nowadays, some other brands decided to challenge the idea of masculinity, such as Gillette did in their last ad.
Is it possible to target all women ?
Being able to target all the women in the world without altering feminist messages and demands is now a major stake for brands. To that end, they should try to embrace their convictions instead of using them for commercial purposes. Instrumentalizing values and struggles as they do is meaningless for their product or image.
Sometimes, it is all about remaining (gender) neutral. Consistency and transparency are key to building trust.
Marketing is a powerful weapon. In the past, it has been the best way to sell goods and services, make people dream and spread creative universes all around the world. Nowadays, marketing can significantly change the world we are living in and make it a better place for everyone.