Is feminism fit for the future?

13 : 04 : 2018 Female Futures : Advertising : Workplace
#femaleisforce campaign by VSCO and Nike and JASSIEUO #femaleisforce campaign by VSCO and Nike and JASSIEUO

Could brands and business take a more direct role in helping women to define feminism for themselves?

Victoria Buchanan, strategic researcher, The Future Laboratory

In 2017, the Merriam-Webster dictionary named ‘feminism’ as its word of the year, after a 70% rise in searches for the term in 2017 compared to 2016. And yet last week, during a panel exploring the changing face of feminism, journalist Ella Whelan announced ‘I’m not a feminist’ to a room full of shocked women.

But Whelan isn’t the only one having a problem identifying with the movement. According to Mintel, just 29% of UK women describe themselves as feminists. Almost half of all women agree that it’s too difficult to understand what being a feminist means.

‘Feminism is now a rich woman’s game in which celebrities, commentators and politicians wax lyrical about the patriarchy to the sound of applause from Twitter and call it progress,’ argued Wheelan.

After Wheelan’s talk, I realised that we are so busy fighting among ourselves (in our female-only echo chambers) that we aren’t stopping to create a vision for what comes next.

Her point about feminism being ‘a rich woman’s game’ draws attention to the fact that we all access feminism from a different starting point, across a spectrum of needs. If feminism is going to accomplish anything we need to build an intersectional approach that everyone feels part of.

With many women feeling unable to identify with the movement, I wonder whether brands and businesses could take a more direct role in helping women to define feminism for themselves?

Maybe we should start by thinking about what we want feminism to achieve. Take power, for example. The traditional pursuit of equality has always looked at the power men have and considered how women might be able to gain an equal share of it, but in redefining feminism maybe our understanding of what power consists of should be challenged and reframed for the future.

Mary Beard points out that power is traditionally coded as masculine, and it will always be insufficient for women to merely to adapt those codes; rather, the codes themselves need to be revised.

It’s time to challenge the idea that there is just one type of feminism that we all need to ascribe to.

Feminism tells us we need to ‘lean in’ to pursue power and status, but what if we want to create our own measurements of success? Our Post-growth Society macrotrend proposes that we devise new definitions of societal advancement that look beyond GDP growth. What about pursuing new markers of success such as wellbeing, emotional fulfilment and social good over job titles and financial incentives?

Vauxhall’s Pyjama Mamas commercial challenges the expectation that women should not wear their pyjamas to take their kids to school – it’s just one example of a brand challenging definitions of female achievement and success.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time to challenge the idea that there is just one type of feminism that we all need to ascribe to. I’m pretty sure that’s a future that both genders want to attain. In fact, young people are already doing this – 40.6% of people under 30 believe a sense of purpose and impact on society is the most important criterion when considering a job, according to the 2017 Global Shapers Survey by World Economic Forum.

It is exactly 100 years since the Suffragettes first won the right for women in Britain to be able to vote, and we’ve come a long way, but there is still more to do. Whether feminism has what it takes to adapt to the new metrics needed to thrive in the 21st century comes down to our ability to think critically and empathetically about what we want to build next. Nobody said it would be easy.

For more on how your brand can take a leading role in this debate, read our Female Futures vertical.