Let’s face it, somewhere along the way, maybe in the last decade or so, the word “feminism” got a bad name. Even females began to dislike it. The “f” word, as it was derogatorily coined, became synonymous with militant “bra burning” men haters. In fact, feminism became just down right unfeminine.   A feminist fatigue settled on the horizon as a western popular culture ideal of the flawless female, manifested as long-legged and longhaired perfection gained traction. The depiction of women in the media became manipulated to meet this unrealistic image and in a culture obsessed by celebrity the online world created a perfect storm, a catalyst to the retrograde objectification and eroticization of females. As if all that the pioneers of feminism had fought for, that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities was momentarily forgotten.


But in recent years there has been a stirring of voices, a renewed energy around feminist ideals. And, like it or not, this voice has gained momentum from the epicenter of where some may think the rot set in. In the hallowed halls of Hollywood, the new faces of feminism are 20 something millennials who are speaking out on what many of us hold deep within us.   Lena Dunham, Kristen Stewart, Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence are just a few of the names who are comfortable and proud to express feminist ideals and messaging.


In an interview in February of this year, Kristen Stewart explains, “I feel like some girls around my age are less inclined to say, ‘of course I’m a feminist’, and ‘of course I believe in equal rights for men and women’, because there are implications that go along with the word feminist that they feel are too in-your-face or aggressive. A lot of girls nowadays are like, ‘Eww, I’m not like that.’ They don’t get that there’s no one particular way you have to be in order to stand for all of the things feminism stands for.”


This is a message fiercely conveyed by Lena Dunham, “a huge part of being a feminist is giving women freedom to make choices you wouldn’t make yourself”. Her message is to not be afraid, never to hold back and to support any other woman who has the courage to do the same. Not without controversy, Lena Dunham’s flagship HBO series Girls has averaged 4.6 million viewers per season and is a groundbreaking depiction of non-stereotypical females on their journey to independence.


Emma Watson echoes Lena Dunham’s sentiment. In her 2014 speech to the UN Assembly she reflects that as a feminist she has been seen as too aggressive, too strong, isolating, anti men and unattractive.  Not withstanding, she proudly holds her ground. “Feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. I think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men.”


And, has this outspokenness, this fearless expression of feminism reduced these celebrities marketability?


Not likely.

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Lena Dunham was engaged to campaign to first time voters in Barrack Obama’s 2012 election campaign calling to a new generation to vote for a man who “cares and understands women.” Kristen Stewart is the face of campaigns for Chanel, Flora Botanica and Balenciaga. While Emma Stewart has partnered Burberry and is the chosen face of Lancôme.


Why? Because marketers realize that feminism is more than just a word with a lot of syllables. Contemporary women who represent feminism embody the qualities that are the holly grail of brand positioning. These women are role models and trailblazers. They are fearless, intelligent and brave. And when a brand begins to represent qualities that we as consumers admire and respect, the power of that brand grows exponentially.


After decades of being berated for objectifying women, marketers are leaning in to the debate on women’s rights with enthusiasm. But, beware of inauthentic female-empowerment messaging, getting it wrong cheapens the idea of women’s equality, and that is dangerous not only for the marketers behind those thin messages, but to the feminist movement itself.   Marketers must learn to walk the line, to understand how to market with heart, and to understand what women truly want. Those that celebrate female strength in a way that clearly aligns with both their brand and their products can do more good than harm. It’s about truly empowering women at any age.


So, is understanding the new face of feminism a moral or marketing imperative? Of course, it’s both.


Abby Fry
Strategic Planner – Project Director