Rebranding Feminism

Elle magazine has approached three advertising agencies – Brave, Mother and Wieden + Kennedy London – and asked them to rebrand feminism. Discuss.

Elle magazine has approached three advertising agencies – Brave, Mother and Wieden + Kennedy London – and asked them to rebrand feminism.

The results of the project will appear in the November issue of the UK edition of Elle as an eight-page feature. To create the work, which was made for free by all agencies involved, Elle teamed the ad agencies with three feminist groups: Mother worked with The Feminist Times (the soon-to-be launched version of classic feminist magazine Spare Rib, edited by Charlotte Raven), Brave with teenage feminist campaigner Jinan Younis, and W+K with the founders of the Vagenda website, Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. The three groups all created pages to be featured in the magazine.

In assessing the work, I guess the first question that should be asked is whether feminism actually needs rebranding. So many things these days are needlessly rebranded, just for the sake of getting some press attention, yet in the case of feminism the answer is, sadly, a resounding yes. Despite its core principles being about simple equality between men and women – equal political, economic and social rights – over the nearly 80 years since the word was coined, its meaning has warped and shifted so much that it means many different things to different people. If we’re in a position in 2013 where our prime minister still can’t call himself a feminist, the word definitely needs a facelift.

Brave and Jinan Younis’s response to Elle’s brief

It is interesting then that Elle has chosen to do this project now. There has been a resurgence of feminist groups over the last few years, alongside websites such as Everyday Sexism, which highlights the casual sexist remarks and actions that many women experience. The fact that Elle is covering it though suggests a certain tipping point – hardly known as a bastion for political action, the decision to run such a large feature on the subject means that the new feminist movement is finally reaching the mainstream. And, if that is the case, who better to help sharpen up its image than some of the best communication companies the UK has to offer?

Mother and The Feminist Time’s piece focuses on pay

Thankfully, as I have actually written that last sentence down in public, I’m relieved to say that the resulting work for Elle stands up. All too often these kinds of projects will get sidetracked with shock tactics or gimmickry, but here all three agencies have delivered mature, simple responses to the brief, which are all nicely designed too. While the results are not a rebrand in the purest sense of the word, the project is a serious attempt to reposition the debate.

Brave and Jinan Younis have created a handy flowchart that highlights the many thorny issues surrounding the word: the extremity with which some people view it; whether it’s appropriate for men to use; whether you can still be girly and be a feminist. Mother and The Feminist Times meanwhile have honed in simply on the issue of pay, and the fact that, on average, British women earn 15% less than their male counterparts.

Wieden + Kennedy and Vagenda have created a press ad that addresses the many stereotypes that women have to field, cliches that are arguably propogated most by women’s magazines, which of course include Elle. The team also created a tear out page (below) to encourage women to get online and write what defines them as a woman on Twitter, using the hashtag #imawomanand. The examples they give include sentences such as ‘I have a PhD’, ‘I’m in prison’ and ‘I’m single by choice’.

To tie-in with the magazine article, W+K is also creating an interactive window installation that launches next week, while the magazine will be staging an event at the end of October, details of which are still to be confirmed.

On the back of this project, Mother has also launched its own initiaitive entitled Project Bush. It’s a contentious offering, and more in line with the shock tactics that I mentioned earlier. In order to highlight the very real issue of young women feeling obliged to shave their pubic hair to be sexy, the agency has commissioned photographer Alisia Connan to run a ‘bush booth’ at the agency where she will photograph the ‘lady gardens’ of volunteers, with the resulting images displayed, anonymously, in an exhibition at the agency at a later date. Unsurprisingly the project has already prompted a raft of comment on blogs. If you want to take part, email

Returning to the Elle work, it is refreshing to see a project that is able to cut through all the controversy that surrounds the word ‘feminism’ and make some clear points. It is a word with a complicated history, but it should be a word for everyone. Perhaps this project will begin to help that happen.

  • Feminism is very much due a rebrand. It’s such an important issue and so many people view it as some anachronistic movement to be ridiculed. It’s a very difficult thing to make people look objectively at a culture they are part of.

    “Project bush” doesn’t fill me with confidence. Doesn’t really sound that empowering to me. I’ll try to remain open minded about it…

  • Tony

    All of these raise valid points but they neglect to mention/understand the fact that feminism, by using the prefix “fem-” within its name, just acknowledges gender, polarises the debate, skews the entire discourse too far towards the feminine and alienates many men. As a graduate of an English course that dealt with cultural theory, I got shouted down a lot (and derided) by “feminists” simply because I was a man. That’s not helpful at all.

    As such, I call myself an egalitarian, and sadly, I think that feminism really needs to take that name to make the inroads it desperately needs to. Anything that pits the genders against each other really isn’t helpful.

  • Steve P

    Well-handled responses by some cracking agencies, but I feel they’ve all played it a bit safe without digging into the core issue.

    @Tony is spot on – there shouldn’t be masculism or feminism if equality is the goal.

  • John

    Nice use of pink for the ladies

  • @Tony
    Feminism doesn’t pit genders against each other, quite the opposite. I wouldn’t judge feminist discourse based on some annoying people at college. This is why it needs a rebrand.

  • My two cents: Feminists are taking it way too far. Nowadays they have the same rights, chances, opportunities, education etc. And still, still, they are unhappy. They want the same rights, but men still have to pay the dates, open the door for them, treat them special and what ever women want. It’s not right. People need to acknowledge that there ARE some differences, but at a marginal level. Let them be. It’s not that bad. Women can become successful, rich, powerful and intellectual without anyone holding them back. I think feminists succeed in what they wanted to accomplish. Now settle down a bit, haha. It’s getting messy.

  • Peter M.

    I think the problem with this is that it’s very much dependent on which way you come at it.

    For instance, is it bad that only 1 in 4 MPs are women? Well I suppose it is, but then again, do politicians pass any laws that favour men? I can’t think of any, and in fact when one looks at the unequal retirement age for example, there are quite a few laws and policies which discriminate against men.

    Of course, one could equally argue that the vast majority of people doing the not-very-nice jobs in society are also men. It’s overwhelmingly men who work in abattoirs, clean our streets, drive the lorries which deliver our food, load bags onto our airplanes, catch our fish, maintain our sewers etc.

    Question: If an employer could get away with paying women less for exactly the same job/work, why wouldn’t they employ all women?

    The really basic question any campaign like this needs to ask is quite fundamental: is it true, or has it ever been true, that women are oppressed, or have been in some way disadvantaged compared to men? Feminists say ‘of course it’s true’, but the fact that most of the public don’t agree says something interesting surely?

    Women only got the vote in 1918? Well yes, but men only got the vote in 1918 as well. Most of the men who fought and died in WW1 didn’t have the vote either, and they had to fight for it, which women didn’t.

    Women control >70% of all spending in the UK. Who has more power? The person who earns the money, or the person to whom the money is transferred and then spends it?

    Men account for 94% of all workplace deaths and serious injuries. Is that equal? Men commit suicide 10x more than women. If a man has recently been divorced or separated, his chance of suicide is so great he would statistically be safer serving on the frontline in Afghanistan. What does that tell us?

    Some women received violent tweets on Twitter? Well that’s very bad. But the editor of GQ received death threats from One Direction fans too – and they were all from teenage girls. There’s blame to be shared around there.

    These are amongst the reasons that ‘rebranding’ an ideology such as feminism (and it IS an ideology, it’s not really about ‘equality’, it’s about advocacy for special treatment for one sex) is so problematic.

    Feminists campaign against an automatic presumption of shared parenting in UK family law for example. But 80% of the public think children should have the right to be cared for by both their mother AND father.

    So how do you put a postive spin on that?

  • Patricia

    Seriously John, if you really believe that, you obviously live on a different planet.
    Just take a look at a couple of music videos, compare your salary with that of a female colleague with the same level of responsibility and start counting all the stereotypes women are still subjected too.
    “Treat them special?” Not special, just want to be treated the same.
    Feminism is still light years from achieving its basic objectives and I really welcome this initiative from ELLE.

  • I don’t like pink much. However, with all these design, they really make sense to me. Thanks!

  • Bonnie

    I hope my response doesn’t lead you to think like @Tony, and make you believe you have been “shouted down because you are a man”, but it is very difficult to understand the struggle women have every day, if you are not a woman yourself. And that is exactly why education is important – to help you understand.

    Woman are still paid less, and still victims of workplace harassment. 1 in 3 women will experience rape, 2 in 3 will experience sexual violence against them. Opportunities are barely equal if they are made to feel uncomfortable or undeserving of their position, or worse — what about the many women who are bullied and raped in the army? Just because they have are able to join the army now, still doesn’t mean they can as an equal – and that example plays out across many aspects of a woman’s life, in varying degrees.

    When you say, “But men still have to pay on dates”etc, you are not talking about feminism or equality, you are talking about politeness. It may not be the case for you, but if I ask someone to come meet me for lunch, more often than not, I pay — it’s polite. If I am standing by the door, I open it — it is polite.

    It’s not getting messy, we still need to talk about these issues.I am a young woman and I am reminded of my inferior status constantly. I’d trade up at the cost of a free dinner anyday.

  • I had both of my children very young and dealt with all of the stigma of being a very young, single mum living in a rather choice area of Lverpool. I’m extremely proud of the degree I earned and the career I managed to carve out for myself. I’ve worked with platinum selling bands, international brands and delivered charity campaigns that have really made a difference.

    I have developed a few tactics to ensure all of my multiple responsibilities and pressures don’t get on top of me. I try to deal with the frustrations of being a young mother with good humour. I also ensure that my colleagues, clients and children are all aware that they are not always my number one concern, and that other responsibilities may require my attention.

    At times, these responsibilities may fight for dominance. While I cannot directly affect the behaviour of an unreasonable client, I can make a difference to the behaviour of my children. I can ensure that they do not make the connection between acting up and having my attention.

    I find the best way to deal with immature attention seeking behaviour is to cast it a filthy look and carry on with the daily business of getting on with it. It’s a shame we can’t send some adults to the naughty step, it worked a treat when my boys were little.

  • DAMN! Sucked in by link bait. Don’t click his URL.

    FYI, John Humphreys is a blag comment intended to send links from an authoritative source (CRBlog) to a rubbish website therefore driving up the rubbish site’s Page rank.

    Personally, I blame the patriarchy.

  • @Peter M.
    It’s not about women getting one over on men. It’s about equality for the sexes in the same way anti-racism is not about black people getting one over on white people.

    FHM: Feminism Helps Men. Anyone who’s done any reading on the subject knows this (and as a man myself, I can testify to this fact). Your question of “is it true?” will be answered pretty quickly if you did this (to save you time, the answer is ‘yes’).

    It would be lovely to have a discussion about how to communicate the importance of feminism without the interjection of naive platitudes from ill-informed people clogging up the thread. It only goes to prove how important the communication of this subject is.

    I think I’ve changed my mind about “Project Bush”. Feeling more positive about it than before. The more examples of real bodies everyone can see, the better in my opinion.

  • Marie

    Q: Is feminism a misnomer?
    A: Perhaps, but language is inherently problematic & gendered, and the term has been around for so long, we should probably stick to it. Let’s rebrand instead!

    Q: Is feminism sexist?
    A: No.

    Q: Why should I call myself a feminist?
    A: Because feminism is about equality for all, and not about favouring women.

    Q: Do men need feminism?
    A: Yes. Just as women should be free to pursue traditionally male professions such as fireMEN so men should feel the same about being midWIVES.

  • Can anyone give an example where a woman can’t do something because of their gender? School? College? University? Job? Becoming a parent? Buying a house? Getting a loan? Starting their own business? The opportunities are there.

    Ok, fair pay has been mentioned, but this isn’t an issue necessarily to do with gender, there are plenty of cases where people are working the exact same jobs and are on different salaries. I’m not saying it’s right (because it clearly isn’t) but it’s not a female specific issue.

    The posters are ok. Not sure they will convince anyone of anything but reinforce ideas people already have. So their success is somewhat meh.

  • @James

    Women are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia to name the first thing that comes into my head. If we’re talking about western feminism (which we are) then I think the whole “equal pay” issue a bit misleading to be honest. The main problem with gender inequality is a deep-seated sociological problem more than anything else. We could make sure that women have equal pay throughout the country but there would still be inequality through discrimination and objectification.

    An example in western society: You can’t be a famous female personality without the media primarily focussing on your looks before your talent (this is not the same for men). Or check out the popular YouTube vloggers and see how the comments differ between the male and female vloggers.

    The recent Steubenville High School rape case is a classic example of why we need feminism. A girl was raped by two students and the media focussed on how tragic is was that the boys in question had such promising futures that would now not be fulfilled because they had been convicted of rape.

    I’m scratching the frost at the very tip of a massive iceberg here. We really need to educate people about feminism. The other side is winning and it’s not the right side. For some reason, people are under the delusion that feminism in someway will disadvantage men. This is not true.

    btw: ‘Gender’=masculine/feminine (socially constructed), ‘Sex’=male/female (biological)

  • ZZ

    I take the point that men may not be able to truly understand the issues women face on a daily basis and can only try to empathise, but at least the movement has traction. How many black people are in parliament, what are the discrepancies in terms of black people as a population of poor areas, rates of stop and search, prison population, conviction rates, arrest rates and pay gap etc. My point being there are lots of folk out there who also have a struggle that others will find it hard to relate to. I mean how many of the high paying jobs in the UK are white, middle class men?? Ethnic Minority women, now there are some peeps overcoming obstacles.

  • Ross

    From a design point of view, I don’t believe any of these examples succeed in what they set out to do: rebranding feminism. They don’t even reposition the argument in the slightest.

    What really is feminism? There is too many conflicting opinions on what it really is. Is it about making sure women are legally equal as men (and vice versa) or is it about how people being able to do what is socially viewed as something for the other gender (men wearing dresses), or is it both (too confusing)?

    For me the greatest shame is that it is still a divisive term and alienates men from the discussion (even if it’s accidentally), these examples support that opinion. Arguments above talk about how it’s for men too and I feel that is the biggest flaw in these executions because it doesn’t even remotely tackle this modern perspective of feminism. A real rebrand would be to position this for men too. I know it was for a womens magazine but this is where feminism needs to start evolving towards.

    Starting with treating the flow chart as the first visual:

    Example one doesn’t allow for conversation and is too stubborn and divisive in it’s execution. It does address that a man are feminists too, but only fleetingly.

    Example two is hard to argue with but is too oversimplified. Although there are wage discrepancies across the board, it does succeed in addressing that overall women get paid less than men. But sometimes people (any gender) get paid less for a good reason.

    Poster three shouldn’t be made out to be a gender specific issue, men suffer from exactly the same problem.

    Poster four, shouldn’t that be “I’M A HUMAN AND…”. I like this the most as it’s not as tired and well trodden as the others in it’s messaging.

    @JamesWindsor, it swings both ways and showing only one side of the argument doesn’t help. What about the 11 year old boy from Florida who got stripped and filmed by two girls at school? They weren’t even disciplined by the school…

  • @Ross
    I’m not aware of the specific case you’re referring to but its not being taken seriously is a good reason why we need gender equality. That is a feminist issue. As I keep saying: feminism helps both men and women.

    We focus on women’s issues more because they are more affected by it and historically have been more so. Men do experience sexual violence but not anywhere near as much as women do. “Feminism” has become more of a misnomer than it was previously, mainstream feminist discourse does not call for the issues of only one sex to be addressed, it calls for a cultural paradigm shift toward gender equality and to raise awareness of sexism that most of us are blind to because it is in the fabric of the culture we are part of.

  • Ross


    I would say that in this case it’s not a good idea to show issues women come up against in isolation if feminism really is about coming at equality from both ends.

    Finally, I don’t disagree with anything you say (far from it) but my main point is that feminism needs to move away from it’s historical past (something these posters/examples above don’t do) if it’s to be as relevant as possible to modern life. If you really think about it, a lot of the negative reactions towards feminism here is how feminism is communicated in the tired/outdated messaging in the above posters.

  • andrew

    Women and Men are different. They are not the same.

    The problem with feminism in the focus on equality without recognizing those differences. The elephant in the room: Child birth!

    My wife had a career until our kids came along. Until then she earned about the same as me. She will likely now have six years out. In the interim my pay is likely to go up and i’ll get promoted. She will start again on a rung lower than she was at before.

    We both expect this and it is accepted for we are a team. But like any team we have different roles in it.

    I think sometimes feminism is associated with placing unfair pressure on women to be all things, mother and successful business person (which is impossible unless you are superwomen or very well off). The pressure on women to go back to the work place has also increased the requirement for 2 incomes in a household and reduced the sustainability of the “traditional” family unit. Now it is expected that the kids are outsourced to a third party whilst both parents work. In short, everyone works harder.

    I think there are things that can be done. One practical step is to have maternity leave allocated on a per child basis like in Sweden. I doubt this will completely equalize pay and the career trajectory because women are statistically more likely to look after the kids. But it does then becomes a matter of choice.

    This is a complicated issue requiring practical solutions and these slogans show absolutely no understanding of the underlying issues. They are also crass in places, designed to shock. This issue should not be reduced to an FCUK advert. This does not help the cause.

  • Shouldn’t a ‘re-brand’ offer a new approach to a subject? The examples above are confrontational and a bit punky – pretty stereotypical representations of feminism. Would be nice to see some examples that use a little more subversive humour and wit.

  • Johnos

    Stereotypical rebranding.

    Interesting thread.

    I see a lot of women discriminated against on a daily basis in the environment I work in. I dont think this campaign will do much to change that. unless you’ve been discriminated against you’ve no idea how it feels or how it changes a person – blame capitalism its designed to exploit and monetise discrimination

  • As usual some shockingly ignorant comments from men here, yes Andrew women can have children, that doesn’t mean they should be discriminated against!

    Women’s oppression is part of the structure of Capitalism, Capital benefits if women earn less, bring up children for free, feel the need to paint their faces with expensive make up to be ‘attractive’ etc etc. And this also helps to discipline male labour too.

    The Family and State reinforce this oppression as the norm as society and it is structured into law etc is the idea that women should be the ones to look after kids, or be the man’s possession in marriage/property relations. It was legal for a man to rape his wife in this country till 1991!

    Obviously some people try and deal with this as best they can by being a team and not acting as a traditional family, but it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s the reality women face.

    Then on top of that is a veritable tsunami of images produced by the ad/publishing/porn industries that attempt reinforce daily the idea that a women’s worth is her looks and all she is, is a body to be bought and sold.

    What would bring real equality? And here we’re not talking about middle class feminism that sees the goal as ‘having it all’ i.e. a career and having kids. Real equality would mean, equal pay, free childcare, more flexible working hours, equal paternity/maternity leave and society taking more responsibility for children. That is in the interests of women AND men, as all our lives would be transformed for the better.

    Things like this would transform the design field, where women despite being in the majority at college are virtually nowhere leading the field because of the way childcare create real blocks to them working and an industry of (mainly) small businesses have no capacity to deal with this, we need the State in this instance to help.

    I don’t believe all that can happen under Capitalism, though reforms can, so the real issue with Feminism is not so much the need for a rebrand (important though that is, and the examples above are ok I think), but a powerful social and political movement that can achieve those goals.

    Let’s hope this work and the slowly rising amount of young women who are kicking back against all this crap can make that difference.

  • Geoff

    Does it tell us something that these are mostly male reactions to the rebranding of feminism by Elle?

  • @Geoff

    It tells us that a lot of men feel threatened by what they perceive as feminist ideology and therefore that feminism is widely misrepresented by the mainstream media.

  • Zomby Poet

    The real issue is violence against women.

    Ask your representatives:

    What are their views on Sharia Law?

    What do they think about the following statements:

    The West Will Tolerate Itself To Death.

    Why Do We Tolerate Violence Against Women?

    What are their plans to halt violence against women around world including:

    1) Female genital mutilation
    2) Punishing rape victims
    3) Honor killing
    4) Strapping bombs to children
    5) Sexually enslaving women
    6) Murdering homosexuals
    7) Child marriage
    8) Domestic Violence
    9) Disciplining or Punishing Wives