A couple of years ago, Huffington Post did a poll that showed that the majority of its readers agree with the above definition of feminism but a minority would be willing to label themselves a feminist.
For years, people have been trying to figure out what causes this phenomenon, and as an advertising major, I would chalk it up to two things: social media and branding.
We all know what social media is, but what is a brand? A brand contains the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas that come to mind when we think of a person, company, product, or in this case, a movement. We might not usually think of social movements in the context of branding, but the link has always been there. When you think of a racist person, you probably imagine a very specific person with certain clothes, a certain age, and a certain religious background. When you think of the people who supported Dr. Martin Luther King you imagine a certain type of person with a certain type of disposition. When you think of someone who supported Malcolm X, you probably imagine a totally different type of person. All of these associations you make in your mind, pertain to the branding of each social movement.
On social media, the brand associated with feminism is a mixed bag of negativity and clashing opinions.
If you search Instagram you’ll find that feminism is associated with Beyonce’s song “Flawless” which doesn’t have remotely feminist lyrics, but instead refers to women with degrading names and frames the female experience around mainly beauty, sex, and marriage (There’s nothing wrong with these things but if you’re going to position a song as feminist it might be best to venture into some other spheres like work and intelligence as well).
If you search the word feminism on Twitter, you’ll be met with all sorts of conflicting ideals.
Some women seem to believe that male feminists take away from female feminists.
Others aim to push back on the idea that all women have to constantly support each other regardless of the content.
Another set reject the idea that feminism need always be nice or polite.
If you go to YouTube, you’ll find a haven for those who disagree with feminism. If you simply search the word feminist, you’ll find videos that mostly exist to portray feminist women in the most negative possible way.
**The above video was posted last month by a YouTube account called Rekt Feminist Videos. The woman’s poem is described as a “Fail” in the thumbnail, but upon closer inspection you’ll find that the reasoning behind why the content provider considers the video a failure pertains to the woman’s appearance — no other reason is given.
So what does all of this social media content do to the feminist brand and the millennial’s cognitive disconnect when it comes to feminism and possibly other social movements?
1.) Feminists are branded as a group of people who aren’t really sure what ideal feminism should be.
2.) Feminists are branded as a group of people who are ugly, whiny, stupid, crazy … the list goes on.
When you’re a millennial who gets the majority of their content and information about the world around you from social media, it becomes extremely easy to assume the above ideas to be true. Just like with any brand, once an image becomes set in the public consciousness, it becomes difficult to change. The difference between a company and a social movement is, a social movement doesn’t have a CEO or COO. There’s no person sitting at a mahogany desk somewhere, deciding what feminism should look like. Or what Black Lives Matter should look like. Or any other movement. The result is that people are going to publicly disagree with each other, and then the whole brand looks shaky, invalid, and difficult to trust.
If you were in the market for a new cellphone, but Apple’s latest model looked like nothing like its predecessors, you wouldn’t be as quick to buy it. Until the moment a brand becomes outdated, a brand needs consistency in order to gain the trust of the consumer. In this sense, social movements need consistency in order to persuade those outside the movement. With the advent of social media making it increasingly easy for a social movement’s brand to become discombobulated, the millennial has trouble getting behind the label.
I’m a feminist. I’m not afraid of that label at all. Yet, at the same time, I know for a fact that I don’t agree with every feminist woman out there, and that’s perfectly okay. In the same vein, I believe that black lives matter, and all races should be treated equally, but I personally don’t agree with the idea of looting and destroying property as a form of protest. Still, I wouldn’t ever say I disagree that black lives matter just because I disagree with the members of the movement who have looted or destroyed property. I’ve learned to be comfortable disagreeing with people within movements I support and I’ve also learned to be open to letting people I disagree with make their case and possibly change my mind.
This whole concept really is elegantly simple. If you want to approach social movements in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally intelligent, you have to take a step away from the social media and away from the brand. Do some research and find out what the most agreed upon meaning of the movement is and decide whether you support that. If you’ve been wondering whether you’re a feminist or not, the answer is: If you believe women should be socially, economically, and politically equal to men and that parity has yet to be reached, then yes, you’re a feminist. Even if the brand you see or some of the ideas are incongruent with your personal ideals, no social movement is ever going to be composed of people who %100 agree with each other. It’s just impossible when a movement is that large, culturally complex, and spread out. And that’s just fine.