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Buy this, empower women: How advertisers use feminism

Published: Monday, May 5 2014 9:50 a.m. MDT

Researcher Nancy Etcoff, left, and Dove Global Self-Esteem Ambassador, Jess Weiner unveil Dove Beauty Redefined Survey results on the 10th anniversary of the campaign for 'Real Beauty', Sunday, Jan. 20, 2014 in Park City, Utah.

Douglas Barnes, Associated Press (Images for Dove)

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Women can empower themselves by buying certain beauty products and toys.

That's the message advertisers are trying to sell, according to Arwa Mahdawi at The Guardian.

"The last few months has seen an unusual spate of adverts with female-empowerment messages, as marketers realise that feminism is more than just a word with a lot of syllables: it's a great way to sell stuff," Mahdawi wrote.

Mahdawi said types of feminism used to sell products include "radically literal feminism" and "sexism-positive feminism."

Examples of "radically literal feminism" and "sexism-positive feminism" include GoDaddy's Superbowl commercial, which features a female bodybuilder, and Snickers' complimentary harassment commercial, respectively.

Some beauty companies, with Dove at the forefront, also use feminism and empowerment messages in their advertisements, reported Danielle Kurtzleben at Vox.

Kurtzleben explained Dove sells a variety of products, but viewers see ideologically charged commercials about inner beauty rather than these products. Critics are saying this is a hypocritical message.

"The problem with Dove's message that women need to have more confidence in their looks, critics say, is that it still upholds the idea that women's beauty is of utmost importance, albeit in a warm and fuzzy way," wrote Kurtzleben.

"Some (including Kurtzleben) also pointed out that Unilever (Dove's parent corporation) is selling "real beauty" even while it sells products like Slim-Fast and Axe, a line whose identity is in part built on the idea that body spray is irresistible to well-endowed, bikini-clad women," she wrote.

Critics are also slamming companies that use female-empowerment messages to sell toys. For example, GoldieBlox — a company that aims to get girls building, "disrupt the pink aisle" and inspire more girls to become engineers — sparked debate in November, according to Katy Waldman at Slate.

According to Waldman, some feminist bloggers wrote that Goldie, the main character of the GoldieBlox narrative, does not promote feminism because she is adorable, blonde and skinny — the building blocks are girly colors and the products include ribbons and fluffy animals.

"Is GoldieBlox just a sly update on Lego Friends (aka 'Legos for Girls')—a way of forcing girls back into the princess bubble, no matter how many machines they design?" she said.

Waldman also said that others claim GoldieBlox is performing "Trojan feminism," or using stereotypes to hook girls on the toys while subtly inserting empowering messages.

But Waldman said GoldieBlox is not "evil nor anti-feminist nor effective at accomplishing your stated aims nor, perhaps, especially fun to play with. So, basically, (it is) a company selling stuff."

Email: kpolatis@deseretnews.com Twitter: KandraPolatis

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