November, 13, 2013

The Problem with ‘Rebranding’ Feminism


Name: Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Member of: Student Panellist
Joined: Jul 2013
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It’s a difficult one, this feminism thing. Some people just don’t get it… no matter how many times’s definition of feminism is read to them, off an iPhone, during a slightly-too-heated conversation at a social gathering. According to The Vagenda magazine, it’s in need of a makeover. Brandishing a metaphorical mascara brush, The Vagenda and Elle magazine (which, presumably, like most women’s magazines, is quite evil? …I don’t know, I stopped buying them when I became intellectually sentient), have teamed up to ‘rebrand’ feminism, one pink infographic at a time.


egg comp

The campaign aims to ‘bringing gender equality to a larger audience’. It gives you a piece of paper, with the words ‘I’m a woman and…’ and encourages you to define in your own terms what it is be a lady. It’s notably alike to the ‘I’m a feminist because…’ campaign with a similar sentiment behind it: expose how normal it is to be a feminist, and consequently show others that they themselves are probably feminists too, or else should be.


Photo by Vagenda

The Vagenda’s ambition to popularise feminism is a noble one. There will always be a dichotomy between popularising feminism, and maintaining a non-watered-down definition of it. This is because some people don’t have time, understandably, to sit down and read Butler, de Beauvoir, Woolf, or indeed all the writings that you need to understand a complex political and ideological movement. Also, people are stupid. Sometimes people don’t care. So the challenge comes to reach these people, who aimlessly use the word ‘pussy’ to degrade a man, or ‘slut’ to degrade a woman, without realizing why that’s fucked up. Popularising feminism, as The Vagenda have done so bloody successfully, is a brilliant ambition, and has been what they’ve been doing for the past two years. A ‘rebrand’, however, is different.


Photo by Isaac Mao

To ‘rebrand’ feminism implicitly condemns the current ‘branding’ of feminism (which is already a reductive way to look at an important empowering movement). Whereas popularising it uses humour, social media, and penetrable subject matter to engage people, a ‘rebrand’ appeases those who have mischaracterised feminism in the past. The ‘rebrand’ has to first agree with the reductive, incorrect stereotypes that exist within society around feminism, in order to re-establish a definition. No one decided to ‘rebrand’ being pro-gay rights, because even though many people probably have homophobic misconceptions about the gay community, to appease those people with a rebranding is to let them win. It is to say ‘sure, feminism was about man hating [when clearly, it never was], but now, look! We’re in a glossy magazine so we’ve changed that all, we’re redefining it’.


Photo by Angry Lambie

It’s problematic. Feminism is about equal rights, and to re-market feminism in a simplistic, saccharin campaign, like the one in Elle, undermines a belief that it wasn’t feminism’s fault that people misunderstood it, but the fault of those too narrow-minded to think about it. It displaces the blame to the people who are pre-rebrand feminists – it’s your fault people don’t like feminism, so we’re fixing that.

I think this is nicely summed up in an article by the New York website The Cut that was (bizarrely) retweeted by The Vagenda:

‘Nobody likes feminists. Marissa Mayer famously avoids identifying as a “feminist,” as does virtually every (female) celebrity who gets asked. In a University of Toronto study, participants found feminists so unlikeable — “man-hating” and “unhygienic” — they were actually less likely to support women’s equality. Thank god Elle U.K. elected to “re-brand” feminism’

I mean, da fuq? If this campaign brings feminism to a wider audience, it does so by endorsing every bullshit idea about feminism, and encourages other to do so as well. The Vagenda has, in my opinion, been one of the most important creations in modern feminism, and I will often mindlessly imbibe anything they say like the word of God. However, what kind of self-proclaimed opinion writer would I be if I didn’t find small pedantic fault with anything that’s vaguely linked to my ideological spectrum, right? So it breaks my small, black, often unused heart to criticize a campaign they stand for, but ‘I’m a woman and’ I don’t need you to ‘rebrand’ feminism for me to like it. It was already great.


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  1. Henry Gibson

    I have no problem with gender equality.. Feminism on the other hand seems to be infected with female bias. Look at that poster above: “I am not a bitch or a slut or a slag”. Is this poster trying to say that women are NEVER those things? Is it trying to tell me that women automatically get a zero-criticism pass for any of their actions?

    I realise that words and phrases on that poster can and do get thrown around in a sexist way, but the feminist who created it didn’t try to get even, they blew the who thing to the other extreme!

    But what feminism REALLY needs is a name change. I, and I’m sure many other men, find it hard to respect a gender equality movement that has “fem” in the name. I know it’s like that for good historic reason but really feminism should only be a part of gender equality. I also think that the real idiot feminists who give the whole thing bad press would have a lot more trouble poisoning “gender equality”, as the name itself would contradict them.

    • Frankie Fisher

      ““I am not a bitch or a slut or a slag”. Is this poster trying to say that women are NEVER those things?”
      I think the poster is trying to say that these are names that should not be used. For example, if a guy expressed a strong opinion, isn’t he rewarded for having such a determined mind, whilst a female with the same passion and vigour for expressing herself could be labelled a bitch? There is no such thing as a ‘slut’, there’s just a human being who happens to enjoy lot of sex. The term ‘slut’ is incredibly unfair as when a guy has a lot of sex, takes his shirt off and acts sexy, he’s called a ‘stud’ or a ‘player’ and is generally rewarded for such behaviour, but (again) when this is done by a woman she is punished and abused? This is a term called ‘slut-shaming’ and adds to the sense of inequality here.

      Also, wouldn’t you think that your statement “I, and I’m sure many other men, find it hard to respect a gender equality movement that has “fem” in the name” is part of the problem? If a man ‘can’t respect’ something that has has annotations of being feminine surely that’s saying that BECAUSE it is feminine it does not deserve respect in the views of these ‘men’ you’re referring to. This is the immediate problem. ‘Feminine’ is not degrading nor is it something to be frowned upon, this what feminism is all about – getting these ‘men’ to realise that even something (or especially someone) that is ‘girly’ is deserving to be treated as equal, just as something that is ‘masculine’.

  2. Dina

    Also, it’s really invalid to say that someone doesn’t understand simply because they do not agree with you. The fact of the matter is that different people have differing views of what feminism is and isn’t, these are the result of experience, either through direct exposure or indirect exposure. Regardless, there seems to be a huge gaps between feminism is supposed to be and what it actually is. For example, my understanding of what feminism is supposed to mean is the advocacy of women’s right on the basis of gender equality. My experience of what feminism is: a confusing social code that dictates what women should and should not think/do (for example a girl should not get pregnant and get married at the age of 19 despite the fact that she wants to because that’s the sort of thing that feminists sought too prevent) stemming from a narrow minded sense of self righteousness that is defended by what the term is supposed to mean. Clearly feminism has been perverted.

  3. Dina

    “Feminism is about equal rights”
    Maybe the push to rebrand is driven by a lack of engagement, after all, it the uk women do have equal rights to men. The battle for equal rights has been fought and won to a lot of people who live in the uk. The fact that women are opressed in other countries simply doesn’t seem to bother other people.
    Alternatively, perhaps the push for rebranding has been driven by a more sinister desire to digress from this noble battle for equality and to push for more ridiculous concessions to be made for women making it easier for them get more out of life. An example of this would be a push by self proclaimed feminists to introduce minimum boardroom quotas for women. I agree that women should not be prevented from attaining a highflying job IF they are the best candidate, but if a man applies for the job and is more suited to the position it is downright wrong to give a less suited female candidate the position purely because she has a vagina. Unfortunately, to a lot of people, that’s what feminism means. Maybe it’s time for female activists to discard the term altogether so that I can no longer be used as an excuse for injustice

  4. Michael O\'Donnell

    Feminism is a sore subject in reality, mostly, and no offence to women here, because of the instant retaliation men, and even women, get from saying that some ideas are wrong, unjust, or even need tweaking.

    Now i speak of this as someone who loves to debate. But how can you debate about feminism when any argument you use is instant rebuffed with the words ‘your obviously a woman hater’. There fore i like the idea of a ‘re-brand’. Mostly because it provides the opportunity to say men=women, not the usual women > men argument which is so often misused by ‘femi-nazis’, this means that the average Joe can actually say, i agree with feminism but not femi-nazi.

  5. Maximillion

    Why does feminism even need to have any kind of complicated definition, or brand image, or rebranding, or any of that. Surely this is all just a load of codswallop aimed at obscuring the reality of the matter and drawing people’s attention away from the issue at hand.

    Why the notion of equal rights and treatment for men and women needs to have any kind of special name, or why there has to be a canon of authors prescribed to anyone before they can hope to understand it, is utterly beyond me. Really these days feminism is just a label that gets thrown around, and this is why it receives negative stigma, because people adopt that label and then spout absurd ideas. But no one can take an unadulterated concept like gender equality, and build hair-brained philosophies upon it claiming that men are worthless, because it’s a self contradiction! The whole problem boils down to one of language and terminology, where one word means wildly different things and to different people. Why bother convincing people what this silly label REALLY means and what it REALLY stands for, why not just jettison the needless label altogether?! Reality after all is only what is perceived by the majority, and if all your efforts are focused on changing this perception, then the actual issues you care about receive no attention whatsoever.

    The modern western fad of rampant categorization and incessant pigeon-holing is what is really tearing us all apart, because once we invent these imaginary boxes, we cannot learn to see beyond them. Not everything has to be an -ism!

  6. AK

    1. University of Toronto feminists are probably unlikeable –
    2. Feminism is a business, part of it is demonising men for more funding towards women’s needs. I mean you have Law students against Freedom of Speech! ( or the NUS having a problem with a Men’s Officer, or even calling it a Gender Officer. Same in Govt, there’s a Minister for Women, but no Minister for Men – though I understand as women are the majority voter! (2012
    3. For every 2 male undergraduates there are three female undergraduates; k=view&id=1899&Itemid=239 (Also Table 3 [xls 45 KB] F:M 212,825 : 159,980 for 2010/11 F/T, P/T & PG breakdown).
    Before it was said that females needed help, so there have been changes. Now that males need help, who is bothering?
    4. “I’m a woman and…” reminds me of this picture
    5. Where is the equality in Prison Sentencing (, how can we still see that when a woman rapes a schoolboy, it is called ‘an affair’?
    6. There were 1.2M domestic violence cases against women last year, 0.8M against men. So 60:40 split, so how many places can an abused man go with his child(ren)?
    Useful Summary here

  7. Iain Sharp

    I think it’s a fool hardy thing to say that if you rebrand something it means that you’ve lost the fight. That is ridiculous, if you start by saying that everyone is narrow minded that doesn’t understand a way of thinking straight-off, it just means that you are being narrow minded into missing the bigger picture. It is more important to have gender equality for all than for people to care whether or not people understand the term ‘feminism’, and what it evokes.

  8. Humayra Amin

    I am usually put off by feminists(well I have been only seeing radical ones)however I understand that the ideology differs from woman to woman.I ersonally only agree so much that a woman should get equal treatment as a man would, but not so much on the extreme views of seperating completely from men.

  9. Samantha Grigg

    I’m ashamed to say that before I started a newly-started module on my law course at uni, Law, Gender & Sexuality, I did not identify myself as a feminist. I had a negative of image of what it was to be a feminist in my head. Yet, slowly but definitely, I am realising that I am! And those who don’t say they are either don’t understand like I didn’t a few months ago, or are so against women’s rights that it figures.
    I’d like to think of a world where noone is ashamed of calling themselves a feminist, and those who aren’t understand what one is.

  10. Yuriy Grabovsky

    Feminism doesn’t need re-branding. Just like any movement which aims to challenge popular thinking and stereotypes which have unfortunately proven themselves hard to combat, feminism needs a good way to silence the extremely unhelpful, aggressive, generally ignorant minority of people who seem to tag along when any movement goes by that seems to lend itself to ‘going against the current’.
    People shouldn’t seek to faction themselves within feminism any more than animal rights, religious freedom, gender freedom etc. but unfortunately they do.
    At the core of feminism is a beautiful and entirely logical truth, but then it gets wrapped up in all sorts of connotations which only serve to pollute the sentiment with people’s own fears and conceits and gripes.
    I’m not going to pretend I know the way to do this. I’m not even going to pretend that I know how to begin. I’m very good at taking a back seat and making fun of the stupids, but I have no idea how to counter them, not really. All I know is that dressing the problem up, is just going to gussy it up for a while before the lacquer rubs off again.

  11. Samuel Murray

    People may see the feminism to associate itself with images of strong ideology. It seems to get a bad reputation for the presumption that it is being too radical. The day that we no longer reference feminism, may be the day people believe they no longer have to worry about equality, that it is finally equal. This article can make me see that much.

  12. Sonam

    I don’t see the problem with feminism, after all it is all about equality. And it is not something to be ashamed, however we see that in the media feminists are over exaggerated and are presented to be some sort of lonely, sexually frustrated woman or a butch lesbian (there’s nothing wrong with that). It is because of these perpetual representations that we see in the media that people have such a negative view of feminism in general. I agree with some of the other comments made, we don’t focus on the equality now, but focus on explaining (or re-defining) what feminism is in today’s world.

  13. Bethany Easton

    I am so sick and tired of people (mostly men, surprisingly enough) acting straight up appalled when I tell them I’m a feminist. I is disturbing that it has literally become something to be ashamed of, and a campaign such as the one by Elle here is going to do nothing but make it a silly notion, something for ladies to play along with and do absolutely nothing to change anyone’s opinions. argh

  14. Palina Gudnadottir

    The irony of it all is that we are now spending much more time and energy explaining how feminism works than actually fighting for equality.

    Anyway, came across this thing and found it helpful:

  15. steve corkhill

    feminism differs woman to woman and should be more than just equality. it is about liberating the personal. if there are people out there who can’t handle this…tough. liver your your life as you would wish. if there are people who object so be it. move on, dont be held back by the dim!

  16. Matt Johnson

    Well said. The problem, in my opinion, isn’t that feminism needs ‘re-branding’ it’s that a lot of people simple don’t understand what it is. I’ve seen friends, both male and female, think that feminism is some kind of ludicrous idea that says women are superior to men. Which is laughably uninformed. The truth is it’s about bringing equality to both genders and getting rid of stupid stereotypes, something that everybody should be in favour of really.

  17. Rebecca Rees

    I look at this article and I do agree, but feel that, especially in my life there are bigger issues. I am doing a degree and spend most of my week in a year 1 primary class where all the staff are female, are there are only 5 including the caretaker male members of staff, so we have a very strong feminine slant. We do stereotype that we females give out more affection than the male staff, which is wrong on our part, but I do think the females are better in that aspect. In relation to the article, there seems to be less and less of it education wise as females are given the same if not more respect than males, not only from management but parents too as they feel more comfortable with us. Which is empowering. But what we teach makes a difference, when we ask for the p.e box to be moved we don’t ask “a strong boy to do it ” we teach that everyone is equal therefore wiping out sexism which leads to the degrade of women when older. It feels feminism doesn’t exist for me because we do our best to enforce we are all equal and special in our own rights and not to pull on another down. If we all took the time to do these little things , maybe everyone could feel as I do.

  18. Aimee Akinola

    Not going to lie, if people told me they were feminists before i would give them that get-over-yourself eye roll because of what i thought feminism was about. But ‘re-branding’ just seems ironic. Re-branding suggests that feminism is a product that need improving in order to appeal to their target market. It makes feminism a business rather than a belief.