Empowered femininity.

How can brands challenge and create more inclusive and empowering notions of femininity?

Last Sunday, like every 8th of March before it since 1913, was International Women’s Day. On this day every year, women are celebrated all around the world with different customs and traditions.

But living in a #MeToo era, it is sometimes difficult not to look at the recurrence with a weary scepticism over how much is yet to be done to achieve equality and a comfortable, fair and uplifting notion of femininity and womanhood.

Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon recently starred in a video – Be a Lady They Said – which went viral, reaching more than 20 million views, and getting reposted by the likes of Madonna, Dua Lipa, Cara Delevingne and generally shocking people worldwide.

The powerful video is part of a campaign by fashion magazine Girls Girls Girls, and the script that Cynthia Nixon reads comes from the poem Writings of a Furious Woman, by Camille Rainville. Photographs from older issues of the magazine are featured, combined with clips from Hollywood films, series and news footage of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein. The video celebrates the #MeToo generation, but also focuses on the enormous pressure that women continue to face today, in a society with really high standards and strong stereotypes of what being a woman actually is and means.

The emotional and thought-provoking piece has been received very positively, with many women finally feeling understood. And it raises a key question: what criteria actually define femininity?

According to Google:

“Femininity (also called womanliness or girlishness) is a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles generally associated with women and girls. Although femininity is socially constructed, some research indicates that some behaviours considered feminine are biologically influenced.”

So, unsurprisingly, it looks like femininity really is mostly defined by the rules of each society, which vary with different cultures and religions. One thing is for sure though: its general expectations are overwhelming, contradictory and all-encompassing, and create tensions and pressures that can have a negative, toxic impact on men and women alike.

On a more positive note, however, recently there have been a lot of social movements, influencers, brands and products working hard to reshape and change the norm, breaking the rules and empowering women to look beyond the confines of “femininity” and accept, embrace and express who they are freely.

The beauty revolution.

Remember the album and song Rare, launched in January by Selena Gomez? Her aim was to remind whoever was listening to it that they are unique. Inspired by her song, she decided to create a homonymous beauty brand that would celebrate everyone’s uniqueness. The brand will hit stores this summer, and will be based on the stories and experiences of a community looking to create a broad and diverse attitude around beauty and its implications on self-acceptance and mental health.

Another empowering beauty brand that is taking a slightly different approach is Fempower, which was created on 8 March 2017 (Happy Birthday, guys!) by a group of friends who saw an opportunity in the activist beauty market. They were inspired by global Women’s Day marches calling for equality and celebrating achievements. They decided to work in the beauty sphere, because its products and trends throughout the centuries have been inevitably dictating what being feminine means, often through a patriarchal lens. So, to challenge and push for change in this category, Fempower has created a bold, inclusive brand that is about power, equality and self-expression, rather than conformity and traditional aesthetics.

A closer (to reality) shave.

Revolutionising the shaving experience for women, Billie is a subscription service that offers shaving products designed and promoted with a more realistic representation of female body hair. Fighting the stereotypes around beauty and hair, and frustrated with how much extra money women need to spend on personal care, Billie promotes its products with advertisements that are as candid and matter-of-fact about shaving as those from “the world of men.” It is another example of a brand ripping up the rule book in the beauty and personal care industry, using honesty and reality to empower women to be who they want to be.

Women have periods. Period.

Another way to change the rules of femininity is to undo taboos and start conversations that promote open-mindedness. Thinx is a brand offering washable, reusable underwear that absorbs menstrual flow. The idea is to replace pads and tampons, personal care products that are necessary for every woman but are often made less accessible by price and stigma. The platform created by brands and products like Thinx offers a more comfortable space for women to operate, feel supported and thrive even on more difficult days.

 

Audi lets us all go!

This year’s Audi Super Bowl commercial is a combination of female empowerment à la Disney and Game of Thrones. In the video, Maisie Williams drives an Audi E-Tron Sportback and belts out Frozen’s Let it go. It’s an interesting and unconventional choice for the car industry, and it is exciting to see a brand like Audi being progressive not only through more sustainable design (the E-Tron is an electric vehicle) but also in changing their take on masculinity, femininity and even childhood, to redefine the image of power and confidence behind the wheel.

Even though it might have been International Women’s Day, we should not forget that everyone – across genders and society as a whole – is facing different challenges in being free to be who they want to be. We should push for a society that is inclusive, accepting and empowering, and that goes beyond social constructs such as femininity and masculinity. Much of this change has to happen at a deeper cultural and legislative level, but, as brands are an intrinsic part of our lives, they have a key role to play in helping us to celebrate and voice who we are, and to shake things up for the better.

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