Taylor Swift was recently asked by the Daily Beast if she’s a feminist and responded that she “[doesn’t] really think about things as guys versus girls” — sparking a bit of a freak-out among women about the future of feminism. There were rants about how Swift doesn’t know what feminism is or do her part to empower women, concerns that there aren’t any young feminists left to carry the torch, and the occasional essay from young journalists chiming in, supporting the pop star and admitting their own issues aligning with the feminist movement.
The problem is that the word “feminist” doesn’t translate across generations. At the basic level, feminism is about gender equality (at home, in the workplace, in society, etc.), and while previous generations of women have had to struggle to be treated as equals, Millennial women have always felt they are equal with men. It wasn’t just Millennial guys who grew up being told they can do anything they put their minds to and be whatever they want; Millennial girls heard that too. Ask any teen girl if she has the right to do anything a guy can do, and she’ll say yes (or “duh!”). Ask her if she can be as good at those things as a guy is, and she’ll say yes. But ask her if she’s a feminist, and she’ll probably say no.
Part of the issue is the perception young women have of feminists: man-hating, bra-burning radicals who shed their femininity for the cause. As Tavi Gevinson explained in her speech at TEDxTeen, teen girls see feminism as a rulebook that doesn’t allow for all of their contradictions — such as being smart and pretty or an athlete who loves fashion. That’s particularly limiting for teen girls who are still forming their self-image, crafting their personal style, and figuring out where they belong in the world. Add to that trying to survive adolescence and dealing with hormones, and it makes sense that “feminist” would be the last word they would use to describe themselves, even if the basic definition fits.
This look at teen girls and feminism reveals two lessons for marketers. First, teen girls are complex, contradictory creatures. They can be girly and be one of the guys at the same time. They are ever-evolving as they figure out who they are, but one aspect doesn’t change — they don’t feel limited by their gender.
Secondly, if you’re creating products for boys, remember that the other half of the youth market refuses to believe anything should be “just for guys.” A recent study from Smarty Pants found that even tween-aged girls are bending gender lines and have become fans of boy brands. Considering how readily girls are adopting products designed with guys in mind, it should come as no surprise that girls would also like to be acknowledged in the marketing of those products because, chances are, they’ll be using them too.