Commentary

As Women And Girls Take Off, Are Marketers Keeping Up?

I’ve been spending some wonderful quality time with my 10-year-old daughter this summer, yet I can’t stop thinking about the fact that no matter how I parent at home, there are still so many external factors that may get in the way of the confident young adult I hope she will become. 

I’m most drawn to the Always #LikeAGirl ad that came out earlier this summer. In case you haven’t seen it, after informing us that 72% of girls feel limited by society, the video shows girls attacking boxes labeled with the words they feel are used to describe them: “weak,” “emotional,” “incompetent,” etc. The girls kick, punch, push, and throw the boxes, even attacking them with a sledgehammer. It’s a simple but powerful demonstration of a trend happening in our society (not to mention marketing): girls taking charge of their identities.

Signs Of Change, In Society And Social Media

The video really speaks to me, both as the mom of a young girl and a woman at a media company primarily focused on women’s health issues. It made me think about other signs that brands are beginning to take girls and women more seriously. At Facebook, for example, design manager Caitlin Winner recently spearheaded an effort to improve the way women are portrayed in the company’s icons. Whereas the old “friends” icon showed the silhouette of a woman standing behind a dominant male figure, the new icon shows a woman standing side by side with a man, as his equal. The designers even gave her stronger shoulders.

Can Sports Keep Up The Pace?

When it comes to giving women equal time and opportunities, the world of professional sports seems to be lagging behind some other industries. With only a few exceptions, women’s team sports are conspicuously absent from mainstream television. Instead, networks tend to feature sports like tennis, golf, and ice skating – events where women are usually alone or in pairs, and in which their outfits are discussed as often as their physical achievement. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how our industry responds to the success of the U.S. women’s team at the World Cup going forward. My daughter doesn’t play soccer, but she and her friends were glued to the games – and talked about the players like they were rock stars. Perhaps not coincidentally, after five years of figure skating, my daughter just switched to playing hockey. She’s on a team with a bunch of boys and that doesn’t bother her a bit. 

Chasing The Finish Line

Of course, there is a long legacy of women working to gain equal footing in the world, from the suffragettes to those who fought for the ERA. The victorious women’s World Cup team can be seen as one outcome of the passing of Title IX in 1972. When I start to worry about how long we’ve been striving and how much progress still needs to be made, I find inspiration in moments like the 5K I ran with my daughter in May. The race was sponsored by Girls on the Run, an organization that teaches girls life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games. I could not believe my daughter would even do it, and I was in tears when we crossed the finish line. I love the motto on their website:

“We believe that every girl
can embrace who she is,
can define who she wants to be,
can rise to any challenge,
can change the world.”

Beyond Viral

When marketers consciously decide to take a stand for gender equality, they often find that their messages take on a life of their own, becoming a rallying cry with huge viral potential. But that, of course, is just a happy side effect. The real reason we should be spreading positive messages about girls and women is actually much more basic: It’s simply the right thing to do.

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