We live in an unequal society. More specifically from the perspective of gender, research on the impact of Covid-19 has found that the challenge for gender parity has gotten greater. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the pandemic has pushed the time for closing the global gender gap out by a generation - from 99.5 year to 135.6 years (!). The gender gap exists on a variety of levels, from the perspective of political empowerment (in 81 countries, there has never been a woman head of state, as of 15th January 2021) to economic participation and opportunity (there is a persistent lack of women in leadership positions, with women representing just 27% of all manager positions).
From a youth perspective, we’re seeing the fight for gender equality manifest in new ways in popular culture- especially on digital platforms, from fresh feminist corners emerging on TikTok to online eco-feminist or creative-feminist collectives continuing to grow. Even Britney Spears’ legal battle sparked fresh conversations on misogyny and the mainstream media.
This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores the recent ‘voicing out’ of fearful, furious and fed up women across the world, cultures and industries.
WOMEN’S LIVES IN AFGHANISTAN & DIGITAL ACTIVISM
“It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room, to open the door when someone in danger knocks.” Dina Nayeri
“Do not ignore women. Do not silence women” - words spoken by a group of female protesters in Kabul this week, bravely protesting against the Taliban’s recent seizure of power in Afghanistan. It’s surreal for many to think that there’s a need for these kinds of public pleas in 2021. We’ve seen the terrifying extreme manifestations of gender inequality threaten the people of Afghanistan over the last few weeks. From a human rights perspective, the lives of women and girls are especially at risk. Under Taliban regimes in the past, women have been denied access to education, limited healthcare and been banned from working outside the home. Already reports say streets in Kabul are empty of women. Despite dangers, Afghan women have been speaking out about their fears. One University student writes in The Guardian:
“I felt like I can no longer laugh out loud, I can no longer listen to my favourite songs, I can no longer meet my friends in our favourite cafe, I can no longer wear my favourite yellow dress or pink lipstick. And I can no longer go to my job or finish the university degree that I worked for years to achieve... Now it looks like I have to burn everything I achieved in 24 years of my life. Having any ID card or awards from the American University is risky now; even if we keep them, we are not able to use them. There are no jobs for us in Afghanistan.”
As a result of these stories, Western social media has been flooded with social-justice driven content - carousels of inspiration, information on what’s happening and how you can help (from recommending places to donate to sharing draft letters to send to government representatives). Much of this digitally native activist content has been focused on the threat to the human rights of Afghan women and girls. While many are critical of trends around ‘reactive activism’, it is impressive to see how action-driven social media efforts are taking hold with mainstream audiences on digital channels. Outside of this particular crisis but not unrelated, cultural commentators have identified the rise of ‘Genuinfluencers’ - influencers who focus on selling ideas that benefit society and people (via quality-focused content) rather than selling products.
LIZZO LESSONS: TEAR DOWN HATE
“Sometimes I feel like we’re moving backwards.” Lizzo
On the complete other end of the spectrum, gender equality-driven conversations in popular culture peaked last week on the release of Lizzo and Cardi B’s hit single (and video) ‘Rumours.’ The aesthetics alone are iconic - but paired with Lizzo and Cardi’s unapologetic confident attitudes, it’s no wonder it’s shot to the top of the charts. Widely heralded as a black feminsit icon, Lizzo received online hate post-release of the iconic new music video, which consequently saw her appear in tears on an Instagram live. The resistance to her confident, unapologetic art and persona, resulted in an outpouring of support from her fans and peers. After the initial shock, Lizzo herself held her head high - the pressure seemingly only empowering her more to do what she does best:
“Black women have been in this industry and innovating it forever… If it wasn’t for the internet or social media I feel like I could have been erased. But I chose to be undeniable and I chose to be loud and I chose to be great and I’m still here. It’s difficult.” Lizzo
Cardi B added her two cents: “When you stand up for yourself they claim your problematic & sensitive.When you don’t they tear you apart until you crying like this. Whether you skinny,big,plastic, they going to always try to put their insecurities on you.Remember these are nerds looking at the popular table.”
From pressure comes power. We saw a similar story play out earlier in the year when Billie Eilish’s recent aesthetic transformation on release of her new album also caused a stir online. It seems confident, loud and proud women are clapping back at their haters more loudly than ever. Doing so in the public eye is empowering young girls to be more unapologetic about themselves too, as celebrity problems can quickly be translated into the online and real lives of young women. There is incredibly inspiring content being created on the likes of TikTok, from just general unapologetic appreciation of things you like to more feminist-specific themes like fighting patriarchy.
“ Women are refusing to be mocked for their creativity and the things they like. A rise in feminist content gives younger girls more access to this kind of thinking, which wasn’t as popular in the 2000s when feminism was seen as a controversial word… TikTok is letting young women be more themselves without shame. It’s also helping society realise that things shouldn’t be dismissed simply by virtue of being liked by girls.” Maya Kokerov
THE AD INDUSTRY’S 2021 #METOO MOMENT
We don’t work in a vacuum. As brand owners and marketers, we’re well aware that these figures (from WEF above) are important and relevant to our work. From International Women’s Day campaigns to introducing more radical and measurable diversity and inclusion policies, the battle for gender equality is on and has really ramped up in recent years. Despite efforts, it still demands focus and we’ve a long way to go.
It’s no surprise then, that furious women are voicing out in the marketing world too. An article titled ‘Mad Men, Furious Women’ (TW: sexual assault), written by Zoe Scaman made waves a few weeks ago. ‘Far from dissipating over the last decade’ Scaman writes, ‘misogyny in the ad industry has simply mutated into something insidious, invisible, lurking in the shadows. It’s time to fire up the floodlights.’
“...women across the board are exhausted and angry. Very, very angry. Their rage has been building and burning for years; behind the forced smiles and bright eyes, we are ablaze, seething with caged resentment and frustration. And the energy it takes to keep it locked inside us is no longer energy we want to spend in that way - we’ve been silenced, suppressed and shut down for too long.”
Scaman calls time up on misogyny, discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Many industry voices have responded and commented - not only relating with the stories shared, but calling it a necessary read for anyone in the industry. Separately, a sex discrimination case in the UK also sparked headlines and serious, ongoing conversation about gender in the advertising and marketing world - check out the story and here.
The ripples of #MeToo have seen the battle for gender equality gaining in energy and publicity. Now we are seeing collective voicing out across different corners of the world and culture. It’s not going to stop anytime soon. Think about how you can positively impact these efforts - from representation to creative intervention, there’s endless ways you could look at improving your own brand storytelling and efforts for women around the world.
Consider how you can pass the mic. If you are in a position of privilege, think of the voices you could help amplify across your business by inviting them to present or contribute in your place. Make a point of having gender diverse panels and teams. There’s a lot to say for even simply questioning who is or who should be in the room at different stages of a project.
Support the women of Afghanistan via the below links:
- Women-focussed organisations calling for donations include the Women’s Regional Network and Women for Afghan Women.
- Invest in initiatives focussed on women and girls’ education via Malala Fund, Sahar and Afghan Women’s Educational Centre.
- Highlight women’s voices and stories via the likes of Rukhshana Media, an independent outlet.