Ladies, in case you didn’t think that all of your problems were solved when Doritos announced the release of chips that won’t stain our delicate lady hands or give away the fact that we eat by making a crunch, McDonald’s wants you to know that they have your back. That’s right, everyone’s favorite nugget supplier flipped its logo on social media and in some locations on International Women’s Day to show the world that they get it.
If you don’t feel impressed by this grand gesture, you’re not alone. The internet, particularly Twitter, ran just as far with the McDonald’s story as it did with Lady Doritos and Bic for Her pens. And rightfully so. As feminism is becoming what seems like a larger part of the national conversation, businesses of all kinds have tried to incorporate it into their marketing. Some of them laughably fail while others, like Garnier Fructis and CoverGirl, seem to get away with it. But, what every company seems to miss about marketing to feminists, or women in general, is that none of their products or stunts actually help women. They’re just really, really stupid.
Women are fighting a social narrative that works against them, threatens their reproductive rights, encourages discrimination in the workplace, and facilitates unequal pay, bias in education, unpaid work in the home and rape culture — you get the picture. The upside down ‘M’ is nice and all, but that doesn’t matter much in a society where my right to accessible birth control is up for debate and acts of violence against me are framed as being my own fault.
We don’t see advertising campaigns or programming incorporating these issues, despite their roots in actual feminist discussion and agenda. We don’t see these in our marketing campaigns that “empower” women because they are all controversial issues that aren’t marketable on a mass scale. A beauty campaign that takes aim at the pay gap or a woman’s access to abortion will surely isolate some part of the public, and may even garner bad press if there’s any level of contradiction to these values within the corporation. Feminist ideas and social change aren’t a natural fit for businesses, especially for those with a broad audience. It’s much easier to give a backhanded compliment to women in the form of half-hearted advertisement than to speak out about what women actually need.
So, instead of a “Jane” Walker printed on a whiskey bottle — yes, that’s an actual thing — why not create a campaign that gives a portion of proceeds to non-profit organizations that support women, women’s shelters or even Planned Parenthood? Instead of wasting your efforts developing chips that don’t crunch too loudly, why not raise awareness about or donate to organizations that combat eating disorders, which disproportionately impact women? Instead of turning your logo upside down, why not raise the wages of your employees and advocate for a raise in the national minimum wage which would help the millions of women who Oxfam America says make up the majority of lower wage workers?
The answer is probably because all of those campaigns would cause some backlash or are a lot of work that companies aren’t willing to put in. But the truth is that’s how you support women. Actions speak louder than logos.