Brand Feminism: Promotional Culture and Contemporary Feminist Activism

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Kaitlynn MENDES, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
Ever since the late 1960s when Virginia Slims cigarettes released their logo ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’, tapping into women’s liberationist tropes, scholars have been aware of the ways corporations have adopted feminist slogans and rhetoric to sell their products. While there is growing scholarly interest in the ways corporations promote ‘brand-led’ or ‘commodity activism’ (see Mukherjee and Banet-Weiser 2012), there is a surprising dearth of research on the other side of the coin - the ways activists are increasingly adopting slick PR and marketing strategies into their campaigns including, branding, commercialising, franchising, merchandising, and the increased use of celebrity icons.

Given the contemporary ‘hot-ness’ of feminism around the globe (Gill 2016), and the plethora of recent initiatives such as the global SlutWalk movement and the Women’s Marches in January 2017, this is a timely and fruitful space in which to apply theories from promotional and critical consumer studies. In this talk, I will outline a new theoretical account of what I term ‘brand feminism’, which attends to the ways feminist activists are increasingly drawing on corporate strategies to ‘brand’ their activism, including commercialisation, franchising, merchandising, professionalisation, and increased use of celebrity icons. While ‘framing’ (Entman 1993) or 'networks' (Diani &McAdam 2003) may have been key concepts in the past to understand social change movements, I propose that as neoliberalism continues to gain global dominance, we need a new theoretical framework in which to understand the relationship between activism, promotional culture, and social change.