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  • Uppity Women Unite!Marketing the Women’s Movement in America
  • Linda Scott (bio) and Astrid Van den Bossche (bio)

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In the decades since the Second Wave of the American feminist movement began, much attention has been paid to sexist advertising. Many feminist theories emerging from the academy have had an antipathy to market activities at their core. Scott has argued, in an often-cited essay that was reproduced in Advertising & Society Review, that feminism has never been ‘outside the market,’ but instead has made successful use of the market to advance its agenda (2006). In this photoessay, we will go through a series of examples, dating from the early twentieth century and advancing to the present, to explore the feminist movement’s use of marketing, including its techniques and channels, as well as the way that advertisers have advanced feminism through their messaging.

As a result of the locus of attention on sexism in advertising, less study has been given to the way that the women’s movement has communicated its ideas, issues, events, products, and fundraising goals, often using the same channels through which marketers tout products and sometimes collaborating with corporations to achieve feminist goals. Yet, as communications technology has become cheaper and more easily available to individuals and small groups, the women’s movement has taken advantage of these media, from photocopying to Twitter, to build awareness, recruit adherents, raise funds, and even sell goods. Furthermore, several advertising campaigns have put forward people, products, or concepts associated with the movement; on occasion, these commercial campaigns have simultaneously raised funds for the movement. When these efforts are catalogued in one place, as we do here, it is easy to see that there is a substantial body of material and practice that deserves more attention from the academy (and the movement) than it has been getting.

In this photo essay, we will look back at some of these efforts. We begin with the homely practices—the handmade placards, the cheaply printed handbills—that are thought to typify grassroots, counter-cultural movements. We will note that an aesthetic is developed that is repeated long after the digital revolution makes the “handmade” merely a look, not a practice. We will catalogue the individual level signage—buttons, bumperstickers, and T-shirts—building to the echoes of those same messages in bigger campaigns and social media today. We will move from street theatre toward globally-televised special events, drawing the connection to the publicity value of both. We will note the types of celebrities that feminism has both spawned and recruited, as well as how these celebrities then marketed feminism to the public. We will look at campaigns for change that were do-it-yourself affairs, but we will build toward more recent efforts that involved major institutions, heavy publicity and advertising, and eventually affected millions of Americans. Throughout, we will note the involvement and support of major organizations, including corporations, as well as mainstream media. We end with an overview of product advertisements with feminist messages, turning to question why these messages are seen as unfeminist because of their ties to markets and media—when all the campaigns just catalogued were just as connected. And, finally, we will question the frequent assumption that the teams behind the creation of advertising are always presumed to be male and unfriendly to the cause of women’s equality, when lots of evidence exists to suggest that this assumption is unreasonable, especially today. Overall, we encourage readers to think against the grain of well-used criticisms as they consider the active and often sophisticated way in which the movement has presented its agenda to the public.

Marches and Placards

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Figure 1.

During the Second Wave of the American women’s movement, cadres of activists and small “consciousness-raising groups” would spring up overnight, sometimes splitting into smaller cells as tactics and philosophies gave rise to dispute. These groups staged spontaneous and local demonstrations. Handmade posters (Figure 1) were used to convey the feminist message. This poster epitomizes the kind of homemade communication that came to be associated with the movement. But, as...


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