International Women’s Day: The New Valentine’s Day?
I'm a woman and I say – please, make it stop
In the post-#metoo era, brands have officially jumped onto the bandwagon of “celebrating women” with advertisements for International Women’s Day. Kit Chua explains why this breed of wokenomics isn’t going to work.
I’ll admit. I’m a woman and International Women’s Day doesn’t personally mean anything to me. But that’s not my fault, see, because it hasn’t actually meant anything to anyone for the longest time.
In fact, the United Nations has been observing March 8 as International Women’s Day since 1975. But for 40-ish years, International Women’s Day has been about as significant as World Water Day (22 March, mark your calendars), World Health Day (7 April, FYI), and Zero Discrimination Day (1 March, ICYMI).
Now, these are all great causes that deserve more widespread awareness, but let’s be real – for the most part, apart from NGOs and activists, the average Joe/Jane doesn’t know these “days” even exist.
Things are changing for International Women’s Day, though. Over the past few years – ever since Malala and Chimamanda and Hillary and the mainstreaming of feminism, self-love, and #metoo – International Women’s Day has become less niche and more prominent, with feminists, allies and, of course, brands observing March 8 with messages of support, encouragement and celebration.
And this year, things just got gross.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve proclaimed myself a feminist since I was in my teens, and I love it pretty much any time someone celebrates womanity. I’m down for Ariana Grande to post a million shout-outs to her girl squad on her IG stories. I’m down for all the woman-centered workshops, events and happenings. I’m also down for the Uniqlo limited offers that were just for International Woman’s Day, because, why not?
But this year, I’ve also noticed a new trend that’s deeply off-putting – International Women’s Day advertising.
If you haven’t heard of wokenomics or wokevertising, it can simply be defined as brands trying to jump on an activist bandwagon just to seem relevant, add some social-justice-warrior shine to their brand image, or basically cash in on what seems to be the latest trend. Nike does this very successfully. Pepsi tried and failed, epically.
And now, it seems, it’s come to our shores, with International Women’s Day serving as the incredibly convenient vehicle for lazy brands to show some woke-ness.
Like this irrelevant piece from Kotex, which wants me to know that it’s “my day” and therefore I can “stand a chance to win” a three-month supply of pads. A THREE MONTHS’ SUPPLY, ffs. What’s that, like $45 worth of pads? Ooooh.
How about – instead of running some really lame social media contest – launch a Tom’s-style campaign where for every pack of pads I buy, one gets donated to women who don’t have access to feminine hygiene products in other parts of the world? How about launch a petition for Singapore’s offices to supply its female employees with sanitary products in their toilets? How about a campaign targeted AT MEN to educate them about what actually happens when a woman has her period? How about anything else, really?
And then there’s this tone-deaf ad for Prudential Singapore, where we are helpfully informed that – in fact! – women “do” things like “fuel their dreams”, “lead innovation”, “persevere through life” (by having babies??), and – shocker – “ADVENTURES”.
Yes, people, DID YOU KNOW THAT WOMEN DO ADVENTURES?!?! Ladies, life in the post-#metoo era is just too good.
Hey, you know what hurts more than period cramps? Watching this ad.
Hey, you know what makes me more emotional than PMS? Watching this ad.
Hey, you know what else Prudential does? Patronise women.
And speaking of tone-deaf…
For some unclear reason, GIC – yes, as in the sovereign wealth fund of Singapore – pushed out some sponsored posts on Instagram celebrating “the inspiring women leaders who have made a difference to us”. Uhmmm, ok. Nice gesture, I guess. But also, SO many questions. Like WHY? Who asked for this? What is it for? And who even knew that GIC had an Instagram account???
Here are the issues:
First, GIC largely doesn’t advertise. Of all the government bodies to jump on International Women’s Day, you would think… the Ministry of Social and Family Development? MCCY? Home Affairs? And, yet, here is the government’s sovereign fund, creating sponsored posts for International Women’s Day. It’s like your super-shy, quiet cousin suddenly getting up at a reunion dinner and giving everyone a very loud lecture on the dangers of cellphone radiation. It’s surprising, uncharacteristic, and weird.
Second, GIC doesn’t provide consumer-facing services. They’re a government fund that handles government money. So what’s the point of this? Improving their public image? Goodwill? Recruitment exercise would be a good guess, except there’s no call-to-action for you to mail in your resume or look for opportunities. So it seems like it’s just a general brand-building thing they’re trying? Odd… but, okay. Let’s just take this at face value for now.
But then there’s the content of the posts themselves. Yikes. Like, I’m sure these are all highly intelligent, accomplished women with compelling stories and interesting things to say. But… the quotes are really asinine?
Here’s Director of Corporate Affairs & Communications Jennifer Lewis’ gem on making a difference: “Helping others succeed”. Uhmmm, yes. I think that is the literal definition of making a difference? Generally, it tends not to be “making a difference for myself”. Just saying.
And Chief Investment Officer for Fixed Income Liew Tzu Mi’s advice for aspiring women leaders? “Don’t short-change yourself. Be mindful how you are perceived and manage that perception.” That’s quite… pragmatic advice, I guess? But, wow. Not terribly inspiring. In fact, it’s depressing af. It’s like remembering that you could be Hillary Clinton, but if you’re a woman, people are still going to write click-baity articles about your hair. Good stuff.
At least Swara Mehta, GIC’s Principle Data Scientist has vaaaaguely more interesting things to say. I mean, describing leadership as “Daring to be different. Being assertive. Uplifting others. Having empathy” is not exactly groundbreaking but at least there’s some kind of point of view. But that’s about it.
In the end, the entire exercise feels like a bunch of platitudes cobbled together in some misguided attempt to seem relevant or in-the-know. The women leaders of GIC deserved better. Heck, all women deserve better.
The point being: a social media post “celebrating women” for International Women’s Day is the lowest-hanging fruit there is. All these brands are guilty, which really drives home the overall problem of wokenomics and the trope of “celebrating women” in the first place. Because, of all the trendy causes, “celebrating women” is the cheapest, laziest, and most conventionally safe form of activism there is.
(And please note that none of the brands talked about actual gender equality or feminism, both of which are very different things from this very harmless, feel-good, imprecise, catch-all idea of “celebrating women”.)
I’ll repeat, I love the idea of celebrating women. But putting out a piece of corporate communication once a year on International Women’s Day is not celebrating women.
To all the brands out there, don’t tell us that on this ONE DAY, you are here to “celebrate women”. That is, unless you want to get a major eye-roll in return. Don’t give us cliches. Show us the receipts. Tell us what you’re really doing for women. Tell us how many women you’re hiring a year. Tell us about how you’re helping women balance work and family. Tell us how you’re retaining female employees as they become mothers. Tell us how you’re investing in pro-women businesses. Tell us how you’re creating more opportunities for women. Tell us how you’re grooming women for leadership and management roles. That’s a serious celebration of women. The rest is just talk. And talk is cheap.
So this is my beef with International Women’s Day in 2019 – it seems to be turning into a post-#metoo Valentine’s Day, where the original message of the day gets co-opted by brands for commercial gain. And the saddest part is watching the activist origins of International Women’s Day progressively get eroded and defanged into the toothless corporate cliché of “celebrating women”. I mean, Pandora ads? Because if I’m an independent, empowered woman, I’ll definitely be buying my own “GRL PWR” charm bracelets, right?
Yeeeaah. I’ll pass. When it comes to grossly commercialised holidays, I’ll just stick to Christmas.
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