Why women in advertising should be proud to use the F-word

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From BBH New York's executive creative director: Feminism has gone mainstream, but why are many women in advertising still uncomfortable calling themselves a feminist at work?

"Feminists." That was the word used in a news site’s headline to describe a guerrilla stunt pulled off by one of BBH’s female teams to support the Women’s World Cup.

It was totally a feminist act, undertaken by two pro-women women. But when I read the word "feminist" in the headline, I got kinda uncomfortable. And then uncomfortable because it made me uncomfortable.

There’s been a renaissance lately in vocal feminism. Millennial darlings like Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift use every opportunity to claim the word. And Tina and Amy turned the Golden Globes into their own feminist shooting range. They’re all flying their feminist flag high.

But when you say the word feminist in an ad agency, women tend to get a little … squirmy. That’s the only way to describe it. A "Yeah, I guess if you put a gun to my head I would say I’m a feminist, but I’m more than just a woman, and I don’t really want to make it a thing."

Our discomfort is understandable, I guess. None of us wants to be defined as one thing, and we worry vocal feminism will limit us or make it look like we’re playing the lady card. (Hell, I even ask myself if I should be writing another article about being a woman in advertising!)

There’s also lots of talk of this being the "post-woman era" of advertising. That we’ve finally reached a critical mass and feminism doesn’t need to be part of the conversation anymore. 

Read more from Laura Fegley

But being a feminist in advertising isn’t just about making sure women are represented in good numbers, making equal wages and occupying positions of power (although we shouldn’t be throwing ourselves any parties about solving these yet).

Being a feminist in advertising is wanting to make better marketing for women. Women do make an overwhelming percentage of purchase decisions, yet we still treat marketing to them like a niche. Sometimes a begrudging niche.

Being a feminist is helping advance the way women are depicted in advertising. It’s pushing past clichés and reminding our clients (even the female ones) that women have senses of humor and could use a good laugh from time to time.

Ideally, being a feminist isn’t just making ads, but helping our clients find new and interesting opportunities and even products that will resonate with and progress women.

Being a feminist is looking at any assignment for any brand in any category even the so-called lady brands and seeing them as meaty of an opportunity as any other: putting your best teams on them, giving them proper attention and love, always pushing to be interesting.

The Always "Like A Girl" work isn’t just feminist because of its subject. It’s also feminist because it’s finally something interesting for a maxi-pad. I’m sure the creatives who were smart enough to see Always as an opportunity are happy to call themselves feminists while they polish up their awards.

All agencies benefit from having proud feminists among us. And those feminists don’t have to just be women.  Being a feminist in advertising is simply, liking women. It’s being proud to be one.  Being happy to be surrounded by them. And most importantly, creating work for them we can be proud of.

I’m going continue writing more pieces here from time to time. They probably won’t all be about women. But if they are ... Oh well.  Because I’m a feminist.

Laura Fegley is executive creative director with BBH New York.


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