To begin, let me paint a picture of what may be an odd example of this phenomenon.
Comics are generally known to be typically male turf, particularly of the popular superhero variety.
It’s too easy to imagine a group of DC executives sat around a large meeting table in a terse discussion on how to best reach the yet untapped market for them.
And their grand plan?
Let me break it down.
On the surface there is absolutely nothing wrong with DC Comics releasing a special Valentine’s day issue, but as an attempt at reeling in more female readership, it falls flat on two key levels.
Firstly, that they completely missed that women aren’t a monolith hivemind of the same vapid and girly personality inhabiting many bodies.
Women can, in fact, be interested in more than just makeup, shopping and romance.
If a woman is diversifying away from such heavy romance to dive into the story of their favourite superhero, chances are the romantic going-ons of Wonder Woman and Superman are not high on their minds.
Secondly, that any woman who really wanted to read some trashy romance can just pick up the nearest Harlequin novels or even the already existing romance comics to get their groove on.
A woman beginning to read superhero comics is usually there for other reasons (e.g. enjoying the heroic camaraderie, exploration of social issues, exploring fantastical possibilities in a modern setting).
But instead of trying to understanding the actual reasons to cater to them better, DC covered their ears and just defaulted to their stereotype of what women want.
They did eventually find better success with the female demographic by releasing stories of hashtag-happy teenage-coded girls who happened to be saving world the à la Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
While the more feminist of longtime fans critisised DC for regressing established and powerful female characters into millennial caricatures of the coming-of-age story, their Starfire and Batgirl series’ were a closer to a successful attempt and did bring in new female readers who were able to relate to to the characters.
A Key Difference To Note
Even if what is marketed is a typically feminine product, there is a noticeable difference between:
- Advertisements that understand female interests as vast but chooses to market to the typically feminine
- The stereotyping, clueless types
It’s the reason why Microsoft’s Honestly campaign met with some fire. While the intentions behind their ad might have been innocent, their execution was downright painful.
It got so much fire that SNL made a parody of the campaign that, ironically, managed to relate to actual women much better, even if it was just a comedy skit.
And these all lie in the admaker’s impressions of women are prior to crafting the ads.
In a not at all surprising twist, these admakers seem to forget that women are actual people with individualised interests.
In my own brush with writing for advertisers, I’ve come across advertisers who insist that women would not be interested in physical sporty activites like hiking or Skytrax.
It’s as if they have never seen a woman in yoga pants, or are somehow blind to the rise of the fitness movement in Malaysia that, surprise surprise, has bitten its fair share of women and men.
But of course women don’t exercise. It will break their nails right?
The Solution: Remember That Women Are People Too
When advertisers market to women based on the metrics that were halfheartedly developed by a group of men in the 80s and never updated once, they are marketing to an image of a woman who does not exist anymore (or perhaps never did).
And the dangerous thing about advertising is that it has an interesting role both as something that is influenced by and also shapes society.
What marketing reflects may be what already exists in society but it has a unique ability to cement those reflections and even magnify them to further solidify false stereotypes.
It also doesn’t help when a marketing team determined to conquer the female market doesn’t have a woman among their ranks to tell them if the ad would even work. Or even if they do have women among them, do they even let them speak?
This type of marketing towards women is like assuming all that men would be interested in are breasts and cars. And sure, some guys do in fact enjoy these things and will be appealed to, but this ignores the absolute plethora of men that have other interests like fitness, tech, entrepreneurship and even, as highlighted above, superhero comics.
The organised feminist movement started off in 1848 at Seneca Falls, and yet here we are, two centuries later. We don’t seem to have moved very much. The fact that we live in the kind of world where still exists a need to insist that women are actually as complex as men reflects the sad state that we’re in.
This International Women’s Day, let’s make a start towards changing that.