Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States and our country will never be the same. After a campaign laden with derogatory and sexist comments, bullying, and dismissive attitudes, many Americans – particularly female Americans – fear the impending societal and cultural hurdles that lie ahead when he is sworn in.
With Trump assuming his position in the Oval Office in just a few short months, we need to have an open conversation now about how his new role will impact our society, and what we can do to continue to raise strong, confident girls and cultivate future female leaders. And you better believe our girls will be paying close attention, just as they did during the election. They will be watching how we, as a culture, respond to the presence of our nation’s new leader. Will he continue to rank women on a numerical scale based on attractiveness? Will he continue to fat-bash women and shame them on social media? Or will there be a growing voice of dissent from young women demanding that they be treated with the respect and inclusivity that they deserve?
At a time when many of society’s most recognized symbols, our brands, are looking to be more socially responsible, the question becomes how can these companies help set the tone that women do indeed matter.
Brands in the empowerment space, now more than ever, have the opportunity to work as allies and partners for our girls; providing them with a positive counterpoint and road map towards self-acceptance and self-reliance. They can strengthen their partnerships with our girls, letting them know that they are not alone in this journey.
Here are 5 things brands should be asking themselves (all the time) but especially in a world where Donald Trump is president.
1. Are brands perpetuating harmful stereotypes?
Women and girls want to be the subject of their own stories not the objects of someone else’s. 97% of women think ads shape society’s views on women. While companies like Unilever have pledged to end stereotyping in their ads, there’s still a long way to go until we have nuanced portrayals of what it means to be a woman or a girl in media campaigns. Meet today’s “Yes, and” girls and women. They are multidimensional beings that are capable of loving pink and rocking a skateboard at the same time. They can be into STEM and into make up. They are mothers and Ceo’s! “Yes, and” girls and women don’t have a singular view of themselves -- so why should brands? This is more important than ever before because this generation of women and girls are going to call Bullshit on stereotypes that hold them back.
2. Are brands helping to expand the standard notions of beauty and inclusivity?
I know from my work with Dove that 6 out of 10 girls stop doing something they love because they feel bad about the way they look. This means they may not raise their hands in class, volunteer for leadership positions or show up to a swim meet because they don’t like how their thighs look in their bathing suit. Imagine how many future Katie Ledecky’s will we miss out on because of the damaging messages girls receive from the media about how their bodies? We can tell girls that every body is beautiful, but until brands reflect a wide range of skin tones, features and body types in their media content, girls need to see it in order to believe it. This is more important than ever before because the new leader of our free world just made body shaming a sport during the election cycle. So if this is your platform as a brand, make sure you are on the right side of this story.
3. Are brands talking with her or at her?
Women and girls have seen an onslaught of empowerment campaigns over the years. They can tell when a brand is trying to add that language simply as window dressing. It’s called “SFSN” which means: Sounds Fabulous and Signifies Nothing. Just because you use empowering language doesn’t mean they are helping her achieve real empowerment. Today’s young women are extremely savvy and they know that the journey to confidence can be messy. But they are resilient. This is more important than ever before because they have just watched the most qualified woman in history to run for the presidency, lose. Yet, today’s “Yes, And” girls will be fueled by notion that they can make their dreams come true, so show them a snapshot of what it looks like (and how) to get there.
4. Are brands really helping women and girls to pursue their dreams?
Part of talking with her, not at her, is investing in her. We have seen that brands can be very good at cheering girls on, but how good are they at helping at putting money and resources into changing the system that’s holding her back? Giving girls a road map for achieving her dreams surely isn’t a brand’s responsibility alone, it’s a collective effort among our society. This is more important than ever before because brands that create campaigns rooted in actionable steps to improve the lives of girls and women show will have real skin in the game; proving their connection is an authentic one.
5. Are brands bringing men and boys into the conversation?
Men and boys need a seat at the table on this one. Women and girls are only one part of the equation when it comes to equality. 68% of girls have had a negative experience on a social networking site, including with sexting and sexual harassment. Showing boys healthy ways to interact with girls is crucial for their social emotional well being. Encouraging examples of co-gender play, creating content that features boys and girls in platonic relationships, supporting (not tokenizing) girls and women in roles of leadership will help to encourage a more inclusive view in the media. This is more important than ever before because we need to continue to support and engage male allies and accomplices in creating gender equity.
Having spent more than 20 years in the women’s empowerment space, I can tell you that every brand reaching an audience sends a message that will impact women and girls. Trump currently having the highest seat in political office is the action that pushes our culture to think deeper about what those messages are.
Brands that genuinely engage with their customers and use their platforms to make tangible improvements in the lives of women and girls are the ones that will not only stand out from their competitors, but will help our culture progress to a stronger representation of equality and inclusivity.
And that’s truly empowering.
Jess Weiner is CEO of Talk to Jess, LLC, a consulting and strategy firm advising brands on the issues facing women and girls.