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Unilever's Women Empowerment Campaign: Commodity Feminism at its Finest

Here's an image spreading around as a Dove advertisement. It promotes women's empowerment through an intersectional lens. Dove is a Unilever product.

Here's a link to an article on that discusses Unilever's Tanzanian tea plantations program. The program is a collaboration between Unilever and UN Women. It's meant to help women get employed on these plantations and to create safer working communities for them, among other things.

Unilevel is just one of many corporate behemoths existing today that are pushing forward a woke image of themselves. Through campaigns like these, and by collaborating with bodies like UN Women, these corporations gain public immunity for their other, more questionable actions. Actions that are often directly opposed to the progressive values they claim to espouse through such campaigns. Actions like these:

Tea pickers in another country, Kenya, all women, have accused Unilever of failing to protect them and denying all responsibility for that protection, in the aftermath of ethnic violence attacks on Unilever's tea plantations in Kenya. Of 218 victims 56 claim to have been raped and seven were killed. Despite the fact that the headquarters and other areas affiliated with the tea plantation program in Kenya were being sufficiently protected. The workers' "safe community," however, was not (for details you can check Chapter 7 of Vivek Ramaswamy's 2021 published "Woke Inc." specifically pages 142-144).

What explains the massive hypocrisy of this? The answer comes from a concept we studied in class: commodity feminism.

"Commodity feminism refers to the way feminist ideas and icons are appropriated for commercial purposes, emptied of their political significance and offered back to the public in a commodified form – usually in advertising"

Unilever is doing this. Look at Dove. Look at their other work on feminist ideas and promoting those ideas. The issue isn't that Unilever is using feminist ideas to make a buck, although that's also bad. The bigger issue, however, arises when words don't match actions. When Unilever gains a good woke corporation reputation through its Dove ads and thus gets to sweep actual hypocrisy under the rug, as it's doing with the Kenya situation.

There's not much more I want to say about the situation. I just figured it was interesting to see an in-class concept in practice in real life. The fact that it happened to target such a sensitive and personal area added to the drive to talk about it, but I hope more people become aware of the dangers of commodity feminism and hypocritical organizations like Unilever.

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One more example that I can think of in commodity feminism is Victoria Secret’s rebranding in recent years. Where at this point they’re just scrambling to create an image of being more inclusive so that they can escape backlash. Victoria Secret has been very open about hiring models who look a certain way, many models talk about going on unhealthy diets and starving themselves to get into shows etc. But in their new rebranding VS attempts to advertise women of all sizes. It started off by replacing some of their size zero models with more relatable and relevant women as ambassadors which included an athlete, a transgender model and also a refugee. Yet a lot of people noticed they hadn…

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We read about Marx and how he considered ideas to reflect the economic basis of society, and I believe Unilever’s “Commodity Feminism” is an example of it. As you mentioned, the use of this concept helps them sweep their wrongdoings or shortcomings under the rug, and i think this is how they can stay competitive in the market. All of this ties to capitalism and how the world has a thirst to have monetary success. It pushes them to go beyond what one can consider as rightful, and I believe that this is exactly why there is no telling whether an organization is using a social cause as a marketing strategy or if they really care about it. This can…

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Another idea of commodity feminism is the re-branding of Fair & Lovely into the seemingly more inclusive "Glow & Lovely." Their re-branding campaign was prefaced by a song called, "mitti ke sau rang," ( that showcased women of various skin-tones being considered beautiful. This was a starkly different ad for the brand as they had previously only shown darker-skinned women in a negative light while labeling lighter-skinned women as beautiful.

However, this is commodity feminism in full force.

This is because the ingredient list and composition in the facial cream is the same as before, meaning that Glow & Lovely is still very much a fairness cream. The brand is cashing on the newfound consciousness in Pakistani society that all…

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I agree with how you have contextualised your argument by building on studies that reveal the true nature of these multinational companies. Commodity feminism is a very common phenomenon these days as companies reorient themselves publicly to escape backlash but have found ways to still do it in other subtle ways. This example reminded me of Tapal that have drastically changed their advertisements to create a new progressive image for the sake of profits. However, they still end up reinforcing similar gender norms. For example, I saw this ad (Tapal Danedar | Tum, Mein Aur Aik Cup Chai) trying to flip gender roles but a deeper look will reveal that they are still patronizing women. The ad on the surfac…

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