Should Brands Be Responsible for Debunking Gender Stereotypes? Let’s ask the ladies.
To find out what women are thinking, we did something radical: we went straight to the source and asked her.
These days, women across generational divides, races, and industries are banding together to raise one another up and fight for equality in women’s issues and beyond. But, they don’t think they should be doing it alone.
Women are well aware of the power of advertising. Even the oldest cohort of women today grew up with exposure to current fashion and beauty trends in the pages of teen magazines, such as Seventeen, first published in 1944.
If advertisers want women’s loyalty, shouldn’t they be fighting for a better life for her?
Seventy percent of women say YES!
We conducted a survey of 500 women over the age of 40. We asked them whether brands should play a role in advancing women’s issues and debunking gender stereotypes and a vast majority said yes.
And, those same women told us that so far, advertisers aren’t doing a very good job of it. 76% of women we surveyed said that brands not only aren’t advancing women’s issues, they’re also playing a negative role in the perception of women over 40.
Not only that, 80% of women feel that brands are perpetuating negative gender stereotypes. So, not only are brands not advancing women’s issues, they’re actually counterproductive to women’s fight for equality and to be seen as strong, fierce, smart individuals.
Nine out of 10 women we surveyed said they wanted brands to play a positive role in debunking gender stereotypes.
Brands have the power to shape society, to create cultural relevance, to push the needle farther and farther towards equality. And it starts by projecting the world we want to see, and leaving behind the tired tropes and lazy ways out we’ve learned over decades of “advertising to women.”
She’s more than Mom
One of the most important things that women want brands to know about them and to support is that women aren’t just moms. Mom is only one title they may hold and they want brands to recognize that in their advertising.
Our survey found that nine out of 10 mothers wanted to see women in more roles than “mom.”
Women may be mothers, but their children aren’t the sole focus of their life. There’s a reason that over half of the women we surveyed said that brands got their idea of motherhood wrong.
While the overall birth rate in the US was at its lowest point in 35 years in 2019, the birth rate is actually rising in women over 40. Feeling more established in their careers, and more secure in relationships, waiting to become a mother is a concept that’s only gaining traction.
These decisions are changing what motherhood looks like, and women want brands to reflect their reality today, not the motherhood of their own mothers. Women who are choosing to become mothers are doing so later in life and are doing so in conjunction with the other roles they already have: professional, friend, breadwinner, caretaker, superstar.
If brands want to connect with these women they need to stop thinking of women only as mothers and present them leading the interesting, surprising, multi-faceted lives of which motherhood is only one part. And when they portray motherhood they should do it with the richness and fullness of reality.
She doesn’t need makeup to feel sexy
When we asked women in our survey how brands portrayed them, 84% said that brands systematically overestimated their preoccupation with physical appearance.
Women may want to invest in self-care and beauty products that make them feel healthier, more beautiful, and more themselves, but that doesn’t mean their only care in the world is their physical experience.
She is not a little old lady
“Too many brands ignore this age group or are solely focused on selling us incontinence products, medication, or things to make us look younger / thinner,” said one of the women we surveyed. Truth is, they don’t need what advertisers are selling to feel younger, sexier, or stronger. They already are all those things, and they know it.
Brands that reflect this reality will connect with this consumer group as a peer, as someone women want to be around, not an intruder, pushing them around and insinuating that they “know what’s best.”
She’s educated and intelligent
What are brands missing when they market to women as though they are only mothers or only care about looking younger?
They forget she’s independent, well-educated, and smart.
Of the women we surveyed, 80% thought that brands systematically underestimated their intelligence. Ouch.
Today (and for the past 40 years!) women are more likely than men to have a college degree. And, for the 11th year in a row, women earned the majority of doctoral degrees while outnumbering men in grad school 141 to 100. So trust her with the science, speak with the expectation she’ll understand the reference, treat her like the sophisticated, smart one in the room—because she is.
She’s got money to spend
If your brand isn’t interested in debunking gender stereotypes simply because it should, we have some data that could persuade you.
Women have money. A lot of it.
Women control over 60% of the personal wealth in the U.S. and make over 85% of all household purchasing decisions. And they’re not just spending their husband’s earnings. In 40% of households, women are the primary breadwinners.
Women today control household spending and they’re going to direct it towards brands that support women’s issues and that promote an authentic vision of who women are today.
Again, the women we surveyed said it best: “Brands don’t seem to have captured that ‘ageless’ feeling that a lot of us feel. Ads for women 40+ are about slowing down . . . not living incredible lives that we earned and can afford.”
Women are out building careers, getting an education, spending money on what they want to, and they’re focused on living, not on counting their wrinkles. Brands that can promote the diversity and authenticity of the female experience will be primed to harness the dollars these women have and are willing to spend.
Women understand the power of the messages and stereotypes portrayed in advertising. They want that power to be used to support them and change attitudes, not hold them back in history.
It’s time for your brand to promote women as they authentically are today. Let us help.