Intersectional Feminism in PR + Marketing

By Isabelle Wigon

As we continue celebrating Women’s History Month and the achievements of women around the world, we wanted to spotlight an important concept all professionals – especially those in PR and Marketing – should familiarize themselves with and incorporate into their daily approaches to both internal and client-facing interactions. Read on as our Women Professionals Circle explores intersectional feminism and why it should inform your brand strategy and communications.

What is Intersectional Feminism?

Not all inequality is created equally. People’s social identities – including race, gender and sexuality – can overlap. That was the inspiration behind intersectional feminism, a term coined by American law professor, Kimberlé Crenshaw, more than 30 years ago. But what exactly is intersectional feminism and why is it important, particularly in marketing?

Feminism is defined as “the belief in and advocacy of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Intersectional feminism takes that a step further to not only spotlight women, but elevate the BIPOC women, women of the LGBTQ+ community and more. Crenshaw says, “we tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status.” But with many impacted by some or all of these, and their experiences are often not accurately represented.

Why PR and Marketing Need Intersectional Feminism

Intersectional feminism ensures that everyone is accurately represented – and in PR and marketing, representation matters. Growing up as a young (and impressionable) girl, my actions and interests were greatly influenced by the marketing campaigns I saw on television, in magazines and on billboards – if I saw beautiful women all with straight hair, I would straighten my curly hair. The clothes and products I would buy, the music I listened to, the shows and movies I watched all similarly influenced my behavior. It was the same for my sister, cousins, friends and classmates. But isn’t that the point of marketing, to get people to identify with your brand and its products/services, and to inspire action? 

While yes, this is true, marketing doesn’t always operate with intersectional feminism in mind, often leaving groups unrepresented or misrepresented, which can perpetuate negative stereotypes and biases in society. The best way to prevent tone deaf and potentially offensive campaigns is to involve more diverse people where decisions are being made. Without the opportunity to hear from voices of BIPOC, LGBTQ+ folks, people in the disability community and so many others, marketing campaigns run the risk of inaccurately portraying those communities. Companies should actively seek out diverse and inclusive groups of employees, encourage them to bring their ideas to the table and support them in their roles.

What’s at Stake

PR and marketing campaigns have immense influence over their audiences and the ability to set unrealistic and sometimes damaging expectations about what a product or service can and cannot do for them, or even how one’s body should look. The various positive and negative effects confirm the strong need for diverse and inclusive campaigns that represent a wide range of body types, ethnicities, genders, sexual identity and expression, and so much more. This is imperative for not only the mental health of audiences but for businesses, as an increasing amount of today’s consumers – Gen Z in particular – expect to see a more diverse and inclusive world portrayed by brands. It’s no longer enough to be feminist. It’s time for marketing campaigns to become intersectional.