No, this isn’t a sudden rush of hyperbole, it’s a serious question which is worth thinking about. Here’s why…
A potted history of feminism runs something like this…
The social liberation of the industrial era saw various strands develop side by side: the abolition of slavery, the development of model towns (e.g. Bournville, Saltaire and New Lanark) by industrial philanthropists and the limitation of working hours and finally universal suffrage.
It also saw the growth of feminism, firstly as part of the suffrage movement and then as an attack on the institutional sexism which prevented women from becoming as economically active as men.
The First World War saw both issues advance hand in hand, with women entering the workforce to replace men who had gone to fight in Europe and the culmination of suffrage movement in the 1918 Representation of the People Act.
This, however, was only the beginning of the feminism reform movement which continued to flower and develop in the inter-war years. Full parity of suffrage between the genders was achieved by the 1928 Representation of the People Act, which led directly to the election of a Labour Government in 1929.
In the meantime increasing literacy led to writers such as Virginia Woolfe gaining popularity and other issues coming to the fore included the rights of women over their possessions, employment and bodies.
The outbreak of the Second World War may have put the legislative agenda on hold but the social revolution continued. Once again women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers as men went to be slaughtered in Europe.
There was also an unprecedented sexual liberation as the uncertainties of tomorrow led to the sexual dalliances of tonight and there is little doubt American GIs turned many a lady’s head, whether for love, luxury or comfort.
Europe rebuilt itself during the 1950s and it was only in the 1960s that feminism really started to gain momentum again. There, however, I shall leave this brief history – partially because we’re now leaving history behind, but mainly because by now the principles were firmly established and the fight since then has been about ensuring the principles are enacted.
However, it’s worth noting that the advert at the top of this post is from 1970 and the one immediately below this paragraph from 1953. The only difference two decades made was in how explicit you are about the view women are weak and/or simple, not changing the view itself. In the meantime, it was only a few days ago I read (yet) another article about the glass ceiling. The process continues ever onwards.
All very interesting but what, you may ask, has this to do with sustainability?
Last night I was reading what has to be the best article on green advertising I’ve ever come across: The New Green Marketing Paradigm by Jacquelyn Ottman over at MediaPost.
Oh dear, I thought as I started to read, another feeble attempt at justifying or promoting greenwashing. Not a bit of it.
The paragraph which really caught my eye was this:
The new rules being laid down by today’s eco-conscious consumers cannot be addressed with conventional marketing strategies and tactics … Sustainability represents deep psychological and sociological shifts — not to mention seismically important issues — as did one of its predecessors, feminism, which forced marketers to develop more convenient products in step with two-income lifestyles and to portray women with a new respect.
Now look again at those advertisements.
The vast majority of greenwashing isn’t deliberate, it’s just companies thinking that by appearing to be greener they understand what consumers want. They don’t, any more than this next advertisement (1921) really understands what women want:
The deep social changes feminism created are still reverberating throughout society and across the world and, quite frankly, sustainability hasn’t got a patch on it yet.
The Sustainable Future
So where are we with sustainability now then?
Well, I guess we’re only now starting to get legislation through which will lay the foundation for sustainability to come. That would place us somewhere around 1918 in the feminism timeline and it’s a fairly apt comparison. After all, the Representation of the People Act was solely about suffrage, and most sustainability legislation is about climate change.
Equality of voting did not make gender equality in the workplace or home; cutting greenhouse gases will not lead to a sustainable future.
So we have a long way to go, longer perhaps than many will realise. In the meantime, if you want to look into truly green marketing tips, check out the New Green Marketing Paradigm post which inspired this one, especially the seven strategies for green marketing success at the bottom. Be proactive, think holistically, and never quit.
Picture Credits: all of these advertisements are, I believe, out of copyright. However I’m indebted to the Daily Mail for providing the years and recommend OWNI.EU’s collection of inappropriate adverts (covering racism, alcoholism and other matters) for more insight into how our marketing and social mores changed last century.
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