Don't man up: How finding equality is not at the expense of femininity

Don't man up: How finding equality is not at the expense of femininity

As I watch in horror the catastrophic conclusion of Putin’s strongman politics, my job creating campaigns for products, services and entertainment feels, frankly, a bit frivolous.

Of course like many of us, I’m doing what I can to support this humanitarian crisis, as well as reflecting on the less-shared details of civilians in other war zones who are suffering horrifically too. But I’m also still thinking about how I can use the freedom I’m lucky enough to have to make the areas I can influence a bit better. For me, in my day job, that has always meant better representing people who have historically been marginalised in mainstream advertising and communications.

As a young girl growing up around the “power woman” of the 80s, the message was clear: if you want to get ahead, be “more of a man” than the men around you. 

I wish I’d known earlier that the leadership qualities proven most successful are ones we’d have laughingly said were “girly” back then—vulnerability, empathy, humility, integrity and collaboration. So it was a particular joy for me at the BBC nearly 20 years ago, long before my days as a founder of Joint and WACL member, to be able to work on the ‘Strictly’ trailers. Back when the 90s “ladette” was still a cultural powerhouse, it was an absolute delight to me to lean into sparkles and glitter, celebrate references to ‘Strictly Ballroom’ as well as the old ‘Come Dancing’ beloved of our grannies, and present something so “girly” utterly unapologetically.

Two decades later women, particularly women of colour, remain woefully underrepresented on our screens, despite their enormous power as consumers. 

But Joint and Amazon Prime’s ad retelling Rapunzel’s story is one recent example I’m proud to have played a part in. I love chipping away at old biases and making my own small contribution to a culture that’s more empowering and inclusive than it has been historically.

The ads we create can help contribute to more positive representations of masculinity too, and even celebrate our common humanity beyond ideological differences. 

A piece of work the Joint team created in close collaboration with our Amazon clients in 2016 did just this. It’s a simple tale about two friends thoughtfully buying each other a present to help them go about their daily work. In a sweet example of mutual understanding, both men buy each other the very same present - a pair of knee pads to protect their aching knees. But of course, they’re not just any old friends. One is a priest and the other an Imam.

This story of love and understanding between older men, and men of differing faiths, doesn’t often get represented in ads, but I believe rewriting the outdated narrative of masculinity is so important for a healthier society. We must show more men caring for others, expressing their love, demonstrating vulnerability and empathy.

Of course, this kind of work is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the way President Zelensky’s inconceivable empathy and bravery has reframed to us all what strength and leadership looks like. But that’s not an excuse for us to give up thinking about how the work we create plays some role in reflecting back to us who we are and what values we hold.

So let’s keep doing what we can to address that for the long term too. It feels to me like the least we can do in our daily work.

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