Frida Kahlo, essential feminist artist. Rosa Parks, deemed the “first lady of civil rights” and the “mother of the freedom movement” by Congress. Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic ocean. Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space. Lucille Ball and Tig Notaro, legendary comedians. Maya Angelou, the poet, memoirist, civil rights activist. What do all these ladies have in common?
If you said, “They’re all powerful, inspirational women,” you’re right.
But what ELSE do they have in common?
They have eyes!
Or so posits “Eyepowerment,” a new and shockingly reductive advertisement campaign for Chronic Dry Eye treatments by Allergan—the latest addition to a trend of feminism-as-marketing-ploy which wholly dismisses its core issues. In the ad, a black-and-white photo series of iconic feminists’ portraits fades in and out to the strain of an acoustic version of “Bette Davis Eyes,” broken up only by a title card reading, “Before we had our voice, we had our eyes.” Oh, the empowerment! Then there are some more iconic women. The ad ends with this final rallying cry: “Burning, itchy dry eyes may send the wrong message. These are symptoms of chronic dry eye. Ask your doctor for a dry eye exam today. Find eyepowerment.com.”
For fuck’s sake??!
The website takes the feminism-as-eyedrops trope even further, inviting the hordes of long-suffering dry-eyed women to “Join the movement!” It explains that “#Eyepowerment means learning about the symptoms of Chronic Dry Eye so you can be empowered to have an informed conversation with your doctor.” And, “Make sure your eyes say what you really mean. That’s #Eyepowerment.”
Eyes speak volumes. Symptoms like burning, itchy, dry eyes may send the wrong message. Ask your doctor for a Chronic Dry Eye exam today. pic.twitter.com/KIWEm9Iy7A
— Eyepowerment™ (@Eyepowerment) February 24, 2017
Maybe what they mean to say is, We need to market to women. And women like all that “empowerment” stuff, right?
In 2014, this “femvertising” trend took off with Always’ #LikeAGirl commercial. Despite its obvious pander to a feminist audience, the Always ad still maintained some political resonance, inviting customers to “join Always in [their] epic battle to keep girls’ confidence high during puberty and beyond.” And femvertising has continued; H&M cast diverse models like Adwoa Aboah and Hari Nef in a commercial for their autumn ’16 collection, supporting an inclusive idea of what it means to be a “lady.” THINX period panties used striking yonic images to advertise their gender-inclusive period panties on NYC subways. But femvertising can be problematic; in recent weeks THINX CEO and founder Miki Agrawal has come under fire for anti-feminist treatment of her employees. The Huffington Post article surrounding the controversy isolates the central tension of femvertising: “Feminism is worth nothing if it’s used as performance, not practice.”
And the Eyepowerment ads seem truly, exclusively performative. “#Eyepowerment” disorts feminism (or should we say feminEYEsm?) and empowerment to gain support for a product with no real political relevance. While advertising dry eye medication isn’t inherently sexist, Allergan’s attempt to reduce the feminist “movement” to the taking of a certain brand-name prescription is. Finally, it seems like the femvertising trend has gone too far.
Top photo: eyepowerment.com
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Olivia Loperfido is an English and psychology major at New York University's College of Arts and Sciences, and the junior editor of NYU's Mercer Street (2017-'18). She enjoys spending time with her dogs and tortoise, watching RuPaul's Drag Race, and contacting her state representatives. Follow her on Instagram here and contact her via email here.