The third wave quietly happened between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s. This wave was lead by the first generation of working women. This “fight” was aimed at equality in the workplace and diversity inclusion. The women of their era were born during the second wave, and had their set of struggles being respected in the workplace. They had something to prove: women could do the same job, just as well, as men. These women were the first working mothers, receiving criticism for leaving their children on the home-front, and getting pushed back based on their gender on the work-front. Furthermore, Gen X feminists also valued diversity in terms of ethnicity and culture. The overarching concept of feminism grew sub-branches dealing with different struggles per ethnicity and culture (e.g. “the mystery of Arabic women”, “Latinas are sexy”). The outcome of this wave were positive. It succeeded it demonstrating women’s mental and work capabilities, and broadened the movement to acknowledge specific struggles. Advertisers followed the movement again and portrayed women in work environments.
The fourth wave, also known as post-feminism, was a step back for the movement. Its title speaks for itself. The early 2000s qualified the movement as a past one. The rise of the internet also came with the rise of sexualizing and objectifying women. The issue lied in the communication tool at hand. Technology made leaps and bounds in the mid 1990s, especially with the Internet. The power of this tool was broader than anyone could have anticipated. And as such, the damage this tool could cause was also underestimated. Indeed, fashion trends, music videos, films and tv shows representing women as sexual objects, weak damsels in distress, passive, pawning after men, and self-objectifying. The internet globalized content and ideology. This misrepresentation led to setbacks in movement’s goals. Photoshop created unrealistic body expectations which led to a higher number of eating disorders. Pornogrpahy’s democratization, with the Internet’s advent, has also led to a higher number of sexual assaults.
And now? We are currently in the middle of the fifth wave that shaped its platform around the damage caused in the early 2000s. The people leading this movement are the ones who suffered the most from the post-feminism era: Millennials. They grew up with the internet, during this era of overexposure to different mediums. They are also the most educated generation to date. This combination makes them the best suited to change the current mediascape. They are self-aware, knowledgeable about media, content-oriented, and conscious of the power the media has over people thoughts and ideologies. The current climate is focused on tolerance, and audiences have the ability to broadcast their opinions worldwide thanks to the internet.
This nameless fifth wave is also slowly tackling the issue of age. Ageism concerns both genders, however the process is harsher on women because of the representation of beauty being exclusive to 20 year old women. Audiences are so conditioned to view beauty with such and such parameters that they begin to believe them to be true. The media has brainwashed women to be ashamed of aging, hence the countless beauty products oriented at getting rid of wrinkles, or the never ending range of diet plans to “regain the flat tummy of their youth”. Why would you want to? The next challenge feminists are tackling is representing beauty without any limits of ethnicity, body type, or age.
This wave’s aim is to accurately portray and represent women, in terms of situations, behaviour, ethnicities, body diversity, and age. It has already successfully removed the negative connotation around the term “feminist” thanks to the media, which they have utilized to “educate” the masses. If brands want to stay ahead of this progression, they must start thinking about their communication strategies, and their representation of age within them.
How can brands stay ahead of this movements’ direction? Anticipating the movements’ orientation is tricky as it obviously works hand-in-hand with social events which are not always predictable. Although the short-term objectives evolve, the long-term aim remains the same. Content marketers must be part anthropologists to truly make impactful, relevant, and appreciated content. They must consider the long term values of a specific sociological movement and formulate content based on those.