The artist told to 'Dial down the feminism' says creatives don't need to be thick-skinned
A view from Alex Bertulis-Fernandes

The artist told to 'Dial down the feminism' says creatives don't need to be thick-skinned

Alex Bertulis-Fernandes used to believe she couldn't cut it in advertising because she is "sensitive". That all changed after she joined D&AD's New Blood Shift class and created a piece of art about feminism that went viral.

Alex Bertulis-Fernandes recommends

How I rediscovered my creative worth

Read more

I have no personality. I am disrespectful. I am a snowflake. I am attention seeking. I am wasting my daddy’s money. I have daddy issues. I’m the reason people don’t like feminists. 

Or so I’m told by people on the Internet. Mainly men, but women too. They say worse things, of course. I try not to read them. I try not to engage. 

One man "angry reacts" 36 times on my Facebook page. One man finds an animation I made in which I ask "Am I a useless shit?" YES, he responds. 

This all happens after I’ve gone viral. I’ve posted a piece created in response to a comment from a teacher suggesting I "dial down the feminism". As of writing it’s been retweeted almost 100,000 times. Most of the response has been extremely positive. Some of it has not. 

Flashback to three months ago.

I’m sitting in a café with my friend, Sarah. We’re talking about my experience of New Blood Shift. Shift is a night school run by D&AD, aimed at preparing creatives without degrees for the world of advertising. Sarah is surprised that I’m on it. 

"I thought you had to be thick-skinned to work in advertising," she says. I freeze. I’ve long suspected that advertising isn’t for me. I’m sensitive, and "sensitive" is a dirty word. 

I spend the rest of the evening agonising over what Sarah has said. I ask myself repeatedly how thick-skinned I am, aware that every time I do I’m answering my own question.

Since my talk with Sarah, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on her question, and I have my answer: 

I am not thick-skinned. It is unlikely that I ever will be. 

But I’m not sure that I need to be. 

Agencies need sensitive people. You can’t have empathy without sensitivity, and without empathy, the industry suffers. You get train wrecks like the Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner.

But more than this, agencies need sensitive people who are resilient. They need people who can handle criticism, and use that criticism to make their work better. I am one of those people.

I am more resilient now than I was before I started New Blood Shift.

Shift showed me the value of my work, but taught me not to be precious about it. I learned not to take criticism personally. Shift showed me that resilience isn’t something that you’re simply born with or without. It’s something you develop. 

I’m grateful that I didn’t go viral before Shift. I wouldn’t have coped. I’d have read and reread every insult that came my way and used that as an excuse to stop creating.  

Now? Now there’s hate mail in my inbox and I’m okay with that.

I know that working in advertising won’t be easy. Criticism from people online is not the same as criticism from your peers, or your boss. Working in advertising is going to be tough, and if I want to survive, I’ll have to be tougher.

So I will be. I’ll be tough. I’ll be sensitive. I’ll be both.

Alex Bertulis-Fernandes is a creative, copywriter and member of D&AD’s New Blood Shift London class of 2017.