Strong women on the rise will be a big trend in 2016

If you're planning content or communications to target women in 2016, ditch the old stereotypes.

Strong women on the rise will be a big trend in 2016

"If she doesn’t do the challenge, then Beyonce will weep." That was Vicky Pattison talking about Lady Colin Campbell’s first jungle challenge on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity a month ago.

Pattison, who the Radio Times quaintly characterised as being famous for "getting drunk and shouting a lot on MTV’s Geordie Shore", painted a picture of an alliance of strong women everywhere who must not let each other down.

Even if Lady C had no idea of who Beyonce is and vice versa, it’s a nice thought that they would get on if they met, and that Lady C – the clever casting choice of this year’s I’m A Celebrity – is part of a league of strong women whether she likes it or not. 

This is not the only current outing of strong women in media.

The latest instalment of Hunger Games has stormed the box office in the US and the franchise is opening a dystopian theme park in Dubai. The rides will include a "lavish" rollercoaster, built to imitate the train in which Katniss and Peeta make the dark journey to the Capitol. Thrilling. 

Katniss, the heroine of the franchise, is a fighter of course. So is Lady C. They are strong, assertive, competitive women. 

Strong women who are everywhere, except, as J Walter Thompson’s global board planning director, Rachel Pashley, recently pointed out, there are "so few heroic models of women in advertising".

Cultural stereotypes still persist all over the place that show women exclusively as passive creatures, nurturing, and good at relationships. These stereotypes can lead to big missed opportunities in branding and business.

In the Hofstede model of intercultural communications styles – an otherwise very useful tool for understanding cultural differences – one of the categories is "masculinity". 

This is defined as "cultures where people value achievement and competitiveness, as well as acquisition of money and other material objects". Which we must take to mean that femininity is not concerned with achievement. Not about winning.

In the boardroom, these stereotypes still sometimes means that the only woman, or the first woman, on the board is the HR director. 

Brands which don't embrace the notion of strong women will find themselves out of sync with millions and adrift from a huge wave of cultural traction. 

Recent archeological discoveries can confirm that these notions of what defines masculinity and femininity are not innate.

Early civilisations just didn't work like that. Thanks to new techniques all the assumptions about how men and women once lived are being re-written.

Ancient burial sites are being redefined by modern forensics. For over a century, from the earliest days of excavation in the name of science, if a grave was found with weapons in it, the skeleton was always assumed to be that of a man.

DNA testing now proves that a significant proportion in some sites actually contain the bones of women fighters. Strong women have been literally fighters since antiquity.

In her book, The Amazons, Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, author Adrienne Mayor writes that in Scythian graves of dating from the Iron Age nearly a quarter of the women were warriors. The condition of the skeletons shows that these women were fighters not exclusively home makers.

An excavation at Hadrian’s Wall has uncovered two skeletons, they are believed to be cavalry officers because of the artefacts, they are now known to be women.

We can assume that they certainly valued achievement and competitiveness and perhaps the acquisition of material objects.

It is long past time to throw away gender stereotypes. Brands and businesses must understand that we all identify across the whole spectrum of masculinity and femininity as they are currently defined.

Strong women are on the rise. If you're planning content or communications to target women in 2016, don't miss out on this trend.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom.


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