Vania Lourenco
Oct 22, 2015

'Disruptive women' at centre of changing notions of femininity

Views of feminism are in flux all over the world. The challenge for brands is that the prevailing narrative differs from market to market.

Vania Lourenco
Vania Lourenco

Flamingo São Paulo recently hosted an event on disruptive femininity, bringing together panellists from across progressive female culture in Brazil to talk about the changing meaning of feminism, female empowerment in Brazil and beyond, and the role of brands within the global discourse of femininity. The big take-away from the discussion—and from stories around the world—is that we’re in a time of rapidly evolving understandings and representations of womanhood. While this change is occurring at different paces and in different ways across cultures, we are globally in a time of a ‘new woman’—one who is in a constant process of disrupting norms and forging a new path toward defining herself as a complete individual.

This new, disruptive woman lives the tension between traditional and modern, at once owning the identity of mother/wife/daughter and at the same time that of empowered individual with aspirations that extend far beyond clearly defined roles. Unlike the cloistered woman of the past, she is looking to build and take part in a new sense of female community, to create new shared expectations around what the female experience should be and to achieve freedom from limiting and outdated stereotypes (often imposed by both sexes).

For brands that want to continue to engage women in this changing context, it’s important that they not only understand but also contribute to this process of disruptive femininity across cultures.

What counts as disruptive, however, depends greatly on where you are and the cultural context surrounding femininity. Looking at how brands are disrupting across global contexts we identified three distinct discourses: of confidence, of self-determination, and of self-protection.


In more developed markets, where the role and status of women is already more progressive, disruptive discourse tends to focus on the internal lives of women—how women can and should feel about themselves. A great example of this is the much awarded 'Like a girl' campaign from Always, which challenges seemingly innocuous stereotypes and demonstrates how they work to shape (and trap) women in culture. It disrupts through a call to arms to think about how/what we teach and to rethink what assumptions are natural and what are constructed.

In a more emergent marketing context, Sephora Brasil's ‘Girls Dress’ campaign plays disruptively in this territory of internal empowerment by telling women that feeling confident is more important than meeting men’s expectations, whether that means choosing to wear make-up or not.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series


In developing markets where the role of women is developing along with economic expansion, disruptive discourse tends to centre more around achieving independence—investing in one’s self and career to forge a path toward elevated and often disruptive aspirations.

Avon Brazil provides a strong example with its 'Beleza que faz…' campaign focusing on financial independence. Similarly, the Nike Russia campaign, 'I’m just better – Mud Mask', portrays women’s ability to achieve their goals with self-determination even in fields where traditionally they aren’t expected to be good.


While women’s safety is an important issue everywhere, the idea of it being the dominant topic of feminism discourse feels particular to certain markets where deeply embedded misogynistic cultural elements exist. In order to promote a safer place for women, some of the brands in these markets are creating useful tools to help women to defend themselves against male aggression. 

Vodafone is a clear leader in this space. Its awarded 'Red light' campaign is a strong example. The brand created an app that enables women to seek help when they feel they’re in a dangerous situation. Similarly, Vodafone India created the 'Umbrella self-protection' campaign, which promotes using the umbrella as a weapon to deter threats.

It’s an exciting and turbulent time for femininity globally. The rise of the new, disruptive woman is a challenge and an opportunity for global brands.  The key moving forward will be to continue to act and engage, rather than reflect back the status quo.  

Vania Lourenco is a senior research executive with Flamingo Sao Paulo


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