Tag Archives: post-feminism

Personal brands and the Unique Selling Proposition

After the Creative Revolution in the 1960s, advertisers began to try to find communications that gave people a reason to buy their product. That developed into the Unique Selling Proposition or USP – the ‘thing’ that makes people choose your product. It still applies. Every successful product has a USP. Over time this went from features to benefits. You’ve probably heard ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’. Sell the benefit. In a marketplace full of things that do the same operation, to stand out from the crowd you need to have something that sets you apart. And that’s your sizzle.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

For example, there are heaps of dishwashers. They all wash dishes. It’s hard to be known as a product, based purely on that. It doesn’t set them apart. But sizzling benefits like being ‘whisper quiet’, or ‘economical’, or ‘green’ will make the difference for the consumer in a target market. Make no mistake, these benefits might be common to more than one product – but the first to market with it as a sizzling quality, to make it a USP, will get to own that benefit.

In the 21st Century, if you are one of the many who believes you, personally, are a brand (do a search on personal branding and you’ll see what I mean) then the USP has never had more importance.

How do you sell yourself? What’s the one thing about you that makes you different and desirable? What’s your USP?

There are no doubt lots of people who can fulfill a good bit of your job. Code a website, write a story, answer a phone, collect a debt, change a nappy.

But there needs to be something about the way you do it that sets you apart. What’s your USP? Too many people don’t easily identify the things that they’re really great at – better, in fact, than most others. It’s time you did. What’s your sizzle?

It’s harder for women to get to recognise their sizzle than for men.

Research has shown women, in particular, are bad at identifying the things they’re really great at. A female A grade math student will say she’s “okay at math”. Whereas a B or C grade male math student is more likely to say they’re “great at math.”

It’s ironic that in the 1960s, Mary Wells, the first woman to own an advertising agency, was the first to think of branding beyond an obvious USP in the four walls of advertising.

Mary Wells, image from www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

Mary Wells, image from http://www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

She extended the branding across all the marketing effort, so the flavour of that USP was on the lips of everyone experiencing any part of it. Ms Wells decided communication was something that happened all across the marketing effort. Of course she was right. The first step is identifying your USP. The second is to celebrate it across everything you do. The way you behave, dress, communicate. It’s all your own brand.

A good number of mommybloggers have accomplished this. They can sell their sizzle. But far too many very deserving women are not doing it.

Grab your sizzle, sell it up. Because you’re awesome. You have a USP. Time to identify it, claim it, and use it.

Breastfeeding in America

Recently many Twitterers (and their associates) contributed to my survey on American women’s attitudes to breastfeeding and its representation in the media. I promised to share the outcomes of my research and the survey, which this post seeks to do. For those interested, the entire paper (30 pages plus 15 page complete survey result appendix) is available by emailing me or asking on Twitter and I’ll get it to you straight away. If you’d like to see the summary of survey responses, this link takes you to the final Survey Monkey summary.

American Breastfeeding Rates

America has a dismal breastfeeding rate. The World Health Organization and the US’s own CDC recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and then breastfed with additional food until they are two years old and beyond. The American Government then worked with the CDC in 2000 to develop the Healthy People 2010 initiative. It includes breastfeeding goals which fall short of the WHO and CDC’s own recommendations – that rates of breastfeeding be targeted to 75% initiating breastfeeding at birth, with 50% at six months and just 25% at one year.

Each year since 2000, American media has been fed press release diatribe on how successfully this plan is being implemented. And mainstream media have unquestioningly spurted it back at the general public. Headlines like “Breastfeeding rate soars” (USA Today 2002) and Reuters 2007 story headlined “US breastfeeding rates rise to record high” disguise the real issue – that even after 8 years of a government promotion to increase breastfeeding in America, 25% of women never even try. In 2005 only 11% of American women exclusively breastfed for 6 months (as opposed to the WHO recommendation of 100%) and in 2007 a quarter of women who initiate breastfeeding at birth have introduced formula within the first week of their child’s life.

So what’s the problem?

Media loves boorolling-stone-janet-jackson-coverbs – as long as they’re shown in a sexual way. We’re all familiar with advertising and other images of breasts. For example, this 1993 cover image of Janet Jackson on Rolling Stone won critical acclaim. The story focuses on Jackson and her embracing of her sexuality. The focal point is her breasts.

But a full 13 years later, BabyTalk magazine’s cover created outrage. No less than 700 complaints were sent to the editor over a cover promoting breastfeeding. So getting it straight, a magazine committed to mothering and babies, getting flak over a cover which promoted – mothering and babies.








In my paper I explain how I believe this has occurred. The movement of women into the public sphere has seen them embrace their femininity in a new way. There’s a whole “look, I’m in the boardroom and I have breasts” ferocity which has been associated with feminism. Women don’t like being confronted with images which remind them of the roles their mothers had. Feminism’s abject failure through the 1980s and 1990s was its devaluation and disempowerment of the importance of nursing.

Yes, I argue that the feminist movement has contributed to a sociey where even women more readily accept images of breasts that celebrate them on a sexual rather than a mothering level. This is reflected in media too. TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal feature women who embrace their sexuality and power as successful. Women who hold traditional mothering roles are less successful, frustrated, angry or just plain stupid.

And then to have the audacity to bring those breasts, feeding infants, into the general public? No wonder women in general lead the call for ‘discretion’ and ‘hooter hiders’.

The survey

I hoped to get about 30 responses. The survey went viral and in three days I received 128 responses. More than a third of respondents added extra information to each of the basic four questions asked. Women have strong views. In my paper I relate this passion to religiosity. The religion of breastfeeding meets all the academic standards of definition. No longer is breastfeeding normal, usual practice. And I find that distressing.

While 95% of respondents did not believe media has any influence over their own ideas about breastfeeding, more than half believe media should show it more often. Clearly, women believe media has an influence over someone (if not themselves). One key response was along the lines of “media doesn’t influence my ideas about breastfeeding because it’s not shown in media.” My assertion is that this absence has just as much influence as if it were shown.

Moving forward

So what does this mean for feminists who embraced the bottle as their key to freedom from the ugliness and backward past? It means that the general public can look at American women and say “hey, are you women so stupid that you need to be told to breastfeed? And after eight years, you still aren’t getting the message?” It means that heck, if you’re an educated woman you need to recognise everything about you that’s powerful, not just breaking through the glass ceiling.


If media showed breastfeeding as part of normal life on television and other media. If it made it present and normal – not a focus of a storyline, but just part of the everyday life of families with babies on tv, then could we begin to see this overtly sexual obsession with breasts change? Could we begin to see women being more accepting of their breasts as being a special part of a relationship with their child, not just as part of the relationship with their sexuality? If, in a similar way to Hollywood reducing smoking in movies, we began to insert breastfeeding into them… what would happen? And what about the international impact this could have? Hollywood movies are seen worldwide.

Certainly our only hope can be to improve on dismal American breastfeeding rates – and who knows where it could end.

It’s time to kill Lynette, the post-feminist failure.

I was wondering which of the Desperate Housewives I am. I don’t have a gardener, we’re not rich, my kids are not dysfunctional, I’m not blonde in real estate and I’m not pretty and stupid. I guess some would say Lynette is the closest to me, because she has billions of children and was a great worker outside the home. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

I adore that I’m a mum of four children. Each of my kids is incredible and I’ve learned so much about myself and life’s purpose with having each othem around. I’ve been a parent for 17 and a half years now. That’s a really long time – nearly half my life. when I had my first child, I was about 10 years younger than any of the other mums in the parenting groups, and I was pretty much a fish out of water. But even though it was incredibly challenging, I did it, and did it really well.

I also worked outside the house. Because I wanted to. And that fantastic juggling act was about the most impressive thing I’ve ever done. It’s not about being a ‘superwoman’, it’s about being an individual. Someone who wants to try to do as much as possible and doesn’t want to make “choices” that the women’s movement and society says you should.

I gave birth to both my second child and my first magazine for ACP in the same year, without a nanny or cleaner or whatever. How did that work? I pitched a plan to my publisher, Nick Chan, that I would telecommute (the first ever at ACP) and guaranteed him that he would get the best editor for the job if he appointed me. Even though someone else wanted the job (who was also female, but not pregnant at the time), he gave it to me. Some would congratulate Nick for that – what a forward thinking guy he is. I find that pretty condescending and basically offensive to both Nick and me. I know Nick is an incredible professional and he appointed the person who was going to do the best job, all things considered. It was a business decision, not a ‘socially courageous’ one. He appointed me because I freaking well rock.

How did he know that?

I had put together an 8-page sample of what the magazine would look like, gathered a small team of potential staff, and done a budget. I made commitments to him about how the magazine would run and undertook my own market research with that team of potential staff. I approached it professionally.

And I followed through.

Far from the ‘easy’ road, it’s had its challenges. My kids have grown up in a variety of different caregiving arrangements over the years, but never fulltime 8-6pm every day because that’s never been what I wanted to have happen with them. I’ve paid more than I should have had to for childcare because I wanted a particular type, place, time. I have even taken time out from full-time employment a few times because I’ve wanted to take a bit of a break. But I’ve always ended up back in the workforce, in jobs I’ve loved.

I am the sort of person who looks for reasons how to make things work, not reasons why they can’t. I don’t care about social norms, about what’s ‘acceptable’. I’m not post-feminist. I’m not Lynette from Desperate Housewives. I’m not full of aching resentment and confusion about what my role is. I’m loving my life. I mix it up.

I’m sick of people wanting to do one of two things: first, make me some poster girl for women everywhere. While I appreciate you may admire my ability on some levels and I admire women too, I think it’s about taking responsibility for yourself and making things happen for you. Don’t point to me as an ‘example’. You should do whatever you want, and feel empowered to do it. If you don’t feel empowered, then get to the point where you do. It’s YOUR responsibility to find your motivation. I don’t look elsewhere for empowerment, but I do for affirmation. I find affirmation in women who are doing those little tough things that don’t get recognised. I will never forget dropping my kids at daycare at 8am, meeting up with another mum doing the same; however she was actually a shift worker who had started work at 4am, and was on a break from work. She had picked her child up from one carer to take him to the other one at 8am. She was a woman who needed to do something, adored her family and did what it took to make it work.

In both our cases it wasn’t going to last forever. It probably wasn’t going to last even 12 months. Kids grow up, jobs change. But for a period of time you sit up and say this is how it needs to be, and I’m going to make it happen. Don’t look to the spouse, the grandparents, whomever to ‘help out’. If you want it to go a certain way, then you find a way to make it happen.

Secondly, I don’t like people who look at what I do and then find either excuses as to why it is easier for me (oh you must have lots of help at home), or even evidence about why I’m not succeeding as well as I should be (oh you must be a bad mother, or you’re cutting corners). None of that is true – my kids are not only fantastic, well adjusted people, they have the benefit of seeing their mum achieve some pretty amazing stuff while they’re there to share it with me. The boys recognise that women can do anything, at any stage of their lives. And my daughter, at 17, is recognising that she can make choices that suit her in life, not some social norm.

Unlike the women’s movement of the 80s, I don’t tell my daughter she can have choices. I want to be a mum who lives her choices – just as any individual can, male or female. I want her to see that working inside the home is just as important as outside, and women can and should be empowered to feel fulfilled doing whatever it is they choose to do, in whatever mix. And that there is a balance that can be achieved, and that balance is different for everyone. And she has to be personally empowered to make a balance for herself. She doesn’t have to thank anyone other than herself for taking it on and making it happen.

Take control. Make your own way. Stop finding excuses for whatever is on the backburner. Find reasons to cook it all up now. Empower yourself and be your own inspiration. Get rid of Lynette.