To mark International Women’s Day, our guest editor explores the modern woman’s usage and behaviour on the platform – from publishers to creators – and why brands need to pay attention.
Women are consuming content on their own terms – and that’s reflective of a wider social change
From #MeToo to #TimesUp, the past 18 months have been revolutionary in shining a spotlight on important issues for women, as feminists (male and female) the world over are joining together, on the streets and on social media, to advocate for women’s rights.
It seems YouTube looms large in the cultural zeitgeist, with 83% of UK women agreeing that it offers the content everyone is talking about, right now1. In 2018, searches for popular and modern feminist personalities grew, from comedian turned activist Deborah Francis White, host of the Guilty Feminist podcast (grew +115% YoY), to novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (+86% YOY) whose ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ TEDx Talk has over 5M views on YouTube2.
Searches for “female empowerment” also grew 40% in 20183. These types of searches peak around the UN’s International Women’s Day. For 2019 the theme is ‘Balance For Better’; claiming ‘gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive’. Highlighting these goals is a step in the right direction, and while we’re making progress, we’re just not there yet.
Forget the stereotype
According to research, 78% women believe that YouTube is a place where everyone is welcome and included4, and a huge 70% believe that the platform reflects the diversity of society5, allowing difference and pushing against harmful and ingrained stereotypes.
“Stereotyping all women is bad on every level,” says Kate Ward, Executive Vice President of Refinery29,6 “It’s about a sense of community and a sense of individuality,’ says Ward ‘which might seem slightly contradictory, but in fact it’s not, when you think about this millennial mindset. Our ambition is to represent, fully and powerfully, the diverse experiences of women’s lives and their identities – and a failure to do that is not in service of our audience and it’s also not in service of good business.”
Your consumers need to feel represented
And representation is important, because, as Refinery29’s Kate Ward knows, women are the most powerful consumers in the economy; “85% of all purchasing decisions are driven by women, so this is a consumer that needs to be understood, and represented, because ultimately, when brands are talking to this audience, particularly of young women, they will regard it as a determination of relevance, and instrumental to determining their choice, and brands that fail to understand and truly represent women will inevitably find that powerful consumer is going elsewhere.”
Brands can and should help; 57% of UK women say they "would rather buy a product for which ads portray women in a positive light”7. These women also said that ads supportive of gender equality should depict them as equal to men – strong, positive and as ‘real’ rather than ‘stereotyped versions’ of their gender.
Brands are starting to listen
Responding with more empowering messaging, such as Libresse’s period-taboo-busting Blood Normal campaign, YouTube Works award for Best UK Cultural Impact Through YouTube and the Glass Lion Grand Prix at Cannes Lion 2018. Like many of the most successful empowerment videos, Libresse took advantage of YouTube’s longer form to expand beyond the traditional 30 second format (2:22 minutes) to tell its story in more depth.
It’s not just brands forgetting the stereotype, a new generation of female creators are too
“YouTube has given me a platform, a passion and a mission – to help people get fit around the world” says fitness expert Lucy Wyndham-Read.
With twenty years’ experience in fitness, first as a British army recruit and then as a personal trainer and author of a series of fitness books that were translated worldwide, Wyndham-Read knows her stuff – yet, like a lot of women, she struggled to get her ideas out there; “I was always up in front of a lot of men for TV ideas, fitness ideas and book ideas. I didn’t have the right agent, or I didn’t look a certain way or I hadn’t trained celebrities… twenty years’ experience and having a real passion somehow wasn’t enough. My ideas would often get diluted and become unrecognisable.”
That’s why Lucy turned to YouTube, “When I discovered YouTube, I knew it was the answer. It gave me a freedom that the media wouldn’t give me.” It’s become her full-time job, she has over 750k subscribers and one video alone has garnered over 30M views.
At 26, Jaspreet Kaur is part of a new generation of ‘EduCreators’ on YouTube. Two years ago, she left a teaching job; “I didn’t really like it or enjoy working 9-5. Teachers have to cram in so much information for students to pass their exams, and that love of learning got lost. So that’s why I wanted to do something on YouTube.”
With her Punjabi background, she set up her channel to educate the South Asian community around nutrition and lifestyle. Kaur’s global audience is 95% female, aged 16-25 (on average, 50% of creator watchtime comes from outside their country8). In addition to teaching, she also addresses natural skincare and period wellness on her channel, which young millennial audiences relate to.
Equally, she is also passionate about doing things her way: ““I produce, write the script, do all the production and the lighting, I can look however I want, wear what I want. Whereas on TV, everyone wears make-up, but I don’t have to – it’s nice to be different. For women of colour, that’s important; as a young girl, I would have loved to have seen that – it would have really given me confidence.”
The most important lesson we’ve learnt?
While 90% of women agree that YouTube allows anyone to express themselves or show their talent9, and they are – from top female creators, to incredible artists, and amazing women who lead businesses or represent brands – they’re all smashing gender stereotypes, in their own unique way.