How To Speak Woman

Crowd DNA’s Elyse Pigram and Roberta Graham offered an early-morning masterclass in female archetypes at our recent Rise breakfast in London. Here’s the highlights...

You can download our How To Speak Woman report here.


Putting the words ‘we need to stop talking about women, and start talking to them’ into full effect, our latest Rise event opened with a short film of women discussing their thoughts on female representation. The soundbites and anecdotes were overwhelmingly negative. Not a great way to start the day, but our presenters Elyse and Roberta explained how this was to be expected when stats show that only 14 percent of women in the US and UK relate to the way they’re represented in advertising (OnePulse research for Crowd DNA).

So what is it about representing women that brands don’t always get right? Why, as Roberta pointed out, amid all the current discussions, debates and rise of movements such as #metoo, is this still happening?

The presenters explained how part of the problem is that narratives surrounding gender shift at lightning speed, which, naturally, creates a very challenging landscape for brands to operate in. What’s more, debates around womanhood are often tied to wider cultural tensions and friction, which no doubt add to an emotionally-charged atmosphere. There’s a sense of urgency for brands to ‘get it right’ and harsh punishment for those who ‘get it wrong’ or jump on the tokenistic bandwagon.

To help keep on the right track of these ever-changing expressions, Elyse and Roberta used a simple framework based on Jungian archetypes and a past, present, future trajectory. First up, they explored how traditional female archetypes have been systematically reinforcement via, yep, you guessed it: ‘the lover’, ‘the innocent’ and ‘the caregiver’. Images of scantily-clad women, creepy child-like nymphs and proud domestic goddesses were deconstructed as a ‘how not to speak to modern women’ guide, before moving onto a more hopeful discussion around present narratives of femininity.

Current expressions were shown to be about claiming and reframing female archetypes. Whether it be ‘the hero’, ‘the rebel’ or ‘the every(wo)man’ (all traditionally male reserves), women are being depicted with a ‘girls can do it too’ attitude of strength and ownership. Furthermore, as more women are shown in these ways, traditional expressions of femininity are being reframed to be more culturally relevant to the modern woman. For example, narratives of ‘the lover’ are moving beyond overt displays of sexuality and objectification, towards a more conscious sensuality and portrayal of playful, female confidence.

Wrapping up with ideas around the future of female archetypes – which, Elyse explained, are not about eradicating gender and making femininity invisible, but simply about giving voice to fluid experiences around the world – it was shown how womanhood is being reinvented. Women depicted as ‘the creator’ is an exciting archetype to look out for, as are more blended expressions of gender altogether – with women (and men) embracing pick-and-mixed characteristics from across the whole archetypal wheel.

Thanks to everyone who that came along for croissants and a chat. For those who missed it, you can download our How To Speak Woman report here.