An Abundance of Misfortune

Jane Austen_BMF Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald

An Abundance of Misfortune

A recent edition of the New York Times Book Review, took the 200-year anniversary of her passing as an opportunity to examine recent publications, on the wonder that is Jane Austen. Subjects from where and how she lived, to those that convene sometimes costumed in her honor, are covered.  What made my eyebrows spike into my hairline was a quote on the front page which read “A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can”. Take a deep breath, think of your blood pressure. While the language might suggest this nugget of wisdom is from a time gone by, the blatant chauvinism of it has a sting that’s still being treated in 2017. BMF was inspired to examine how professional communicators can combat this kind of narrow-mindedness, contribute positively to the conversation and think meaningfully about what more can be done.

While there always has been and probably always will be, widespread scrutiny on the influence and meaning of her writing, there’s no question Jane Austen is one of literature’s most celebrated authors. Much analysis of her work includes commentary on a class system but even more so the disparity of gender roles, particularly from a woman’s perspective. It’s more than a shame that such revered and profound work, produced during a time seen as far less progressive than the one we live in now, was not enough of a conduit to steer us to a place where the gender inequality conversation isn’t necessary any more. It’s often stated our communication mediums reflect our societal and cultural values, so a level of responsibility falls on us as influencers of content, to pick up the mantle, quash stereotypes and empower women.  A recent article in AdWeek highlighted the forward-thinking work of Mono, the agency responsible for the “Equal Every Day” project, which turned negative, headline-creating comments made about women in the past year, into compelling pieces of artwork. This incredibly creative and thought-leading project is a great example of how message makers can use their powers for good rather than evil and build momentum to keep the discussion moving forward.

In an age where corporate responsibility and social consciousness can be as important to consumers as the product or service itself, it’s vital for communicators to produce relevant and thought-provoking content, to positively and effectively engage an audience.  It’s hard to go past the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign in the last decade, as a game-changing example of how a brand turned the tide on traditional ideas of female beauty, and inspired women to feel comfortable in their own skin. While the campaign received widespread and deserved praise for examining how women really thought about beauty, and followed through by launching numerous campaigns including women with different body types and of different ethnicities, did it achieve the level of empowerment it has been credited with? Allison Earl examines in an article in PR Week that while the campaign gave women a renewed sense of self-esteem and redefined long-established and confidence-killing images of women, she suggests we can do better than that. Rather than stopping at positive reinforcement, marketing and advertising can create messaging to further motivate women to challenge themselves.  Even more importantly, brands can encourage women to push beyond perceived ideas of their capabilities and embrace failure along with success.

Some might argue women are in greater positions of power now than at any other time in history: in combat, as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as leaders of nations. Yet there is still the need for Women’s Equality Day. Part of our complicated and nuanced role as story tellers is to create powerful, diverse and all-inclusive images of women and not enable antiquated and limiting ideals. But back to Ms. Jane for a moment. The fact that millions across age, gender, class and race lines identify so strongly with her work screams to its insight. The seemingly never-ending stream of books, programs and movies produced about her, even with now two centuries having played out since her passing, suggests her enduring legacy shows no signs of letting up. Whether you agree with her reach and power or not, she’s about to be the new face on the Bank of England’s ten-pound note, and that’s a big bloody deal!