Marketing Sexism – Choosing to Say Goodbye


For the last few months I have been lecturing marketing and small business to 1st and 2nd year college students in South Africa. I have an undergrad in Marketing and master’s in Development with nearly 10 years of experience working mainly with non-profits and using those marketing skills to develop programs or create a “brand” for their donors. For a long time I have believed that the problem with the development world is that they just don’t know how to operate like a business nor use marketing. For instance, the core of marketing is giving your customer what they want. And for all of the years I have worked in development, very very few NGOs actually find out what is needed, instead they do whatever the activist, passion-filled, patronizing founder wants and what will make them feel like the saviour they need to be in order to be fulfilled (I’ve worked for many of these people… and I must admit most have been men).

And so, most NGOs fail – the ones that are thriving are usually the ones tapping into what is actually needed and using innovative ways to make that happen. I, as many in the field, came into it thinking I could change the world, or at least a small segment of it – but really what changed, was me. And in the last several months I have realized that the best way I can contribute to changing the world, is finding out what I truly want and need and doing it (hmmm… some sort of internal marketing happening here).

Unfortunately many of the activities that I am most passionate about are not immediate money making ones – and so I have had to come to grips with the idea that I can have a job that pays bills and not be passionate about it while I work on my passions in my spare time. And so I picked up a few lecturing posts in February. What I have realized is that I actually love working with people, especially young dynamic ones, and discussing ideas. But what they have made me realize in my teaching of marketing and small business is just how much marketing reinfores a sexist and even racist society. I actually heard myself saying these words last week “in South Africa we are trying to get away from putting people in boxes of their race, gender, culture but in marketing we need to look at this so that we can better target people for products and services.” I had an out of body experience as I said this. What on earth am I saying?!? Here I am actively and passionately trying to get women and men to think about their roles in creating a sexist and patriarchal society (on this blog, in my daily life), and I am actually teaching students to participate in it instead! So my conscience kicked in yesterday, and I had a sit down discussion with my self that went something like this:

Self: What the hell are you doing?

Me: I am not sure, but I like teaching and I need to make money.

Self: At what expense? You are being rather hypocritical don’t you think?

Me: (sigh) Yes, you are right.

Self: You are actually choosing to move to Boulder, Colorado in a few weeks so that you can enjoy and pursue your passions. You want to be involved in women’s spirituality, creativity of all sorts, but not perpetuating a patriarchal, consumer led, hierarchal society. Perhaps you should not pursue lecturing marketing once you arrive in Colorado and just trust that you will find a way to make money without selling your soul and beliefs.

Me: True.

I have now consciously chosen to step away from two possible lines of work – both areas that I know a lot about, but in which I no longer believe and choose to participate. I will be saying adieu to lecturing marketing for good – I don’t believe in what it is trying to do in this consumer driven world. Even more so I realize how much it perpetuates the roles men and women should play in a patriarchal society. While I do think that there are many principles that still can be applied from marketing – especially for non-profits and advocacy groups – the segmentation and creating of stereotypes must be changed in the way that marketing is currently pursued. But as long as people keep buying into these – they will remain.

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