Voices

Fluidity isn’t a trend; we need to stop treating it like one

Katy Woodrow Hill, Strategy Partner at Livity and Joanna Lyall, Country Manager at Freeda U.K explore how gender fluidity signals a dramatic change in what young people demand from brands.

Katy Woodrow Hill, Livity // Joanna Lyall, Freeda UK

Strategy Partner // Country Manager

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Inspired by conversations with changemakers from the Livity network and research with the Freeda community, we’ve been exploring gender fluidity as one of the most exciting cultural shifts of a generation. This is more than a fleeting consumer trend; it signals a dramatic change in how young people define themselves and what they demand from brands. These conversations reveal a vision for the future that brands need to embrace if they want to be relevant to the next generation.

When it comes to diverse gender representation, advertising is still one of the most limiting of all.

Livity/Freeda

The future is gender fluid 

“We’re paving the way because we have to,” Deserre, 18.

Womxn are given a narrow cultural lens through which we’re talked about, represented and interacted with across all media. When it comes to diverse gender representation, advertising is still one of the most limiting of all [Geena Davis Institute, 2019]. Gender-based marketing is responsible for perpetuating many norms, not least those around gender, and continues to be a battleground for equality and diversity.

But in the fight for gender equality, the new generation is pushing hard against limited gender stereotypes within culture and in their digital lives, embracing gender fluidity, nonconformity and experimentation that push boundaries for everyone.  

Some research suggests that 20% of teens identify as gender non-binary, non-conforming or transgender, nearly twice as many as millennials; 59% are comfortable using non-binary pronouns and 60% shop across gendered sections in fashion retail. Gen Z are leading the cultural shift around gender and if we listen hard enough and learn fast, they can help us push the marketing industry forward [GLAAD, Pew and Phluid Project research].

Fluidity isn't a trend, it’s a way of being

“We’re seeing a variety of being and want to see this represented authentically,” Tori West, Bricks Magazine.

The cross-generational teen experience of rebellion and experimentation is smashing together with the post-2000 experience of pervasive internet access, rapid uptake of visual social media platforms and growth of online communities, to see teens accelerating the disruption of gender norms.

Whilst the internet isn’t inherently or structurally gender neutral or feminist by any stretch - see Feminist Internet for more - many pockets of the social web are enabling womxn to define themselves more fluidly as a reaction to being held back from creative, financial and educational endeavours for, well, forever.

Youth culture shows us that fluidity applies to gender identity but also to style and careers, music choices and expression as a philosophy and way of navigating the world in contrast to the tribalism of older generations. Teens flex between subcultures and expressions of gender, adopt a spectrum of styles from normcore to maximalism, shift between activism and individualism, and find space in between to be who they want to be.

“I’m uncomfortable with the word trend when talking about gender. It’s great to see people from across the gender spectrum being visible and paving the way for others but this is not a trend”. Tori West, Bricks Magazine

As gender fluidity changes purchase behaviour, gender-binary segmentation and targeting are becoming increasingly outdated.

Livity/Freeda

It’s time to think beyond traditional gender labels 

“I don’t want to be someone else’s demographic, you can’t put me in a box,” Yvonne, 23.

As gender fluidity changes purchase behaviour, gender-binary segmentation and targeting are becoming increasingly outdated. As more customers reject traditional gender labels and experiment with gender identity, the way we engage audiences, capture the attention of consumers and buy media will need to change. 

These changing expectations play out within the Livity network and on the Freeda platform, as shown in an A/B test with a range of content across demographics. 

A content test and community survey with the Freeda U.K. community proves that Gen Z womxn identify more fluidly than older generations. They celebrate multidimensional tastes, style and careers, see fewer boundaries to their future without having to follow the old rules. More critically for marketers, they engage with content and brand messaging differently in this context.

A range of content was tested to explore fluid representation of gender, interests, careers, beauty and style. On average, the fluidity-focused content saw 30% higher engagement with a Gen Z audience in comparison to a millennial audience and one post saw the highest engagement of the year with the Freeda Gen Z audience.

The shift to gender neutral labels also plays out across the Freeda community, with under 21s three times as likely to use non-binary gender pronouns than over 30s in the community and this group being twice as likely to agree with the statement “gender and sexuality are fluid” as millennial audiences.

Brands can be agents for change

“It’s time to support us and give back to culture. We want wholehearted collaboration,” Sahra Isha, Sai Noir.

Gender is not a fixed concept, but rather a spectrum of options and choices, and brands need to learn to support consumers with their gender exploration.

Brands that actively do this are well regarded amongst Gen Z womxn, with brands like Fenty and Weekday, media platforms like Bricks and collectives like BBZ and Pxssy Palace all being celebrated as paving the way towards a new normal of gender fluidity and experimentation. 

Brands need to make considered choices about the stories they tell, the media they buy and the talent they work with in front of and behind the camera to ensure they move culture forward rather than simply reflect what has come before.

The article comes from the Future of Marketing to Womxn report, a collaboration between youth consultancy Livity and Freeda Media that brings together fresh new qualitative research, surveys and A/B testing from our communities to better understand what Gen Z Womxn want to see from brands. For the full report email hello@livity.co.uk

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Gen Z Gender