It’s never been a better time to be a woman, or so say 84% of women around the world. Yet for all our success in popular culture, women are still defined in binary terms: the 'busy working mum' or 'sassy singleton' desperate for marriage and babies. Remember the way acclaimed actress and producer Jennifer Aniston was reduced by the popular press to 'poor Jen', due to the fact she was unattached and childless, or, more aptly, child-free?
Working as an advertising strategist, these stereotypes became horribly familiar and a source of frustration, which is why I decided to research contemporary femininity. What does it mean to be a woman today? What is our value or 'Female Capital'? And so, New Female Tribes was born. The research: the J Walter Thompson Women’s Index encompasses over 8,000 women aged 17-70 years across 19 different countries, shattering the stereotypes of old school 'pretty and passive' femininity, and is the foundation of my book, New Female Tribes.
With the Female Tribes I characterise femininity according to four key master tribes, depending on whether one is achievement- or enjoyment-focused and whether one prioritises self-development or focuses on those around them, the four master tribes being Alphas, Altruists, Hedonists and Traditionalists.
Alphas are focused on getting to the top of their career. Ambitious and driven, they are much more likely to feel defined by their career and are highly entrepreneurial; think Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter, Victoria Beckham, or the women of the Kardashian empire. They’re alphas and savvy businesswomen. More than two-thirds of women in our research bore alpha characteristics, with 72% of all women saying they were proud to be a good provider – what does that tell you about contemporary femininity? And these characteristics were independent of age, income, or maternal or marital status, so motherhood doesn’t dull our drive.
However, they are not the 'bitch boss' some like to imagine, adopting a highly participative and consultative management style and keen to mentor other women. In Asia, however, alphas are often single and child-free thanks to punishing working hours and a hostile work culture when it comes to family life; it’s no coincidence Japan’s birth rate is falling off a cliff.
Of all the Alpha Tribes, the Mumbai Millennials were most confident of their potential for success, and we witnessed women in India and the Middle East who were extremely ambitious and used words like 'fearless' to characterise what femininity meant to them.
Hedonists – like Alphas – are self-focused but pleasure and enjoyment is their goal in life. Within Hedonists we have the Explorer Tribe, driven by the desire to see the world, take risks and challenge themselves, much like a female Indiana Jones; think Pippa Middleton. The Pleasure Seekers, however, crave sensory and social experiences to fuel their self-fulfilment, such as Cara Delevingne or the Hadid sisters. The Hedonist Tribes are highly digitally connected and often merchandise their lives on social media. Both tribes thrive on the thrill of the new and being seen in the right places is important to them: these are the early adopters and influencers.
If Hedonists are all about the self, Altruists are all about others, driven by a strong desire to make the world or their community a better place, perhaps as a Social Pioneer' through philanthropy or activism or even creativity.
Stella McCartney’s work in sustainable and ethical fashion is one such example, together with Laura Bates, the woman who opened our eyes to Everyday Sexism, or the women of the #MeToo movement. Not content to sit on the sidelines, the Altruist is driven to action. With her campaign to tackle period poverty, Amika George is a great example of the rise of activism among young women.
In the case of activism, social media has played a powerful role in giving women a voice and making them feel like global citizens. Within the Altruists, I also include the Culture Shapers: women who are impacting the world through the creative sphere. Women like Zadie Smith or Shonda Rhimes stand out as great examples of women creating a cultural ripple effect through their work.
But as women, the Altruist is in all of us. Over two-thirds of women felt working to improve their community was important, illustrating how we’re programmed to think outwards. Ninety-four percent believed that women can make the world a better place.
The Traditionalists, meanwhile, bring their focus closer to home, towards family or their spouse. The Nurturer tribe defines their success around raising happy, healthy children – for instance Jools Oliver, the former model now raising five children. The Spouse Focused tribe deprioritise their own needs in favour of a happy other half; political wives and first ladies often fell into this category until Michelle Obama happened. However, one could say that in many ways Melania Trump, content to stay in the shadows, is more akin to the Spouse Focused tribe.
It’s important to note that women can embody many different tribes, but in today’s media landscape, creating a new language to describe the diversity of 'Female Capital' should, I hope, put an end to the binary stereotypes and reclaim some as a positive term, such as the Alpha Female. Because it’s true: it’s never been a better time to be a woman.