Words are the new battleground

A thought-provoking TEDxAmsterdamWomen design.

Feminist. Nasty woman. Feisty. Bossy. Words are a powerful tool to label and confine female identities. In a collaboration with TEDxAmsterdamWomen 2017, WE ARE Pi’s creative Director Anne Fleming and Graphic Designer Johanna de Greeuw, have created a series of thought provoking visuals concerning the language used to describe women. These visuals pair polarizing words such as feminine or feminist, powerful or delicate and will encourage the viewer to, literally and figuratively, ‘overturn’ the idea of these words as opposites, as mutually exclusive choices. The project was created to provoke open discussion on the language of labels and the limitations these choices present.

Regardless of your generation, during their research and development, Anne and Johanna found that all women struggle with their identity and they explored how words are often used to deconstruct one’s identity into either/or choices. “Labels present us with binary choices, box us in and divide us. If you’re a woman with a loud voice, for example, you’re labelled an activist. But reality is not this black and white. If words are weaponised, it’s time to disarm them.”

Getting people to respond to women identifying themselves with words that at first seem opposite is one of the aims of this year’s theme: Overturn. Anne: “TEDxAmsterdamWomen is a place where we witness stories from women whose lives and work have transcended labels or simplified identities. This year’s design brings this to life. Our project bridges the gap between who we are as women and the words that define or confine us. We want to provoke discussions that will force us to think about the identities, the labels and the language that we use every day and how they affect us in our daily lives.”

Changed meanings
Anne: “Feminism is the new f-word. It’s controversial and is a huge target of trolling online. Women
of different generations have dramatically different perspectives on the word. We’ve seen people’s reluctance to label themselves as feminist. It is seen polarised identity.” Johanna: “It’s shocking to see feminine on the same page, as part of the same identity. But you can be both, they are not mutually exclusive. And the design allows the viewer to see both sides of the coin in one image.”

Words are now the battleground. The shift in perspective is providing women with a newfound source of power and reshaping the conversation around ‘what it is to be a woman.’ Words also politicize language which is why visually bringing Feminist and Feminine together in Anne and Johanna’s design, will force a conversation around personal identity.

A simple design to make you think
Visualizing language and perception is not an easy task to undertake, but there is beauty in its (black and white) simplicity. Johanna shares, “With our design, depending on how the poster or page is orientated, the meaning of the words change. We searched for words that could be put on public visuals, but that people also recognize as labels that have been used against them. Words with power. After which we worked on the design, making it richer and then stripping it to the core allows for the main message to survive: Who are you?”

A partnership
From the start TEDxAmsterdamWomen has actively encouraged female talent, which is what made a partnership with WE ARE Pi and Johanna de Greeuw so exciting. Anne: “WE ARE Pi wanted to have a female collaboration for this project and and we were very lucky to find Johanna who is a great designer.” Collaboration is one of the principals of WE ARE Pi. The company is a melting pot of different cultures, backgrounds and expertise. Anne: “The more difference and diversity you can get in the room, the better the ideas get. A different perspective or a different background can flip concept, bring fresh approach to the thinking.”

And bringing unique people together is exactly what TEDxAmsterdamWomen is about. Providing that platform and an opportunity for women and men to come together, share their stories and their own perceptions in an effort to create a new and more exciting future. We can’t wait to see you all in November!

Text by Gemma Damen