According to a recent article in TMZ, Hard Candy Cosmetics recently applied to trademark #MeToo, the hashtag created by Tarana Burke. #MeToo was meant to help victims of sexual violence feel that “you can stand up and talk about it” and that “there’s no story that’s unimportant, there’s no person whose experiences shouldn’t be validated.” Hard Candy Cosmetics was going to use it to sell makeup.
Luckily, the public outcry has convinced Hard Candy to drop the application. “Based on several public responses,” they wrote, “we have abandoned the application.”
In a full statement to Bustle, Jerome Falic, the CEO of Hard Candy’s parent company Falic Fashion Group, claimed that they filed the trademark application as part of their work on behalf of a nonprofit organization. “As a brand devoted to women since its inception,” the statement read, “Hard Candy has and will continue to support women’s rights. Hard Candy has always quietly and proudly supported a non-profit organization that directly contributes to many women’s causes.When the trademark application for #metoo was filed, one of our objectives was to bring greater awareness to this important and long overdue movement.”
“We planned to donate 100% of all profits arising from this trademark to #metoo. Based on several public responses, we have abandoned the application. We will continue to support the work of this watershed movement and other causes that respect the dignity of women and all people.”
Partnering with nonprofits is a long-established part of Corporate Social Responsibility programs, and that’s all well and good. With corporate profits at historic highs and corporate taxes at 60-year lows (and wage stagnation for the rest of us!), companies should at the very least be giving back. However, a large corporation trademarking a black woman’s idea in order to ensure that they’re the only corporation who’s using that idea? That’s a big fat NOPE. #MeToo is specifically meant to be a movement that any victim can participate in and speak up with. Trademarking it would be so wrong-headed, so counter to its entire reason for existing. No corporation should get to decide who uses it.
Thankfully, Hard Candy dropped their trademark application, and I appreciate that they responded so quickly to people’s concerns. However, this incident highlights a growing problem that faces the women’s rights movement in this moment. As feminism becomes more accepted, it becomes more popular, and corporations begin to see it as a useful marketing tool. As Andi Zeisler described in her book, We Were Feminists Once, feminism has finally found some mainstream acceptance, and brands are eager to cash in. Feminism now “drives advertising and marketing campaigns for everything from wireless plans to underwear to perfume, presenting what’s long been a movement for social justice as just another consumer choice in a vast market. Individual self-actualization is the goal, shopping more often than not the means, and celebrities the mouthpieces.”
Many of these changes are welcome. When beauty and lingerie brands feature women’s actual bodies in their ads instead of airbrushed and Photoshopped versions of them, that does remove the genuine harm of unrealistic body images from their ad campaigns. When brands try to sell themselves with messages of empowerment rather than sexist stereoypes, that does create a less misogynist media ecosystem. Representation matters, and these smaller changes in marketing do contribute to a less toxic world.
However, feminism also has larger structural goals which don’t fit well with corporate profit-seeking, and a company’s public image doesn’t always map onto its practices. The company that built the Fearless Girl statue was sued for systemic gender discrimination. Companies print “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” T-shirts in sweatshops. Supposedly feminist CEOs are accused of sexual harassment and sued for firing pregnant employees before and during parental leave. The aims of a company under capitalism are rarely in line with the aims of an inclusive feminist movement that seeks justice, dignity, and autonomy for all women, not just those at the top.
It can feel like a tricky line to navigate, between encouraging companies to adopt more equal, ethical marketing and giving them too much credit for merely cosmetic changes to their operating principles. And it can result in conflicts like this, where a company tries to trademark a movement that was built on the participation of everyone.
While corporations can absolutely play a role in creating a more equal world, when they treat feminism as an exploitable buzzword rather than a movement with concrete social justice goals, they dilute its meaning. When they try to capitalize on the popularity of a movement without recognizing its purpose, they don’t help us move forward. #MeToo was built as a profoundly democratic way to expose systemic sexism and encourage victims to come forward in a world where they’re often pressured to stay silent. It wasn’t built to be trademarked and sold.
(Via Bustle; image: Shutterstock)
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