Sexism in the Animal Rights Movement: LUSH

Lush is a cosmetics company originally founded in the UK in 1994. Although not entirely vegan, the company sells many vegan products using natural ingredients. They also do not test on animals. Their reputation is that of a vegan-friendly, environmentally friendly, ethically conscious company.

Recently, Lush held a promotional stunt to protest packaging. How did they protest it? By having nearly naked women (wearing only aprons and high-heels) standing outside of their stores, handing out leaflets with information about their reduced-package products.

You can probably see the problems with this already. By using naked women to (supposedly) make a point about packaging, they’re comparing the women’s bodies to consumer products. They’re saying, “Hey look, isn’t it great that our women products aren’t all wrapped up? Wink wink, nudge nudge”.

It’s sexist and juvenile at the same time. And just like PeTA’s sexist campaigns, it’s also counter-productive. How many men came by just to look at the women, and get a pamphlet that they probably threw away without reading? That’s hardly a win for the environment, by the way.

Lush has stirred up even more controversy with a recent publicity stunt against animal testing. The stunt involved a live woman sitting in front of a glass window while a man performed violent and graphic reenactments of animal tests on her. This included force-feeding her, pouring chemicals into her eyes, shaving off part of her hair, abrading her skin, among other things.

trigger-warning-01

trigger-warning-02

In the latter half of a Guardian article about fashion, the performance artist, Jacqueline Traides, was quoted as saying:

“I knew there were going to be various experiments but I wasn’t aware to the full extent.”

So Ms. Traides might have been lied to or misinformed about what the stunt would actually involve. And once it got started, it probably would have been very difficult for her to ask for it to stop, or to refuse specific things. But this stunt would have been problematic even if she had been fully informed and had agreed to it – a stunt like this can only serve to further desensitize people to violence against women.

There are some animal rights activists who supported (and support) these sorts of tactics. The idea is: people already know that violence against women is wrong, so why not use that to make a point about animals?

The problem is that “people” don’t “already know that violence against women is wrong” (sic). We live in a world in which, by conservative estimates, 1 in 6 women will be raped or attempted to be raped in her lifetime; in which 1 in 7 women will be raped or attempted to be raped in marriage; in which women frequently have to be on guard, and cannot walk  the streets (or inhabit our own homes) feeling safe, because the threat of rape is very real. We live in a world in which everything from wife battery to honour killings to female infanticide to FGM (female genital mutilation) to bride burnings to acid throwing to breast ironing and beyond are common; and in which all of these acts of violence (and more) are done to women and girls because they are female. We live in a world in which a global, $97 billion dollar a year industry known as pornography turns violence against women into public entertainment for men. We live in a world in which violence against women is not only normal; it’s also eroticized.

So we are far from that ideal, egalitarian world in which violence against women is pathological or abnormal. If we did live in that world, a stunt like the one performed by Lush would be unthinkable to begin with. The fact that many people, including animal advocates, can cheer on a stunt like this without thinking twice only goes to show how desensitized we are to both violence against women and violence in general.

Interestingly, when this campaign sparked controversy, the campaign manager, Tasmin Omond, made a public statement that I found to be very revealing:

“We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman. This is important within the context of Lush’s wider Fighting Animal Testing campaign, which challenges consumers of cosmetics (a female market) to feel, to think and to demand that the cosmetics industry is animal-cruelty free. It is also important in the context of Jacquie’s performance practice: a public art intervention about the nature of power and abuse. It would have been disingenuous at best to pretend that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse.” [emphasis mine]

So Lush did this because:

  1. They know that women buy more bathroom and cosmetic products than men, and
  2. They know that singling out a male for “systematic abuse” would be absurd, but that doing it to a woman is par the course normal.

The first point has a lot to do with how women are pressured to look and think about their bodies in a sexist society, but since Lush is a business, it’s not surprising that they would attempt to capitalize on that fact. The second point is pretty much an admission that Lush is willing to promote violence against women to grab attention.

If you are a Lush customer, please boycott them and switch to another company. In many parts of the world, there are local companies that sell vegan cosmetics and bathroom products. There are also many online businesses that will ship to just about anywhere for little or no cost.

The animal rights movement should not promote or tolerate violence against any animals, including those of the human variety.

9 thoughts on “Sexism in the Animal Rights Movement: LUSH

  1. Excellent piece, great work. LUSH isn’t even vegan and they promote using “cage-free” eggs as though that was something to be proud of. There are a billion 100% vegan soap and cosmetic companies out there, no reason to buy the LUSH hype and fund their misogyny and Nonhuman Animal exploitation.

  2. As a long-time customer of Lush (and Cosmetics to Go before that), I have been reluctant to write them off completely, because they have campaigned in favour of worthwhile campaigns (eg “No-one is Illegal” which few mainstream companies or politicians would dare to go near. But I have been disappointed two-fold. Firstly, they utterly refuse to address the egg issue (trying to fob people off with pretty pictures of farms and ignoring the fact they had been asked about male chicks). Secondly, they have ignored my email asking about Ms Traide and informed consent.

  3. Vik says:

    Most Lush staff are female. Therefore, most of the “naked” staff were female. But there were naked male staff too. It’s very disappointing that the author fails to point this out.

    Furthermore, all the photos I’ve seen have the women in flip-flips rather than high heels.

    A quick Google image search for “lush naked packaging” demonstrates both these points, rather undermining the author’s claims – both about the facts of the event and the alleged sexism.

    Regarding Jacqueline Traides, her quote in the same article goes on to say “I had a choice, a voice to ask to go to the toilet, to say stop. Animals don’t have that choice. My commitment was to stay there and endure it.” So in context, the quote shouldn’t be read as a complaint or dissatisfaction on the part of Ms Traides.

    Finally, the author suggest two reasons that Lush chose a women for this stunt. The first (“They know that women buy more bathroom and cosmetic products than men”) is completely valid. And a reflection of a sexist society. But that doesn’t mean that Lush “capitalised” on this fact. Women use more cosmetic products, so they used a woman. Simple as that.

    The second reason reflects that fact that women are oppressed in society. But it’s ridiculous to suggest that Lush is willing to “promote” violence against women. If anything, they’re demonstrating the horror of violence against women.

    Sexism is a definitely an issue in society. And needs to be addressed. But misrepresentative (and apparently deliberately misleading) articles such as this do not help.

    • “But there were naked male staff too.”

      This is irrelevant. First of all, all of the articles and videos I have read/watched on the topic featured the naked females much more prominently. Secondly (and more importantly), male objectification cannot have the same meaning (contribute to the same harm) as female objectification in a patriarchal society.

      In any event, I wasn’t suggesting that Lush should have used men instead of women. I was taking issue with objectification, period.

      Wrt Jacqueline Traides, the fact that she may have had an opportunity to say “no” after it started (an opportunity that she apparently passed up) doesn’t change the fact that it was unethical for LUSH to not give her full and proper warning before the stunt began.

      “But it’s ridiculous to suggest that Lush is willing to “promote” violence against women. If anything, they’re demonstrating the horror of violence against women.”

      I realize that the people at Lush don’t consciously promote VAW. But one cannot evade responsibility for the social meaning of what one does or promotes. That is, we live in a society in which violence against women is common, normalized, and even eroticized. This stunt, like all media, exists within that context.

      How could it possibly demonstrate the horror of VAW? By providing people with more gratuitous torture porn? That presumes a) that people aren’t already very desensitized to VAW, and that b) exposure (of VAW) will lead to shock, horror, and social chance. Assumption A) is blatantly false. Assumption B) is not true in a society in which most men (literally) get off on VAW.

      • coreywrenn says:

        Hear hear!

      • Vik says:

        The naked male staff are totally relevant, not least because their omission from your description of the event demonstrates how you’re prepared to distort the facts to suit your agenda. (Much like those “high-heels”…)

        You’re assuming that Lush did not give Jacqueline Traides full and proper warning before the stunt began, but we don’t know what discussions they had. You said that she “might have been lied to or misinformed”. But she might not. So the suggestion that “LUSH [did] not give her full and proper warning” is nothing more than speculation.

        Similarly, you say that “it probably would have been very difficult for her to ask for it to stop”. Probably? That’s more speculation. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, i.e. her own comments from the same article that indicate that she could have asked them to stop. However, you decided not to mention this, instead choosing to portray a deliberately biased version of events.

        Both men and women that I know were shocked by the stunt. This shows that they are not desensitised to violence against women. And unless there’s evidence that people “got off” on this stunt, it’s not valid to liken it to “gratuitous torture porn”. Actually, I’d like to see the evidence for your claim that “most men (literally) get off on violence against women” too…

        Distortion. Assumption. Speculation. Bias. Invalid comparisons. Unsupported claims. These things all damage the cause.

        Lush isn’t perfect (the egg issue, for example). But we need to stick to the facts if we want to move both feminism and veganism forwards.

  4. I wrote that they wore high-heels because that’s what it said in one report that I read about this stunt. If they actually wore flip-flops in most places, that’s cool. But it doesn’t address the main point about objectification. Ditto for male nudity. I linked to an article that has a (nearly) naked male in it, so it’s not like I was going out of my way to hide that men also went naked. It’s just that the male nudity (and the footwear of either sex) doesn’t address my main point in this article. A little bit of reading comprehension goes a long way.

    “You’re assuming that Lush did not give Jacqueline Traides full and proper warning before the stunt began, but we don’t know what discussions they had.”

    Actually, there was a quote from her *saying* that she wasn’t fully informed – that she didn’t know everything the stunt would involve. But I also wrote that even if she had been fully informed, the stunt still would have been problematic.

    “Both men and women that I know were shocked by the stunt. This shows that they are not desensitised to violence against women.”

    I’m glad to hear that.

    “Actually, I’d like to see the evidence for your claim that “most men (literally) get off on violence against women” too…”

    It’s called the pornography industry.

    • That does not, in itself, prove that the majority of men use violent pornography.

      • That’s a meaningless distinction if there ever was once. “Normal” (vanilla, non-violent, whatever) pornography features a woman who is in so much physical and mental pain that she has to be on drugs to survive it (as one survivor put it: “you can’t do that stuff sober, and God help you if you do”). The most vanilla pornography is so rough that the women in it bleed, get anal prolapses (their anal muscles literally fall out from the rough anal sex), etc.

        And that’s the most vanilla stuff. Even a casual glance at porn stats reveals that overtly degrading and violent porn is by far the most popular.

        So there’s no such thing as a man (or woman, actually) who uses porn but somehow doesn’t get off on violent stuff. It’s oxymoronic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s