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.



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.