Another day, another oppressive ad campaign. This time, soap-merchants Lush decided to “raise awareness” about animal testing by putting on an “art performance” wherein a woman was tortured by a man. Graphically. In a shop window.
Now, this isn’t the first time women have been instrumentalised and objectified in an ad campaign, and certainly won’t be the last. What is interesting about this particular stunt, though, is that Lush clearly put some thought into it (unlike PETA, who tend towards the “let’s stick in a naked lady, and we’ll get more attention”). Unfortunately, their thought process was this:
It was a performance of violence (not violence against women) where – unsurprisingly – the oppressor was male and the abused was vulnerable and scared. We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman.
This line of argument is summarised quite nicely by @NadiaKamil: “it wasn’t misogynist but -unsurprisingly- we had to use misogyny”. Both sentences appear to be diametrically opposed to one another, to boot. The first seemingly argues that the “performance” definitely was not gendered, which some defenders of the campaign have also been using. The second states that it definitely was.
And it was gendered; it doesn’t matter if the performer was playing the role of an animal. Violence against women is something that happens, and happens a lot. Each day, women are injured, raped and murdered. I don’t believe this is in any way the same as animal testing, but even if one does, this is not how one would raise awareness.
It is somewhat comparable to the awful adverts targeted at “raising awareness” of rape, which feature graphic depictions of violence which will somehow magically end rape. Such campaigns are triggering for the sadly vast number of people who have had similar experiences. The same goes for a performance involving the torture of a woman by a man in a shop window.
Lush’s stated aim of this action is to raise awareness of animal testing, because they’re very against that. Defenders of Lush have argued they do very good work to make sure that no animals were harmed in the making of their products. By raising awareness, then, Lush are implicitly inviting consumers to purchase more of their own products.
In other words, Lush are instrumentalising violence against women to generate profit for themselves. This may be entirely well-intentioned, but it probably isn’t, as Lush are a commercial company whose ultimate motivation is to turn a profit. They are capitalising on depicting a violent, every day occurrence.
There is also an issue of class here. Lush is a fairly expensive shop, charging ludicrous sums for a small phial of bubble bath. Maybe they are more ethical than other cosmetics companies, but few people can afford to purchase their products. The effect here may therefore be that many people, upon feeling shocked and triggered by the instrumentalisation of violence of women, feel a sense of guilt that they cannot reconcile as they cannot fork out a small fortune for something which is sold as more ethical.
Whatever the intentions here, there are some unpleasant effects from the campaign that must be examined and cannot be excused. Lush have used violence against women to promote their own products. This is never acceptable and ultimately serves to perpetuate the context in which this occurs.