It was a familiar site yesterday on International Women’s Day, as military contractors and other giant corporations used the holiday to attempt to associate themselves with progressive causes and agendas. Weapons manufacturer Raytheon positioned itself as a feminist brand on Twitter. The United States Air Force – currently bombing seven countries simultaneously – announced that “On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women that lead the defense of our nation throughout our service. An equal world is an enabled world,” sharing pictures of women in uniform. Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) created an “inspirational” video of its inclusive history, tweeting: “Here’s to their risk-taking, barrier-breaking, history-making. Here’s to their glass-ceiling-smashing, odds-defying, limits-pushing. Here’s to the women of the IDF.”
Here's to their risk-taking, barrier-breaking, history-making.
Here’s to their glass-ceiling-smashing, odds-defying, limits-pushing.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) March 8, 2020
Perhaps the most noteworthy example of branding came from petrochemical multinational Shell, who, as a publicity stunt, announced it would rename its company “She’ll” in honor of equality. It released an ad featuring images of women of all races smiling, backed by uplifting music and generic, inspirational quotes, perhaps attempting to divert public anger away from the fact that it is one of only 100 corporations responsible for 71 percent of emissions that are on pace to make the planet unlivable for men and women in the not-so-distant future.
wait for it.. pic.twitter.com/t3PlPj9v6j
— wheels (@wheelswordsmith) March 6, 2020
This extremely limited vision of what emancipating and empowering women means could barely be further from the intent of the day’s radical founders over 100 years ago. The earliest recorded Women’s Day occurred in 1909 and was organized by the Socialist Party of America. The idea was quickly adopted by the International Socialist Women’s Conference, who used the occasion to agitate for enfranchisement, reproductive rights and the overthrow of the capitalist class.
In 1917, a Women’s Day protest in St. Petersburg was the spark that ignited the Russian Revolution, bringing about the downfall of the tsar and, eventually, the rise of the U.S.S.R. Ever since the day has been specially commemorated, becoming a national holiday.
Consequently, for most of its life International Women’s Day was celebrated largely only in Communist countries due to its association with the Soviet Union or with radical leftists movements. It was only in 1967 that the occasion was taken up by the emerging American feminist movement, who were joined by other revolutionary groups to demand full and equal rights for women as well as a slew of economic rights for all. By the mid-1970s, the United Nations had endorsed the holiday. In recent years, however, the events surrounding it have become distinctly less radical, as corporations and the political elite more generally have become involved, leading to today’s situation where armed forces can imply that it is empowering that women in uniform are razing Palestinian villages or dropping bombs from the skies on Yemen.
Yesterday was merely the latest in a succession of other examples of phony corporate wokeness. The NFL, for example, festoons its players and coaches in pink for a week, associating itself with breast cancer awareness in an attempt to draw in more female viewers. Pride Month, once based on the radical gay liberation movement, is becoming a battleground for some of the most controversial and powerful corporations to gain positive publicity. For example, pharmaceutical giant Gilead, makers of the HIV drug Truvada, sponsored New York City Pride. A dose of Truvada sells for only $7 in Australia, but can cost over $2,000 in the U.S. Because of the exorbitant prices in America, fewer than 10 percent of those who should be taking the drug are doing so. Furthermore, Gilead is widely accused of holding back Truvada for years in order to make billions in patent profits, causing around 16,000 deaths in 9 years. Many of those affected are members of the LGBT community, a group hit particularly hard by HIV.
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, a radical anti-war, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist activist, has also been sanitized to the point where the FBI, who tried to convince King to commit suicide, felt comfortable “honoring” his legacy publicly on MLK Day.
Unfortunately for those who dislike the practice of corporate or government pinkwashing, the use of progressive causes like LGBT rights to promote products or brands, data shows the majority of Americans appreciate their efforts and make decisions about buying based upon supposed ethical stances of companies – and brands realize this. That is why McDonald’s executives give talks describing themselves as “a modern and progressive burger company.” Indeed, a new stage in branding is for corporations to deliberately take stances on controversial subjects in the calculation that the publicity will lead to increased sales. Nike’s decision to choose NFL star and the face of the anthem kneeling protests Colin Kaepernick for its marketing enraged conservatives and delighted liberals enough to go viral, meaning their commercials transcended advertising and became the news themselves. It also cuts the other way; after fast food giant Chick-Fil-A’s CEO came out to oppose same-sex marriage, its sales rose by 12 percent.
Glad to see McDonald's has been expropriated and turned into a modern and progressive burger company. pic.twitter.com/2l4icZ3RgP
— Jacobin (@jacobinmag) December 19, 2016
As the principal drivers of capitalism, corporations are actively holding back the emancipation of oppressed groups and cannot, by their very nature, be vehicles for positive social change. Employing the language of social justice is little more than an attempt to defang radical movements or to gloss over the anti-woman, anti-human agenda of the military industrial complex. But as long as it works, it will continue.
Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, Common Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.