Brands With Spotty Histories On Feminism Cash In On International Women's Day

Alleged boys' club ESPN has a new 30-second spot celebrating women athletes.

Everyone wants in on International Women’s Day: Michelle Obama imparted some wisdom, Kim Kardashian released themed emojis and Ivanka Trump sent a tone-deaf tweet.

Feminism has become so trendy that major national brands are joining in, celebrating the female consumer’s steady march toward gender equality even if their own corporate histories are marked by practices harmful to women. 

Behold these examples: 


Mattel has announced a new line of Barbie dolls modeled after inspirational women from history, including Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart and Kathleen Johnson, the NASA mathematician featured in the film “Hidden Figures.”

Although the brand announced a line of “realistic” dolls back in 2016, the new ones appear to maintain the same rail-thin measurements that have fueled Barbie criticism for decades. Research has shown that Barbie’s physique can have a negative impact on young girls’ body image.


AdWeek reports that from Thursday through the end of March, Budweiser will honor contributions made by female employees by posting their photos on the company’s social media pages. 

Yet, in 2018, Budweiser still employs “Budweiser Girls,” the young, mostly white women who dress in skimpy clothing to promote the brand.

The brewery also found itself in some hot water back in 2015 for a Bud Light ad campaign that struck many as tone-deaf in light of the emerging national discussion on sexual consent. Titled “Up for Whatever,” the campaign included labels printed with, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”

Bud earned some good PR the following year for an ad highlighting equal pay. However, the company still counts just two women among its 13-member North American executive leadership team.


new 30-second spot from ESPN celebrates women’s achievements in sports to promote the upcoming NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship.

Yet a 2017 Boston Globe expose detailed a culture of rampant sexism at the network. Women at ESPN reported feeling pressured to hide their pregnancies and take short maternity leaves in a professional environment where unwanted sexual advances by male colleagues were plentiful. Some men at ESPN openly rated women on their appearance, the Globe reported.

ESPN has faced legal action over its work culture in the past, and just this week, former anchor Adrienne Lawrence filed a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the network.

Let’s also not forget ESPN’s short-lived partnership with Barstool Sports, a website with a well-documented history of publishing content grossly disrespectful toward women


Thursday’s Google Doodle celebrates 12 female artists and encourages people to share stories about inspiring women in their own lives with the hashtag #HerStoryOurStory. A Google trends page, g.co/womensday, also shows how global interest in gender equality has increased.

The Google Doodle team has a history of shining light on important women and people of color in history, but the tech giant as a whole is another matter. Last summer, Google faced questions over misogyny in its corporate environment after a memo written by a male employee was made public. The memo described how biology made women less successful in the tech industry and was circulated widely on Google’s internal discussion boards for days without action by the company. While the memo’s author was fired, the incident reportedly sparked a heated discussion on gender and discrimination within the company.

Currently, Google faces a lawsuit over its alleged “bro culture” brought by a software engineer, Loretta Lee, who worked for the tech giant from 2008 to 2016. 


The fast-food staple flipped its golden arches across its numerous social media channels on Thursday, turning the iconic “M” into a “W.” (You know, for “women.”) Employees will also be able to wear “special hats and shirts” for the occasion. 

Observers on social media have already called out the move as an empty gesture. As discussed by HuffPost’s Willa Frej, sexual harassment is common in the fast-food industry, and McDonald’s is no different. The chain has fostered “a company culture steeped in unfair treatment of women,” receiving sexual harassment complaints by workers in eight states in 2016. Two in five women experience sexual misconduct in fast-food jobs, according to a 2016 Hart Research study, yet many do not report the harassment for fear of losing work.