Online critics are making calls to boycott Hershey after a trans woman was included on the chocolate bar’s wrappers for its International Women’s Day campaign in Canada.
The backlash is the most recent attack by conservative social media users against brands who they say are “too woke,” or in this case, “erasing women.”
#BoycottHersheys was the top trending topic on Twitter once users saw Fae Johnstone, a transgender woman and 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate, was one of five women who are being honored as part of the confectioner’s “Her for She” campaign.
While many praised the brand for their inclusion of Johnstone, hundreds of right-wing users stormed to Twitter to voice their disdain. “The reaction to my inclusion as a trans woman in Hershey’s Canada’s IWD campaign shows just how far we still have to go in the fight for feminist liberation and trans rights, Johnstone tweeted on Thursday. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not shutting up. I will always stand up for women and girls, cis and trans.”
Hershey has since defended their actions, saying they “value togetherness and recognize the strength created by diversity,” Hersey tweeted. “Over the past three years, our Women’s History Month programming has been an inclusive celebration of women and their impact. We appreciate the countless people and meaningful partnerships behind these efforts.”
Deb Gabor, CEO of branding agency Sol Marketing, says the controversy is reminiscent of similar backlash M&M’s faced after Mars Wrigley changed the shoes of some of the candies. “You have people who are sort of divided over what role do brands truly play in these like highly, politically charged and, you know, sort of divisive social issues,” Gabor tells TIME.
Gabor says Pennsylvania-based Hersey likely knew that it would face backlash for their inclusion of a trans woman, but is taking a gamble and making a stance about the company’s values, despite potentially losing some customers. “Hershey’s is showing the world what we stand for is inclusion,” Gabor says.
Attacks against Johnstone, and the broader queer community, also come at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for a record number of anti-trans and anti-drag bills across the country. Seven states currently have a gender-affirming healthcare ban, though similar legislation was introduced in 21 other states.
“As younger consumers come of age these older legacy brands try to get closer to and form relationships with younger consumers,” Gabor tells TIME. “[To do so] they need to reinvent themselves to make themselves relevant. And I think that’s what we’re seeing Hershey’s doing here.”
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